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.
Growth does not have to be measured by size. It does not have to be the calculations of gross domestic product (GDP) rise. A successful sustainable economy dictates growth in new terms. In this case, growth is the extension of improvement where physical and moral gains are achieved through new and better practices and insights. To grow as an individual and as a society is to change for the better.
It is necessary to change the current economy if humans want to preserve the earth and protect the survival of future generations. Instead of an economy growing larger in size and rising in numbers, the economy needs to be “better.” Better means 1) Less production to reduce exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, 2) Less manufacturing to reduce hazardous air and water pollution, and 3) Less consumption to reduce toxic waste accumulation affecting our health and the natural functions and services of all ecosystems.
In order to make all of these necessary reductions, the economy needs to shift from a linear mindset to a circular and shared one. A combination of circular economy and shared economy will lead to the crucial reductions in production, manufacturing, and consumption. A circular and shared economy will transform consumers into users.
In a circular economy, there is no waste. All byproducts, scraps, and waste could have a purpose for someone else in the manufacturing process, or at a different company’s manufacturing process. This “zero waste” cycle not only ceases toxic waste accumulation, but it also saves companies money. In nature, circular cycles are the key to life. All materials, minerals, and energy cycles into different levels of the ecosystem to support different life. Therefore, the economy should imitate natural cycles and flows.
A shared economy reduces the drive to consume. American society and culture is driven by overconsumption because it is trained to believe constant consumption leads to happiness. People are driven by anxiety and the need to fulfill their lives. A shared economy satisfies our needs for products and services, without truly owning them. Sharing products and services, such as a laundry room or a car, can offer a sense of connectedness and belonging to others.
So let us grow together, becoming stronger and better. Society, as the consumers, can advocate for a better, not bigger economy—an economy where we meet our needs, meet future generations’ needs, sustain the only planet we have, and increase overall well-being and happiness.