“The environment and the economy are really both two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.” – Wangari Maathai, Kenyan political activist and author
When we think about the economics of a healthy and just planet, we have to understand key concepts. The terms “capital” and “value” typically have one association: money. But a truer reflection of the market would include natural capital. Natural capital is the “world’s stock” of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water, and all living things. The economy relies heavily on natural capital as the base of almost all products, yet all too often, the economy is still viewed and treated as separate from the environment.
Unfortunately, our current economic system favors environmentally destructive practices and restricts ethics and conservation efforts in business, exploiting Earth’s natural resources in the name of profit. Concepts like true cost accounting address this by looking at impacts on the environment, climate, biodiversity, and public health when determining an item’s cost. This short film from Lexicon of Sustainability quickly introduces the concept.
Dr. Jagannadha Pawan Tamvada, Associate Professor at the University of Southampton Business School and Co-Founder of iPowerz, proposes that flawed incentive structures are the root cause of many societal blights. Investments of time, money and energy are allotted into where the most short-term economic profit can be gained, not where best suited for larger systems and timelines, thereby perpetuating environmental degradation and poverty. As opposed to the current worldwide economic culture of extreme self-interest, he calls for us to relate to, question, and converse with one another to build better economic structures that benefit all. In his ICC model for transformation, Dr. Tamvada proposes that we must initiate, create and grow new, original systems collectively.
Have you ever heard of a circular economy? Right now, society functions primarily within a linear model: create, use, then dispose of products. This causes staggering amounts of pollution, emits vast quantities of greenhouse gases, and necessitates unsustainable natural resource extraction. It also produces tremendous amounts of waste. Conversely, circular economies have three core principles: designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. Switching to a circular economy is critical in limiting global warming to 1.5°C, underscored by a recent UN study. Watch today’s TED talk to learn more!
In the United States, a bold plan of action to address climate change and inequity has been introduced, which involves completely reinventing the American economy. Pioneered by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, the Green New Deal calls for dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, investment in clean energy, creation of accessible high-paying jobs in similar fields, and ensuring basic human rights of clean air, potable water, and healthy food are afforded to all citizens. But not everyone is on board. Critics claim the Green New Deal will cost trillions of dollars that “should” be used for other things and that moving away from fossil fuels could have catastrophic consequences. It’s an ambitious plan that would require a 10-year mobilization and transformation of the entire economy, but Green New Deal proponents point out that without major changes now, global warming will continue at an exponential rate. The plan is far from perfect, but a vital step in reducing major negative contributors to the climate crisis, centering BIPOC, young and marginalized voices, updating antiquated failing infrastructure, and addressing the most pressing environmental challenges.
While a worldwide transition to a sustainable economy is vital, each individual choice plays a role in the larger system. Everything we buy requires natural resources: trees, water, coal, minerals, all. Our dollar has more power over the fate of our planet than we may believe. Every choice matters, so let’s be conscious consumers! Making decisions that have a net positive impact on the planet takes many forms:
Conservation. First and foremost, buy fewer things. Consuming less means conserving natural resources and preserving them for generations. Invest in quality items that will last, actually saving money over time. When something breaks, try fixing it before tossing and always repurpose or upcycle “trash” into something useful! Remember, less is more, especially when supporting the planet.
Use your dollar. If you must purchase something new, purchase ethically and sustainably-made products from businesses that offer quality goods with global benefits. The outdoor clothing company Patagonia is a fantastic example of how sustainability and profit can go hand in hand — with a mission to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Patagonia creates long-lasting goods and offers mending services for their products, uses 100% organic cotton, pays workers an honest wage, and is thriving.
Know your companies. Many responsible businesses elect to become Certified B Corporations or 1% for the Planet members — or both! 1% for the Planet inspires businesses and individuals to support environmental nonprofits through membership and everyday actions. Businesses commit to give back 1% of annual revenue (not profits, but total sales) directly to eco nonprofits. You can become a member too! Yvon Chouinard, the co-founder of 1% for the Planet and Patagonia, describes membership as the “cost of doing business on this planet. It’s not philanthropy— it’s an absolute necessity for us living on this planet. It’s the opposite of doing nothing.”
