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What We’re Reading (And Watching)! January 2013

by Kendra Pierre Louis on 30th January 2013

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This is part of an ongoing series highlighting what our members are currently reading (and watching!) in the Post Growth and sustainability realms.

Enough is Enough -  Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill

book coverOne planet living is possible, and there are many ways governments and individuals can make realistic changes to help facilitate convergence towards such a dynamic. In this book, Rob Dietz (formerly of CASSE) and Dan O’Neill of CASSE (Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy) have joined forces to explore possible pathways to that end.

The former executive director (Rob) and chief economist (Dan) of CASSE have “attempted to compile a comprehensive set of ideas and policies to clarify how a steady-state economy would work”. What results is a great resource for anyone interested in exploring global challenges, and discovering where steady state policy stands at the beginning of 2013.

Resources, population, inequality, debt, consumerism, and unemployment are all addressed with solid suggestions as to how governments and individuals could make realistic changes that would help to facilitate global convergence to one planet living.

For those keen to get their hands on a great steady state economy policy outline Enough is Enough is a fantastic and comprehensive book. If you have already heard of the spirit level, BerkShares, Prosperity Without Growth, Interface, citizen’s income, Population Media Centre, the HPI, MDGs and I=PAT then, like me, you may find this book better as a reference rather than a cover to cover read. – Oliver

 

Betterness: Economics for Humans –  Umair Haque
book coverThis is a quick, easy read that does a good job of making the case for a business model that focuses on “betterness” rather than, well, busy-ness. The author, Umair Haque, is an experienced business consultant and columnist for the Harvard Business Review. He spends the first half of the book describing why and how the 21st century is ushering in a new era of business in which the focus is on better serving customers and society, alike, rather than remaining narrowly fixated on increasing production and private profits. In the second half of the book, he outlines a basic framework which will help companies shift from being businesses to “betternesses”. This framework suggests deepening the goals and strategies of companies to go beyond just private profit seeking.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It is well-written in simple words and a casual tone that makes it very relatable. It was also refreshing to read a book written by a mainstream economist about the importance of moving beyond the profit motive towards a purpose motive. However, from a post growth perspective, it could have gone much further. It would have been nice to read that social needs and ecological stewardship should come before private profit, instead of in addition to private profit. Also, in backing up his hypothesis that a shift to betterness is already occurring, he points to companies like Nike and Walmart as good examples of shifting to a more purposeful business model. From a CSR point of view, these companies might be doing great things. However, considering their notorious negative social and ecological impacts, it is not immediately obvious to me that they are moving beyond private profit as their purpose for existence.

Yet, Haque acknowledges that these examples are far from perfect and his framework is not a final product, but rather a first draft that should be improved upon. In the end, the betterness framework is a good first step in the right direction and worth reading about, if only to be reassured that an important shift is happening and gaining momentum in the mainstream business space. – Jen

 

The Way Out: Kick-Starting Capitalism to Save our Economic AssL. Hunter Lovins

book coverI wanted to love L. Hunter Lovins’s new book The Way Out: Kick-Starting Capitalism to Save our Economic Ass. After all, in the relatively young field of sustainability the cowboy hat wearing Lovins, who along with Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins co-wrote the green business bible – Natural CapitalismAND co-founded the Rocky Mountain Institute, is near legendary.  But in her latest book Lovins, who told Sustainable Brands that she wrote Kick-Starting Capitalism under the belief that “Capitalism, properly practiced can solve the challenges currently facing the planet,” seems to have lost site of the environment for the economy.

This may makes sense since The Way Out’s subtitle “Save our Economic Ass” makes clear that the economy – and not the environment – is the book’s focus. Lovins works in the environment by pointing out that companies which take on “more sustainable” measures – such as Wal-Mart strapping solar panels tend to be more profitable, and countries, such as Germany, who are proactive about introducing alternative energies, are also economically more resilient.

The part that seems lacking, however, is the recognition that the concept of “more sustainable” doesn’t actually exist. A thing – an economy, a business, a pattern of behavior – is either sustainable or it isn’t. Although her book is brimming with examples of businesses engaging in practices that lower their energy usage, emissions and waste, none of these examples of individual business (or national) success actually suggests that capitalism can save us from our environmental problems – never mind the social problems we are currently facing. Because not a single one of her examples is actually sustainable – the businesses still consume far too many resources for the planet to support, and sacrifice human dignity for lower prices, and increased consumption.

Looking towards capitalism to save our economic (and environmental) posteriors is a bit like an alcoholic looking towards beer to help with sobriety. Sure, it’ll take you longer to get drunk on a light beer than on vodka, but you’ll still end up drunk only really having to pee. Peer behind the examples Lovins cites in her book, and you’ll see that instead of dragging us to the environmental precipice at 90mph they’re pulling us along at 80mph.  The problem is, however, we’re still going to fall. – Kendra

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avatar Kendra is a writer, researcher, environmental strategist and author of the 2012 book Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet.

Kendra has written 3 posts on Post Growth Institute.

{ 1 comment }

avatar 1 Gunnar Rundgren January 31, 2013 at 03:22

Kendra,
I haven’t read Lovins latest, but I noted this already when I read Natural Capitalism long ago. I felt the same when reading Porrits Capitalism as if the world matters as well as Tim Jacksons book. Jackson tries to avoid the question by defining capitalism in a very strange way.

I also make the same kinds of argument as you do in my book Garden Earth (http://gardenearth.blogspot.se/p/garden-earth.html) which is just off the press.

Sustainable Capitalism, Green Economy are oxymorons. You can read some more on:
http://gardenearth.blogspot.se/2012/03/green-growth-sound-nice-but-can-it.html

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