On New Year’s Eve, two important posts from my friend Rafter over at Liberation Ecology: Teeth in the Ethics (Revisited) and Toward Financial Permaculture: New Farms in the Old System. My suggestion is to read them, then come back here.
Back? Ok, to review: in most situations today, advancing real ecological regeneration and social/economic justice is incompatible with being financially profitable. This is partly why so many activists and world changers work in the non-profit sector, where some alternative funding streams can be found (which of course often come with significant catches/constraints).
More importantly, though, it’s also why the momentum of the global economy continues towards greater eco-social devastation. The big incentives that most people and nearly all companies respond to are (nearly) always pointing in the direction of exploitation rather than regeneration (as I’ve explored at greater length here previously).
But mostly and nearly always are not the same as always. There are ways, usually through (as Rafter suggests) higher-level system design and movement development, that the financial incentives can move in the direction of greater ecological health and social/economic justice. And at the national Young Farmer’s Conference a few weeks ago, Fred Kirschenmann talked about this very possibility.
The core concept Fred presented was called “Creating Shared Value,” a term coined by some insurgent social economists in the last few years. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that a single enterprise with a triple bottom line (i.e., people, planet, profit) is unlikely to succeed beyond a certain scale or niche in the current economy, and therefore will have a negligible overall impact on the big-scale problems. But by creating ecosystems of these eco-social enterprises that mutually support each other, economies of scale start to work towards greater regeneration and economic justice rather than towards greater inequality and resource depletion. These ecosystems of enterprises can then create shared value (financial, social, ecological) that feed back support and surplus into their communities and bioregions. Fred went on to argue that in food systems, the sweet spot for these shared-value enterprise systems to take root right now is in middle-scale markets – larger scale than a single small local-market farm, but smaller-scale than the national agribusiness market.
This is all very similar to and synergistic with the thinking of a) the cooperative business movement, b) the emerging food systems field, and c) the Financial Permaculture Institute‘s work on regenerative enterprises. And at YFC, Fred essentially challenged the 200+ young eco-social farmers present to figure out how to scale up our business models for more profitability and greater positive social and ecological yields.
Both the structures and functions of natural ecosystems (which are still our best reference palate for design) and the Creating Shared Value framework suggest that a big part of the way to do that is by working together and interconnecting. So that’s my planet repair challenge to all of you for 2013. How can we scale up, interconnect, and create a significantly greater ecological, social, and financial return on our work? What are examples of communities doing this around the world? What are the leverage points for individuals and organizations in diverse positions to participate?
It’s a unique time in human history. Let’s make the most of it. A grateful farewell to 2012, and an engaged, awakened welcome to the new year.