Seeding the Sustainable Economy

These and other environmental consequences of the push for economic growth threaten the stability of the global economy. Add to this list the social impacts of modern economic life—2.5 billion people living on $2 a day or less and, among the wealthy, the rapid advance of obesity and related diseases— and the need to rethink the purpose and functioning of modern economies is clear.3

Even in business circles the sense that something is wrong with modern economies is palpable. An annual assessment of the most significant risks to the world's economies commissioned by the business-sponsored World Economic Forum found that many of the 23 diverse risks were nonexistent at the global level a quarter-century ago. These include environmental risks such as climate change and the strain on freshwater supplies; social risks, including the spread of new infectious diseases in developing countries and chronic diseases in industrial nations; and risks associated with innovations like nano-technology. Beyond being new and serious, what is most striking is that half of the 23 are economic in nature or driven by the activities of modern economies. In other words, national economies, and the global economy of which they are a part, are becoming their own worst enemies.4

But if economies built according to the conventional model are increasingly self-destructive, a new kind of economy—a sustainable economy—is struggling to be born. Where the conventional economy depends largely on fossil fuels, is built around use-and-dispose materials practices, and tolerates extreme poverty even amid stunning wealth, the evolving sustainable economy seeks to operate within environmental boundaries and serve poor and rich alike.

The emergence of the sustainable economy is visible in a burst of creative experimentation involving design for remanufacture, "zero-

waste" cities, environmental taxes, cap-and-trade carbon markets, car-sharing companies, maturing markets for solar and wind power, microfinance, socially responsible investment, land tenure rights for women, product takeback laws, and other innovations discussed in this book. Scaled up and replicated across the world, these and other experiments could form the basis of economies that meet the needs of all people at the least cost to the natural environment.

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