Integrating ethics back into economic life

Fourth, New Economics is concerned with ethics. Unlike the positive, apolitical abstractions of mainstream economics (which translate to very ideologically-based policy prescriptions) it is a normative analytical approach, which aims to describe and facilitate the transition to a more sustainable society. It therefore takes explicit moral stances about the role of government, commerce and the social economy in delivering such a world, and about what the aims of policy should be - namely increasing sustainable wellbeing while maintaining healthy ecosystems (see for example the New Economics Foundation's 'Wellbeing Manifesto for a Flourishing Society' by Shah and Marks (2004)). A tool which expresses this ethical stance, and the importance of ethical practices within New Economics, is multi-criteria evaluation methodology. One such is 'social auditing', a technique pioneered by the New Economics Foundation, for organisations and businesses to record rich accounts of social, ethical and environmental performance to be assessed alongside traditional financial accounts (Zadek et al., 1997; Gonella and Pilling, 1998). The methodology departs from conventional evaluations and cost-benefit calculations by beginning with a stakeholder-defined range of objectives and indicators of success. Evidence to appraise performance is then collected and presented against each of the objectives, avoiding the need for a reductive 'bottom line', and allowing far greater transparency and accountability between organisations and their members and publics (Zadek and Evans, 1993). Initially the preserve of socially-and environmentally-motivated businesses (see for example social reports from the New Economics Foundation (1995), the Body Shop (1996) and Traidcraft (1994)), this type of ethical accounting has become far more mainstream over the last 15 years, as corporate social responsibility has developed into a big business concern - although this sometimes resulted in it being 'captured by marketing departments' (Doane, 2000: 2). Another use of these new metrics of wealth and progress is through community-based assessments of neighbourhood renewal and quality of life (Walker et al., 2000; Seyfang 1999). The types of innovative evaluation methodologies pioneered through these exercises have become more widely accepted in policy-making, for example through public participation in setting and measuring sustainability indicators across a range of locally-relevant subjects, such as the number of salmon swimming in local rivers (Sustainable Seattle, 1993; Henderson, 1996; MacGillivray et al., 1998; DETR, 2000).

The New Economics is an equity-based understanding of environmental governance, drawing on 'ecological footprinting' indicators to make visible global inequalities of consumption. These define and visualise environmental injustice in terms of the inequitable distribution of 'ecological space' (the footprint of resources and pollution-absorbing capacity) taken up by individuals, cities and countries; this inequity requires a reduction in the scale of material consump tion among the affluent advanced economies (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996).1 Although technically complex to calculate and the subject of debate about accuracy and methodologies, ecological footprints remain a simple, accessible way to present and understand basic issues of injustice and consumption; they are excellent communication tools. Allen remarks upon how 'one of the eye-opening consequences of living in an increasingly interdependent world is the recognition that the ties that bind people and places together often do so in unequal and unjust ways' (2006: 8). For example the Interdependence Day report illustrates how global trade ensures a web of interconnected-ness across the globe between producers and consumers, and between those who enjoy the fruits of global trade and those who pay its social and environmental costs, and between those who consume more than their 'fair share' of the planet's ecological space, and those who are squeezed to the margins (Simms et al., 2006). This report declares April 16th to be the UK's Interdependence Day, as it is the day in the calendar year when, if one imagined January 1 to be the start of the consuming year, UK consumers have consumed their share of the world's resources, and begin to encroach on others' ecological space. This symbolic 'ecological debt' day has moved earlier in the year over time, from July 9 in 1961, to May 14 in 1981. Furthermore, as the report attests, 'the world as a whole is also now living beyond the capacity of its ecosystems to regenerate and goes into ecological debt on the 23rd of October, causing long-term environmental degradation' (ibid.: 33). The political implications of this analysis are to recognise and address the inequity of such a distribution of resources, and the impossibility of the entire world consuming at the same rate as the developed countries. The New Economics therefore calls for a new 'ecological citizenship' of humanity as a whole, one which expands across borders (as does environmental change) and which recognises the political implications of private decisions and so defines everyday activities of consumption as potentially citizenly work (Dobson, 2003). The nature and characteristics of this citizenship is elaborated below.

1A related idea (technically, a sub-footprint) is the Carbon Footprint, developed to help people calculate the amount of CO2 they emit through their energy use and transport behaviour. These are far simpler to calculate than national ecological footprints, and several online calculators exist (see for example, and the UK government's own calculator at

Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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