THE METCALF FOUNDATION, an organization focused on helping Canadians build a just, sustainable and creative society, has produced a new report called Green Economy at Community Scale. Released in November and written by professor of sustainable development Tim Jackson and ecological economist Peter A. Victor, the report recommends a green economy as a possible solution to complex social-environmental problems like climate change, biodiversity loss, economic instability and resource access.
Jackson and Victor consider what purpose the human economy is meant to serve. They ask what the nature of prosperity is and question how the economy should deliver it. They note that in the traditional meaning of the word, prosperity is about aspirations for a good life, which have many more dimensions than simply money. Their vision of prosperity is not only concerned with material goods and services, but also its social, psychological and even moral components.
At its heart, Green Economy at Community Scale is about rethinking the traditional high-throughput, high-productivity, profit-seeking business model that drives conventional economics. Instead it calls for prioritizing systems that focus on true prosperity for people and the planet. Jackson and Victor identify four necessary elements (below) for leading a green economy to a shared and lasting prosperity at the community level. Although many options are examined in the report, an excellent example of these four principles in action is alternative energy companies, which tend to be recent start-ups that aren’t burdened by large existing investments or entrenched mindsets.
When an alternative energy company focuses on the services their energy provides – for instance, keeping homes warm rather than simply selling as much energy as possible – it expands its potential for community enterprise through retrofitting homes and delivering other types of efficiency measures.
Alternative energy companies tend to have organizational structures that differ from the usual shareholder-driven model. Examples include cooperative business models and companies that are controlled by residents of a community, which stimulate local job markets and provide meaningful work. These types of organizational structures reinforce work – paid and voluntary – as part of the glue that connects us to each other. Additionally, when people participate in local infrastructure and resource development through their employment, their community is strengthened.
Renewable energy offers the chance to invest in physical infrastructure and technology that benefits the current community, but it also reduces carbon emissions and thereby represents an investment in environmental protection both now and in the future. Renewable energy sources tend to be local, and so are the solutions that lead to energy efficiency. An example is Ontario’s Options for Green Energy, a cooperative business model that facilitates community bonds invested in solar power development.
Making cash & debt work
Jackson and Victor advocate for community banking and credit unions, where local savings and investments can be put directly back into a community’s specific economic sectors and social groups. Another function of this type of community banking is small-scale peer-to-peer lending for social and environmental innovation.
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