Sustainable Economies

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Ed. Note: We are happy to share this reader response, which is part of a series submitted by undergraduate students at Loyola University Chicago from a course called ENVS 363: Sustainable Business Management.

In politics, all the legislators are focused on economic growth and increasing GDP. The gross domestic product is essentially the consumption of a country. The higher the consumption the better the quality of life. There is no consideration of health, happiness, or other forms of prosperity. Our society is consumer driven but the resources are limited. The only resources we have in order to survive, are all confined on Earth and they are not being replenished. The planet has boundaries and can only support the population and lifestyles for so long. There are certain limits that we need to maintain if we want to keep Earth a safe, habitable place. These are climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, and ocean acidification, land system change, biosphere integrity, biochemical flows, freshwater use, atmospheric aerosol and novel entities. (Steffen). We have already entered the zone of high risk in the genetic diversity and biochemical flows boundaries. If we continue on our current path then soon we will reach a point where current lifestyles will not be possible. Continuous economic growth is not feasible because we are living on a finite planet; we need to adapt a circular economy that will sustain the planet for future generations.

Continuing to live and consume the way we do is not going to be able to sustain the planet. One possible alternative is to switch to eco-friendly products like compostable instead of plastic or using renewable energy instead of coal and oil. While that is necessary, it isn’t enough. We need a shift in culture and the way the economy is run. Instead of focusing on linear growth, we should move toward regenerative and circular models. It would be possible to sustain an economy without the need to produce and consume more and more products. The current measure of growth requires consumption. In a circular economy, we wouldn’t be so focused on consuming; we could look at equity and quality of life as measurements of growth instead. There are many different types of models that demonstrate how this can be achieved.

One way to do this is through the circular economy. Instead of producing products to have a short, single life span, it would have many long ones. The economy would be transformed into a “zero waste” economy. Doing so would protect many limited resources and minimize pollution. A single product can be used through many cycles. Instead of immediately replacing a product when it breaks, it could be repaired, either yourself or through technician. This extends the life span of a product, reducing the need for new things. If a product cannot be repaired, then it should be sent to the manufacturer to be refurbished. They could update and replace some parts to make it functional, again reducing the need to use virgin resources. Once a product cannot be used in the current form, it can be recycled. The materials are stripped down and used to make something else. The last step of this cycle is the landfill, when the materials absolutely cannot be used anymore. The circular economy would produce minimal waste and use minimal resources. This would also lead to economic prosperity because each step of the cycle creates job opportunities. Labor is needed in each step for repair, part replacement, and recycling. The only difference would be a change in the way we use Earth’s resources. Systematic change is needed to keep the planet habitable.

Steffen, W. “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet.” Science, vol. 347, no. 6223, 2015, pp. 1259855–1259855., doi:10.1126/science.1259855.

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