To me, “sustainability,” our favorite buzzword besides “innovation,” is defined as taking logical steps for long term survival. Capitalism is a competitive system that rewards smart planning with the right to life. Therefore, capitalism and sustainability really do go hand in hand. If you want a successful business, to compete in our market, you need to have a sound long-term strategy. Overzealous growth is useless if you burn up all of your resources, you will eventually die out. And the market itself tends to spit out those that violate basic laws of man and nature. 

In the present, I think our biggest problem is that we are still adjusting to the pace of growth, that we are moving so fast that we do not have time to take time to reflect on the consequences of our actions, and that we are constantly playing “catch up” rather than planning ahead. There is a growing animosity that capitalism is the cause of all evils, especially the death of the planet. But it makes no sense. Sucking up as much energy as you can, wiping out and gorging all of your local resources, spreading pollution, using dangerous chemicals; all this will do is drive people away or result in self-implosion.

I am confident that within the next decade we will get our act together. There is a growing trend towards supporting “green” business practices, to the point where it is becoming the norm. An overwhelming majority of scientists and engineers are strong believers in preventing any further climate change, and are directing their efforts towards solving these problems. Most people in our generation, slated to take over soon, also believe in protecting the environment. The market is driving down the cost of alternative energy sources, organic food, etc. The Great Recession has renewed focusing on long-term planning and stability. In a few years, people will acknowledge that we need to change in order to survive. I think this short-term burst will be an outlier in human history as we tend once more towards traditional, more sustainable growth models, and the naysayers will be shown once and for all that capitalism is meant to promote sustainability.

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4 responses »

  1. Charles says:

    This is an interesting claim that “capitalism is,by definition, meant to sustain”. You present it as if it is common sense, while I do think it is in everyone’s best interest to be sustainable. I simply do not believe that means that everyone will do it, maybe I am just pessimistic,but I believe people will act out of immediate self-interest which usually will mean how can I get the most money(regardless of the means). Capitalism in my mind is the ability to make as much money as possible as long as it is legal, however sustainability aims at creating a sufficient economy. Because there are many signals pointing that we are running out of resources. In capitalism business as usual will lead to growth beyond our means. Sustainability says we need to live within our means.

    • I think I understand what you’re saying, and that intuitively makes sense.

      What I’d clarify is that resources are not fixed though. Resources are the consequence of our minds. I mean, human intelligence allows us to transform unusable material into resources that serve our needs. In that context, the ideal social system isn’t sustainable, but progressive.

  2. Lindsey F. says:

    I agree with you. I think this whole ‘sustainability’ or ‘green’ movement is becoming the norm these days. With that, things should start changing. Obviously everything takes time so I believe, as you go, that we will start to see changes. I’ve never really thought about your point that sucking up energy will actually hurt your business. I think I inherently thought that but the way you describe it really brings my attention to that issue.

  3. Jordi says:

    I hope you are right about the next decade.

    It is crucial to look at how the “virtue community” of scientists and engineers embrace the underlying logic of sustainable capitalism. This may have a more profound effect in day to day practice than any specific legal changes or shifts in consumer sentiment.

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