Keep it local. Local spending is the lifeblood of a local economy; it keeps neighbors employed, taxes paid, businesses open, and communities alive. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit small businesses extremely hard, with many in danger of closing for good, while most large corporations have managed to survive. Online shopping soared in popularity due to the number of people staying home, producing much more waste through packaging and transportation pollution than local sales. Supporting local businesses bolsters community resilience, helping economies and ecosystems thrive.
Corporations play a huge role in perpetuating climate change and injustice. In many cases, corporations even make money off of what they had a hand in creating. Author Naomi Klein coined the phrase “disaster capitalism” in her book The Shock Doctrine to describe how private contractors profited heavily off of relief work in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and other climate disasters. Thus, said relief work is often performed haphazardly, slowly, and in an inequitable manner, which further incentivizes environmentally destructive policies and actions to which corporations already contribute. Only about 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of total carbon emissions. The responsibility to effect change does not solely rest on individuals. However, if we use less, consume less, reuse, shift behavior, and pressure businesses to act, we will see how individual action can lead to sizable collective impact.
We can’t talk economics without discussing affordability and accessibility of eco and ethical products, which is why we are proud that our partner Acure continues to bring skin, body and haircare to market that meets a variety of personal budgets and is available at wide-ranging retailers. Prioritizing sustainability in daily behavior and consumer choices is possible with knowledge, planning, intention, and smart budgeting.
Thousands of corporations and businesses with significant power to make a difference do leverage for-profit enterprises for positive global impact. One way businesses commit to reducing inequality, lowering levels of poverty, working toward a healthier environment, strengthening communities, and creating quality jobs with dignity and purpose is by becoming a Certified B Corporation. B Corps use profit and growth to yield a positive impact for people, the environment, and the economy — commonly referred to as a triple bottom line.
To get started, watch these videos here and here to understand the positive impact businesses can have. Then browse the B Corp website and 1% for the Planet directories to become familiar with companies that stand for change.
Research one B Corp or 1% for the Planet member. Better yet, see if you can find a local “B-1” certified B Corporation and 1% for the Planet member! How does that business integrate a triple bottom line into its business model? Share at least two ways it benefits people, planet, and the economy.
Post a graphic, text or image on Instagram that encourages others to seek out companies using business as a force for good. Be sure to tag @TurningGreenOrg, @1PercentFTP and @BCorporation, as well as #PGC2021.
Upload a PDF Document with your responses and screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
We can fight climate change, stand for intersectional environmentalism, and build a stronger economy. In fact, we must — or bear the brunt of a far steeper cost to society, financial systems, and the Earth. In the United States, the Green New Deal is one such proposal that outlines pathways toward the sustainable, just future that people and lands deserve.
First, learn more about the Green New Deal by watching this video. If you live outside of the US, research to see if your country has a similar major climate action plan in the works. What are its most important components? Is there anything you would like to see added or removed? What issues do you think should be addressed first?
Next, write a letter to your elected officials urging them to enact a climate action plan. Tell them why we need it now and highlight which areas of focus resonate most and why. Send it to their email and/or submit via a website. Bonus points are yours if you get a response (auto reply confirming receipt of message does not count). Simply email the correspondence to email@example.com by October 28.
Post a screenshot, graphical representation or snippet from your letter on Instagram with a brief caption. Tag the elected officials to which it is addressed, as well as @TurningGreenOrg, @AOC, @EdMarkey, #PGC2021 and #GreenNewDeal.
Upload a PDF Document with your responses and letter, and screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Some businesses do an excellent job at incorporating sustainability and environmental principles into their work, operations and products or services. However, far too many companies contribute to climate degradation. We need great minds like yours to innovate, shake up business and industry, shift consumer and corporate practices, and use business to better our Earth and society.
Let’s put your new economics knowledge to work! As a young entrepreneur, imagine that you’ve decided it’s time to start your own business, and one of your highest priorities is establishing a green, sustainable, ethical company.
Show us your pitch! Post your video on Instagram (and any other video platforms), tagging @TurningGreenOrg and #PGC2021, as well as any speakers or organizations that you reference.
Compile your planning and brainstorming into a 1 page document, including a link to your video. Upload it as a PDF document, with a screenshot of your social media post. Include your name (or team name), username, email address, and school.
Up to 10 Greener and 10 Greenest outstanding submissions will be selected as winners.
Each Greener Winner will receive:
Each Greenest Winner will receive: