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.
Currently, some countries look at how well their country is doing by how wealthy their GDP is. It is a mistake to think a high GDP is synonymous for a country having high welfare. We are a part of a consuming culture. We want bigger, better, newer, faster. What brought us to this point where we think it’s okay to have two new versions of an iPhone come out a month apart from each other, and a year from the last model? Could it be that this is how the confusion of GDP and welfare got confused? If we have the newest model of an iPhone than life must not be THAT bad, right? Wrong. The idea of growth in a country needs to be redefined. We do not need countries GDP growing. GDP is simply a measure of “the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year”. Even though the Gross Domestic Product, by definition, has nothing to do with social or environmental factors, people still use it to determine the well-being of a country. Let’s define grow. Let’s measure a country of the growth of their school systems, the growing number of people that have access to clean water, the growing number of corporations using less fossil fuels. Let’s grow country’s quality of life index. The very last thing that needs to grow is a country’s economy or GDP. A new economic model needs to be integrated to meet the social and environmental needs. This can happen through switching to a circular economy model, and implementing doughnut economics.
Step one: a circular economy. The current economic model is a linear model. This means that a resource is extracted, a product is created, the product is bought, and then is disposed of. This happens over, and over, and over again. With each new product thrown into the consumption mix, more resources are being extracted, and more waste is being created. The more products created, the higher our GDP will be. We can have a flourishing economy without a growing one. That is where the circular economy comes in. We are producing and consuming more than ever. That also means that we are producing more waste than ever before. In a circular economy, we no longer own anything. A laptop is leased to a consumer from a company. When the laptop breaks, it is brought in for repairs. After many repairs, the laptop gets refurbished. If the laptop is beyond use, it will be recycled and made into another product. Through this, extraction for new products is minimalized, along with disposal of old products. Less renewable and unrenewable resources are used.
A step further, the circular economy model can address many of the current issues we face socially. The availability of jobs on the market will increase. Many people think that without the extraction of resources jobs are reduced. They think that by taking away jobs that involve producing new items, jobs will be lost. In actuality, the jobs will switch from one market to another. That’s how the job market works. Those who once worked to extract natural resources, will now work to refurbish products. There will be plentiful jobs among any step in the circular economy. These new jobs created will be more stable than the current jobs that they will replace are. Natural resources are finite, so the job market for them will disappear one day. By investing in jobs that are dealing with fixing, refurbishing, and recycling old products, there will be job security. People will also have more equal access to products creating more social equity among everyone. For example, all children in schools would have equal access to laptops regardless of the socioeconomic status of the children that go to the school have. Each child will have equal opportunity to not have to walk miles to do their homework, since every child will have the opportunity to lease a laptop just like the other students. Since no one owns the products, and are just leasing them out, people will have the equal opportunity to resources, products, and technology. The workforce will have equal opportunity, as well as the consumers end. The new sustainable business models will follow an eco-friendly, just environment that will deal with the social aspects of the economy and big business.
Imagine having to think about when you will take your next sip of clean water? Imagine settling for water that may not be safe to drink, but you need water to survive. This is a reality that many face on the daily. The dehumanizing effects of using GDP to determine a country’s well-being needs to be stopped when there are people out there who are not having their basic human rights fulfilled. To combat this doughnut economics needs to be implemented. Doughnut economics are structured around the analogy of a donut. All the good things are within the middle of the donut hole. Here, are social factors, such as education, social equity, and access to clean water. On the outside of the doughnut, are environmental factors that we do not want to surpass. Unfortunately, some of these planetary boundaries have already been surpassed. The further away something reaches out from the doughnut, the worse it is. The ultimate goal of this doughnut economics is to meet the goals of human life, without taking more from than planet than can be with stained. This shows how to incorporate the other aspects of human and natural life, besides looking solely at our production and consumption rates. We are a part of nature, and need to realize that we are not above it. We have the capacity to make change and social constructs and must use our powers for good.
So let’s redefine the way we look at growth. With the hybrid economic model of a circular model and doughnut economics, social and environmental issues can be combated. We cannot keep determining the well-being of a country on its GDP. We can no longer keep ignoring social injustices occurring because of a wealthy GDP. We cannot keep consuming and extracting earth’s resources at the rate that we are, and we certainly cannot keep producing more waste for the Earth to try and absorb. The people and the earth have faced injustices for far too long. The time to redefine growth is now.