Toward a generative economy
“What kind of economy is consistent with living inside a living being?” This was a question posed under a leafy canopy, deep in the woods of southern England, not far from Schumacher College where I’d come as a teacher. I stood listening with a group of students as resident ecologist Stephan Harding asked what for me would become a pivotal question – the only question there is, really, as we negotiate the turn from the industrial age into a new age of civilization. I’d come to Schumacher to share my learnings from four years as cofounder ofCorporation 20/20 at Tellus Institute in Boston, where I’d helped lead hundreds of experts in business, law, government, labor, and civil society to explore a critical question: How could corporations be redesigned to incorporate social and ecological aims as deeply as financial aims? Over 20 years as co-founder and publisher of Business Ethics magazine, I’d seen how corporations and financial markets had come to be the dominant institutions of society, how their profit-maximizing operating system had become the operating system of the planet. That design lay at the root of many major ills facing our society. But Stephan’s talk helped me understand why redesigning corporations did not quite hit the mark as the solution: You don’t start with the corporation and ask how to redesign it. You start with life, with human life and the life of the planet, and ask, how do we generate the conditions for life’s flourishing?