Sustainability, in my opinion, is critical thinking for the purpose of making sure our resources remain available in the long run, as well as satisfying our needs in the short run. For this reason, I do not feel that sustainability and capitalism necessarily oppose one another, because capitalism strives to both make money in the short and retain that business in the long run as well. After all, this is what is best for the rational individual. I think that it is very easy for people to say, however, that sustainability and capitalism are opposed because many take the narrow view that sustainability focuses on the long run, while capitalism focuses on the short-run.


In reality, the two ideas are much more complex than people give them credit for. Sustainability, in addition to preserving our world for the future, still allows for us to use a certain amount now. And capitalism, while seeking to maximize profit, wants to retain that profit for as long as possible.


In my opinion, this is where the two ideas intercept, and where we can find a meeting point. To run a sustainable business in a capitalist society may consume more money in the short run, but in fact, the company will retain a profit for longer because their resources won’t run out. Take tuna fishing for instance. This is a business that, so far, has been driven by shortsighted capitalism, with no thought to how this would effect them in the future. A person solely focussed on sustainability would say we need to stop fishing all together, in order to preserve the fish. However, a sustainable capitalist would point out that by lowering the quantity of tuna we fish today, we are actually preserving the resource, so that we can still be profitable in the future. I think there is almost always a sustainable capitalist approach, and we will be seeing more and more of this thinking in the future, as our resources begin to dwindle.


7 responses »

  1. Lindsey F. says:

    I really like the diagram you found. I think it describes the relationship between the environment and the economy very well in terms of capitalism and sustainability. It definitely has to do with social norms as well. Which is why I think that the two will integrate very well in the near future because so many people are now conscious of our environment and adamant about protecting it.

  2. Matt says:

    I agree that the diagram you posted is a great visualization of the complexity of this relationship. I think your tuna example is great too. I can imagine a scenario where someone gets a little upset at why the price of fish has gotten so high, but then it is explained to them that there is a global shortage and they are reducing their inventory/jacking up the price until it re-stabilizes. And I would argue that 99% of people would not only stop being upset, they would be mildly impressed or inspired. I think the recent combination of the Great Recession and increasing public awareness of climate change has made people overtly cynical and, as you mentioned, they have fallen prey to the gross generalization and oversimplification that capitalism = fastest short term growth you can manage and sustainability = long term sustainability, and therefore the two must inherently be opposed to each other, which is just not true.

    • Loukas T says:

      I like your alternate progression of what would happen with tuna fishing. Its pure supply and demand. Lower the supply, prices increase, consumers don’t buy as much, and supply stabilizes again. Already there are businesses that are raising fish in sustainable farms to account for the future shortage of seafood. Perhaps we are putting all our eggs in one basket, but capitalism seems to be our best bet to insure our future.

  3. wesmw says:

    I am in complete agreement that the two ideas of capitalism and sustainability are more complex than people give them credit for. As a result of this, people often take short cuts that are not sustainable and do an injustice to the system of capitalism. I think it is extremely important for people to realize that these two ideas are more related to each other than unrelated. If we can come to terms with this realization, I think that more sustainable business practices will be adopted which will contribute to the success of capitalism.

  4. Steph P. says:

    I really liked your tuna fishing example. It’s interesting how we’ve structured our economy to meet both needs. What I mean by this is by being sustainable, we’re actually profiting even more. Since there are limited fish left, we can jack up the prices to meet the demand, while selling less fish. Then that has me thinking how greedy capitalist can use that mentality to exploit the importance of conserving our resources. If they are making money off certain products (like tuna) and can find a way to regulate the population of tuna so that they don’t “overbreed”, they will continue making more money. I’m not sure if that makes sense logistically but it’s just something I pondered on.

  5. Jordi says:

    Nice Venn Diagram. Where’d you get it?

  6. Jordi says:

    But what if THE ONLY way to have a viable tuna market is if we eat WAY less tuna. Less tuna salad; less sushi; less tuna casserole surprise? Will everyone go along with sustainable business if it means no more Fish Fry Fridays?

    Does being sustainable mean you need t olearn to like seaweed and soybean surprise?

    I actually do like seaweed…

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