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.
When you think of the future, what do you think of? Will we live like the Jetsons? Will people be taking vacations to Mars thanks to Elon Musk? Personally, I hope for a world where the quality of life is better, sustainability is heavily integrated within society, and avocado toast never goes out of style. The economy plays a large role in shaping the future. The traditional economic ideology is to have an economy that exhibits continuous economic growth. For centuries, the concept has been implemented with apparent success. However, it is not feasible to continue to abide to the standard of maintaining continuous economic growth in the long term. While altering the economic system is most definitely a long and daunting challenge, there are many ways in which change can be phased in. I believe that implementing the idea of unlimited vs limited good, habits that support sustainability, the ideal of quantity over quality, wealth disparity, are key ways to implement an economic system that does not focus on continuous economic growth.
What do a tree, a computer, and my consumption of avocado toast have in common? They all have limits. A tree can only grow so tall, a computer only has the capacity to hold so much storage, and I unfortunately can only consume so much avocado toast. There is nothing that can grow, store, or consume continuously. Everything both man-made and natural succumbs to limits. Why then, should we hold a standard that the economy needs to comply with continuous economic growth? Given that it is impossible for something to comply with continuous growth, it is silly to hold the economy to such an impossible standard.
How can change be implemented towards something so large and influential for society? The solution is not to prevent or end growth but instead to readjust the standard in which we quantify the productivity and efficiency of the economy. There needs to be a change in perspective in which we value the strength of an economy. Society needs to acknowledge and understand that a successful economy does not mean that continuous economic growth needs to occur. Instead of perceiving that a strong economy has to have continuous economic growth, the goal of a successful economy should be to consistently evolve to improve and mature itself in every way possible.
One way to implement a new economic mentality is the concept of quality over quantity. The standard of quality over quantity should be implemented on a variety of platforms. Goods should be made at a quality that is made to last, this in turn will allow the consumer to use the good for a greater extended period of time. The quality of work should improve with the compromise that the time spent working will decrease, which will allow for a greater quality of life. For example, reimagine the workday, where work does not consume a majority of the day. A work day, where no one works more than eight hours at once and a work day where no one comes home exhausted every day. In order to achieve this standard of work and product, all parties will place more time and energy into each item or task, and in return we will be working overall less. With a greater amount free time, the quality of the work will improve and will benefit society.
With maturity comes responsibility. Just as a child matures they are given more roles and responsibilities. The economy, as we know it today, has been established for quite some time, and many can argue that it needs to adapt. Society changes constantly, and is continually working to improve and further itself. The economy could and should improve itself and society by maturing. Economic maturation can take place within the values it holds and the way in the economy work. Personally, I believe that the economy should mature with consumers buying products that are direct trade, implementing more circular and closed economies. This mature economy would be heavily attentive to the Earth, for it is the only place we can call home. We should care for the Earth in a similar fashion as we take care of our home. Just as one works hard to take care of their home, they clean up any mess they make, they maintain a constant awareness to use goods and products that are good or harmless to it. Yet if they have to use harmful products, they take strong precaution in using it as little as possible, for they know the effects it has. The ideal and standard of care can and should be implemented towards caring for the Earth.
With this new economic maturity, one of the main goals will be to work towards and implement equality. There is a lack of equality all around the world, and while many things affect it, the economic system is among one of the ways equality is impacted the most. A common economic system around the world is a market economy. A large under acknowledged symptom of a market economic is the disparity of wealth that occurs. Addressing the wealth inequalities in society, is a problem that concerns many parties. Implementing the values listed above would allow for the ability to lessen the disparity of wealth, which pleases all parties.
The answer is to implement strong sustainability into our economic system. Implementing greater sustainability can influence our economic system into functioning successfully without continuous economic growth. With strong sustainability present, it is possible to incorporate ecological economics into the current economic system. The traditional economic system addresses natural capital decisions on the basis of cost- benefit analysis. On the other hand, an ecological economic system places an emphasis on preserving natural capital, and can only be used if it is replenished at the same rate in which it is being consumed.
Is the idea of an economy with continuous economic growth truly feasible since at some point everything succumbs to nature limits? Change will have to occur if we want a society where the quality of life is better and sustainability is heavily integrated within society. While altering the economic system is most definitely a long and daunting challenge, there are many ways in which change can be phased in. While we may all disagree on how change should and should not occur. One thing that we can all agree on is that we want an economic system that does not hinder but instead helps the environment.