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.
Man was not made for economy, but economy was made for man. Our present paradigm leads society to believe that our worth is defined in our economic status. This assumption has caused the accelerated rate of resource consumption to the point that the environment cannot simultaneously renew the resources naturally. Our economy is experiencing continuous economic growth; however, does this define a successful economy? To a majority of economists a healthy economy is reflected by an increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This model does not indicate that the economy is successful. A thriving economy does not include the degradation of the environment and human well-being. A healthy economy reflects the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of people. Continuous economic growth is not possible because eventually the environment will be fully deteriorated and unable to support life, let alone an economic system. An economy that focuses on continuous economic growth presents economic and environmental issues; however, these dilemmas can be addressed with a circular economy and a societal shift.
The prevailing issue in regards to our economy is profit. Our current economic system has ingrained in us the constant strive towards profit, preferably one with a greater amount of zeroes behind the coefficient. This economic system, while in the short term, it may fulfill our physiological, safety, love, and self-actualization needs, it fails to satisfy our need for transcendence. When human beings are in constant state of desiring more, there is not adequate time to discover one’s purpose beyond themselves and the accumulation of material objects.
The concept of GDP, the current measure of our economic success, does require that in order to be in a good state of heath the GDP must be increasing. The rise of this number does not demonstrate a successful economy because a healthy economy surpasses the rate of consumption and also entails the happiness of people, which GDP does not measure. GDP also fails to assess the quality of goods in production and consumption. It does not recognize the existence of planned obsolesce, which actually limits our growth as an economy and society. The fact that producers are aware of an improved method of making a product, yet because of the devotion to profit they continue to make a product that will depreciate after a certain number of uses. Nylons for example could be produced to withstand the snags that occur due to the slightest bit of walking, but in an effort to increase profit producers are hesitant towards this change. A successful economy is mindful that there needs to be continuous growth in the quality of life for human beings, rather than the continuous growth of profit.
The human fascination of continuous growth has been proven problematic for the well- being of the planet. We as people, through our actions, have violated four of the planetary boundaries: loss of biodiversity, change in land use, climate change, and flow in nitrogen and phosphorus. The infringement of dignity for the planet impacts the existence of human life. We often forget that the Earth is our source of life, providing air, food, water, shelter, and a space for us to exist, including the economy. Without the planet and our ability to live through it there would not be a need for the economy, especially its growth. Human life and the economy would flourish more without continuous economic growth because it is due to this growth, which involves the increase use of resources and waste production, that ecosystems are beginning to retaliate though natural disasters. It would benefit businesses and people to focus on developing the quality of life rather than the monetary value of life, as employee retention would increase
along with customers’ satisfaction. Businesses would save money because they would be producing less trash while attaining the trust of their customers due to production of quality goods. Less growth comprises of less waste because less consumption is happening. The environmental concern of continuous economic growth is a problem that affects not only the planet but also people, especially the poor, who are not the major contributors to the issue of consumption.
The economic and environment predicaments were caused by human actions and therefore can also be solved by human actions. The development of a successful economy has the potential to occur within a circular economy; a closed economy that creates jobs, better products and harmony amongst renewable resources. Innovation is sparked when the loop between production and consumption is tightened, which involves finding more uses for the product than originally specified. A circular economy designs out waste, designs out poverty, and ultimately, designs an economy that aligns with God’s dream of goodness. An economy that stabilizes monetary growth and develops communities rooted in love and betterment of each other rather than individual gain. We can create a successful economy without growth when we intentionally use resources, create jobs, and construct products in the service of others and the planet.
Perceiving the prosperity of the economy as being dependent on the well-being of society and the environment allows us to shift our thinking away from growth and towards development. The success of the economy without growth requires a shift in mindset. This involves educating corporations, communities, and children on the purpose of economy and on caring for creation within these ambitions. Deconstructing the paradigm that economic success is increased profit and constructing the notion that economic well-being is defined by the degree of joy, love, and hope that we experience, creates a new economic system. These characteristics, not the amount of dead trees, money, one has in their wallet, embody a desirable quality of life, a manner of life worth living. Realizing our connection to the planet and disconnecting from consumption as result of this, will allow us to live in harmony within the economy, society, and environment; therefore, achieving a successful economy beyond monetary worth.
The examination and adjustment of our consumption patterns will allow us to thrive economically as we sustainably progress as a human race. The Natural Step is a strategic planning method that establishes a sequence in which we are aware, analyze, and create solutions to decide on priorities. This cycle permits revisions and the possibility to make corrections along the way, which is an essential skill for the chaos that is human life, especially when attempting systemic change. As human beings, “we are of the Earth, the humus” (Perry, 547-548), and our existence depends on our relationship with the Earth, which calls us to a deeper care for the least of us. For it is caring for people not profit that the economy will authentically encounter success without growth. And in this economy, without waste, greed, or envy, the side effects of wealth, God will declare, “it is good”, and thus affirming a successful economy through the development and enlightenment of the people of the planet.