Businesses are hierarchies, not democracies. Business decisions are made by the owners only, not all people. The owners have an unlimited desire to increase their wealth. Over the last few centuries, companies, especially limited liability companies, in their pursue of continuous growth, have exploited the planet, its people, its animals and its nature for the sake of unrestricted economic growth. However, their liability for the damages they have caused to the climate and the environment is all but nonexistent. They are not, at least not yet, obliged to repair the damage they have caused, and if they were to do so, their liability would end in bankruptcy. This arrangement is clearly unreasonable.
It would be great to see Business Decelerators rise in every city. First, the largest companies, especially the oil, coal and gas companies, which operate as the internal combustion engines of the fossil capitalist economy, are brought into the Business Decelerators. The operating logic of a Business Decelerator is very simple: there, the corporate strategies will be readjusted until the businesses only do such activities they can continue to do forever without causing any (more) damage.
We might be able to print money without any limit, but we can’t print new habitats for living creatures, breathable air, or a fair distribution of income once these have been lost.
Some of us still talk about ‘business sustainability’ as an answer to the limits we’re hitting everywhere, in energy, in clean air and water, in natural resources, in purchasing power of the middle class, in debt-based material growth etc. It’s a useful idea to forget about sustainability. If something can’t be sustained, it won’t be sustained, no matter how hard we hope. If the true costs for diminishing and permanently used-up resources was charged to business beneficiaries of those resources, these businesses would close their doors tomorrow.
If we, as individuals, were forced to live within the boundaries of one planet, instead of four planets or twenty planets, our lifestyle, as we know it, would be finished today. The fact is, many of our current activities can’t be maintained for much longer, even if we continued to ignore the moral problem of global inequality, or the problem of 1% of the people grabbing and using up wealth and resources on behalf of the rest of us, and even on behalf of their own grandchildren. For both businesses and individuals, it’s more than just a question of sustainability of operations. It’s about sustenance as a business, about existence.
What to do, if you are a business owner? Firstly, make sure your company has understood the situation. Secondly, make sure you have hired the best thinking available to help decide the right course of action. Thirdly, don’t waste any more time hoping that a solution appears out of thin air and bails you out at the last minute.
A very short note at the end of the year (having recently survived yet another end of the world): There must be something very wrong with incentives in our economic systems. As the limits to material growth are approaching, we should have in place strong incentives for using less physical resources. Instead, many – if not most – incentives systems reward people for using more resources. We reward our best and brightest for getting better at using more resources every year. Don’t we?