Business for the Steady State

Evening, lovely readers.

Sorry I haven’t had time to post very often lately, I’m in my second year of university now and it’s hotting up on the workload front. Anyway, here’s my next post in my ‘Transitioning to a Steady State’ mini series. In my last post I wrote about how individuals can help us to transition to a steady state. Now I’m going to write about the role of business


Social enterprise UK. Not my image.

FYI a steady state is an economy that isn’t growing or in recession, but is designed to stay at a stable optimum size, with the overarching goal being sustainable and equitable human wellbeing. Check out CASSE for more info on this, because I can’t really explain the concept properly in every new post. Get with the program, yo.

So what role can business play in the transition to a steady state?

As we currently live in a capitalist society, the world of commerce clearly has a huge amount of power. We often see cases of companies abusing this power and shirking social and environmental responsibilities, even avoiding  tax. But this power can also be harnessed for creating positive change. Here are some points that come to mind, concerning the role of business in the transition to a steady state.

  • Social Enterprise. In the UK there has recently been a surge in the growth of this promising new sector. A social enterprise is a business that trades with the explicit purpose of improving society in some specific way, outlined in it’s mission statement. This is how business should be done! Important to note that (once they’re established) they are financially sustainable, relying on their own earnings rather than donations or grants. They generate profits like any business, but the difference is they invest at least 50% of them straight into projects that further their goals. In a steady state economy, many and eventually most or even all businesses will operate as social enterprises – so their current growth in popularity is a great step towards a steady state future. Also, no new legislation is required – this trend is happening right now!
  • Corporate Social Responsibility. Companies have responded to public pressure and media jabs about their misconduct with the popularisation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. This basically means they do stuff that’s good for people or the environment (teaming up with Oxfam, building schools in developing countries etc etc) and brag about it on their websites. It may reek of PR, but behind the greenwash tinged face-saving strategy lie several key assumptions: 1) companies should be making a positive contribution to society, 2) they’re not necessarily doing this with their actual service/product, 3) they will bow to public pressure, and 4) doing good is good PR, i.e. good for business. This means the potential for lobbying companies is high. If we can persuade them to change their ways before governments grow some balls – sorry – and force them to, then we’ll be one step closer to a sustainable economy.
  • New Entrepreneurs. Soon enough the world of business will be overtaken by the next crops of entrepreneurs and business graduates. And while their university education doesn’t exactly cover ecological economics, they have at least grown up with environmental issues such as climate change being in the public consciousness. Also, there are in fact plenty of passionate young people just gagging to grow up, graduate and start some radical or innovative business enterprise. I know people like this. It gives me hope for the future. Because although my generation can be a bunch of lazy 9gag lovers, I do happen to have more faith in these chumps than I do in the generation that’s currently steering the ship towards the rocks.

Do you happen to run or manage a business?
If so, how about you do us all a favour and think about how you can run your firm in a more sustainable and fair way. The New Economics Foundation suggests that businesses use the ‘triple bottom line’ approach – i.e., they aim to deliver not just financial capital but also social and economic ‘capital’.
Of course, capitalism doesn’t support this. But we can’t start from a fresh page, we have to start with what we’ve got.

What we’ve got is free market capitalism, which is causing widespread suffering for the poor and environmental hazards for everyone.
What we could have is a sustainable and equitable steady state economy.

Who’s with me?

2 thoughts on “Business for the Steady State

  1. Tegan, loved your humor in this post. :-) I do have more faith in your generation than mine or the present one running things but I don’t see positive changes coming about any time in the near future by the bigger corporations. In my local area, I see plenty of smaller businesses popping up being run by families and individuals that are very much sustainable in my eyes. The fastest growing businesses are those that resell merchandise such as thrift shops and consignment stores. But also growing in popularity are small mom and pop restaurants, and artist run establishments. These are the places I put my money but have to say sadly the Walmart parking lot is always full.

    We also have a new business practice which is becoming common. Businesses are cutting employee hours to less than 20 to avoid paying for insurance. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago but basically I see this as a bad thing for individuals and families as their expenses have not decreased along with their wages. Yet, in the long run I believe this could be a good thing. People will cut back on spending, look for free entertainment, garden, live in smaller homes. I just hope what I see as positive outcomes are the result because right now it’s being seen as corporate greed.

    1. Thank you! For some reason my writing gets more informal if I’m tired when I write it..

      Anyway, I think you’re right that a steady state revolution is not going to come from big corporations – the current system is serving their CEOs just fine. But they can be persuaded and pressured to make minor changes, and minor changes add up to quite a lot when a huge company is involved.
      But my real inspiration comes from things like the social enterprise movement.
      The trend you describe seems pretty bad to me – I think everyone should be able to have a stable job. And even though poverty equals low carbon emissions, I think being forced to be green in this way will not benefit either the people effected or environmentalism’s image. I guess it is a silver lining to a bad situation though…

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