The current global debt-based economic system is unsustainable. Conventional economics excludes the value of clean air and water, species diversity, and social and generational equity. In the market system, businesses privatize profits and publicize costs. As an example, industries that put pollutants in the air, land and water directly increase the cost of healthcare while externalizing these costs to the public, who must pay the bill for the increased healthcare costs. The price of our food does not reflect soil loss, habitat loss, insect loss or declining water quality from chemical run-off. If environmental and health costs were fully integrated, none of the world’s top 20 industrial sectors would be profitable. In the words of Paul Hawken, ”At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.”
Beyond cost externalization, one of the biggest failures in economic theory is the measurement of growth. The military industrial complex and health care are considered industries, yet the only way the defense industry can grow is through more conflict and healthcare profits depend upon an ever-expanding population of sick people. These are not “industries”; they are negative growth factors, dystopian constructs that depend upon the perpetual destruction of society for profit. Industrialization and consumerism are based on the flawed theory that profit can be generated by consuming natural resources while ignoring the ecological destruction, environmental degradation, resource depletion and loss life that follows the quest for profit.
We have to reexamine our definition of profit. Economic theory is simply a clever manipulation of limited statistics in relation to fiat paper that excludes the social and environmental costs of industry, aside from the basics of supply and demand. In economic theory, fewer resources increase the price, and the higher prices are measurements of positive economic growth. Economists argue that resource depletion expands innovation and technology, which leads to more economic growth, yet more depletion of resources. When something is unsustainable, it will collapse.
Prior to 1850, the million plus residents of New York City derived their food from a seven mile radius of the outskirts of the city. Presently more than half of the world population lives in urban centers and most are dependent upon global trade to meet their food, energy, housing and transportation needs. Our future depends on creating a viable holistic lifestyle. We must radically transform our cities, lifestyles, and behaviors. Using the concept of permaculture in economics, we have the ability to transform our societies into vibrant, viable centers of creation and abundance.
Permaculture systems are designed to find a balance a balance that values all kinds of yields from the system to include relationships, quality of life, ecological diversity and conservation of natural resources. Sustainable business models play a key role in transitioning societies to a greener, more resilient future. Social, environmental and entrepreneurial changes will move us beyond the present paradigm.
Sustainable Entrepreneurship is a business concept of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted while increasing social, ecological and business values (Shared Values). Sustainable entrepreneurs play a critical role in change, introducing products and services to existing markets and creating new consumers lured to sustainable lifestyles while acknowledging that their businesses must create value for customers and investors.
Social entrepreneurship is the use of start-up companies to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues.
As these new permaculture-based systems develop, new economic systems must be put into place. Permaculture finance requires the most efficient use of resources to create a self-sustaining business model. Whether it is barter and trade, alternative currencies, or working within the existing economic system, we must collectively design a holistic economy aligned with nature. By engaging with nature and society, we can create solutions for the economic, environmental and societal crises that plague our planet.