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Enterprises should focus on wellbeing rather than growth

24 May 2011 | The Guardian

When I run sessions with business executives on growth, wellbeing, and innovation, I say that people don't have to buy my analysis of the problem to buy my ideas on the solution. That's because I think we are now living in an era of "uneconomic growth" and we therefore have no choice but to redefine prosperity as being about wellbeing not growth.

But even if, despite all the evidence, growth is still possible or likely, surely it makes sense for our economy to move on to defining prosperity not as more "stuff" and money but more wellbeing? If you disagree with that idea, you won't like what follows, but I hope you will read on.

Why do I talk about "beyond-growth" economics? We're trashing our one and only planet. On many measures like the LPI and Rockstrom, it is clear we are in overshoot and living off the capital as well as the interest. You wouldn't run a company that way would you?

And, despite all the rapid growth causing all that destruction, since the 1970s, wellbeing has flatlined in the developed world. We know that, at a level beyond which most in the developed world have long passed, extra income brings little or no more wellbeing.

So what's the growth for? And how come the new economic foundation's happy planet index shows us that "underdeveloped" countries such as Costa Rica are far more ecologically efficient at delivering long, happy lives than places like the UK? Professor Tim Jackson summarises our growth obession and affluenza in his TED talk, saying "We spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to make impressions that don't last, on people we don't care about."

The increase in the scale of this consumerist economy is relentless. And this scale is just as important as the intensity of resource use. While some evidence can be found for relative decoupling, absolute decoupling remains fatally elusive.

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