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Authors: Olga Koretskaya, Gus Grosenbaugh

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For the past several decades, the primary question for many businesses has been: “How much money can we make?”. It is still largely assumed that the social responsibility of business is to increase profits for shareholders, as that wealth should trickle down to benefit all. While the formal economy has never been larger, the unprecedented scale of environmental degradation and inequality it has created today makes us question business-as-usual and to look for alternatives.

In fact, all around the world, people are rejecting the status-quo of self-interest. In the midst of the global pandemic, more than ever, we see purposeful work towards building an economy that delivers environmental and social wellbeing.

  • With the election of Joe Biden, the US appears primed to re-enter the Paris Agreement.
  • New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget makes health a key, driving metric in economic decision making.
  • The ‘rights of nature’ are being recognised by national and local laws, predominantly in the countries of the Global South: Ecuador, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Mexico, Uganda, and Colombia.

While public awareness and government policies are crucial in supporting Wellbeing Business, it is companies – both large and small – that will be the engine behind the transition. The good news is: many of them already exist, and we know how to recognise them.

Here are eight key principles that define a Wellbeing Business.

  1. Redefining the vision. Primarily driven by the desire to create products and services that satisfy the needs of society, while staying in harmony with nature. 
  2. Ensuring transparency. Proactive in disclosing data about their environmental, social, and economic performance.
  3. Internalising externalities. Aware of the ‘negative externalities’ or negative environmental and social impacts they produce, and strive to reduce them.
  4. Having a long-term mindset. Make decisions that benefit the company and all important stakeholders including society and nature. This implies, for example careful consideration of resource use, and investment in employees and the communities within which companies operate.
  5. Making people an asset. Prioritise the dignifying of work and empowering of diverse voices within the company.
  6. Localising production. Become much more embedded in the community and ecosystems by striving to localise energy sources, financial sources, as well as distribution.      
  7. Switching to circular production. Design business processes to coexist with environmental and social systems.
  8. Embracing diversity. Acknowledge and embrace diversity in values, ownership structure, finance as key to a resilient business environment.

On 18 December we hosted a webinar to discuss this paper. You can watch the recording here:

Also, do check out the WEAll Business Guide as a nice pair to this work.

The covid-19 pandemic has made the inequalities and absurdities of our current economic systems clearer than ever. Economic policies are oriented towards emergency response and meeting basic needs, and there is no longer an economic status quo available to us.

This provides an opportunity to advance the vision of a wellbeing economy, with even more urgency than before the crisis. It has never been more crucial that we focus our systems on delivering wellbeing for all.

Ten Principles to Build Back Better

The COVID-19 pandemic is having devastating effects on vulnerable communities around the world but we are also seeing glimpses of hope, where societies are working to “build back better” by ensuring basic needs and protecting our natural environment.

In a new WEAll briefing paper published today, we outline a set of ten principles for “building back better” toward a wellbeing economy. “Wellbeing economics for the covid-19 recovery”, by Milena Buchs et al, showcases examples of inspiring actions around the world that are moving us towards a wellbeing economy, along with examples of actions that are moving us away from this vision.

 

1. New goals: ecologically safe and environmentally just

Prioritise long-term human wellbeing and ecological stability in all decision-making; degrow and divest from economic sectors that do not contribute to ecological and wellbeing goals; invest in those that do; facilitate a just transition for all that creates jobs in and reskills for environmentally friendly and wellbeing focused sectors.

2. Protecting environmental standards

Protect all existing climate policy and emission reduction targets, environmental regulations and other environmental policies in all COVID-19 responses.

3. Green infrastructure and provisioning

Develop new green infrastructure and provisioning, and sustainable social practices as part of the COVID-19 recovery. For instance, transform urban space towards active travel and away from car use; scale up public transport, green energy, environmentally sustainable food production, low carbon housing; attach environmental conditionality to bailouts of high carbon industries.

4. Universal basic services

Guarantee needs satisfaction for everyone, including through health care coverage for the whole population free of charge at point of access; universal free provision or vouchers for basic levels of water, electricity, gas, housing, food, mobility, education.

5. Guaranteed livelihoods

Ensure everyone has the means for decent living, for instance through income and/or job guarantees, redistribution of employment through working-time reduction.

6. Fair distribution

Create more equal societies nationally and globally through a fair distribution of resources and opportunities. E.g. more progressive and environmentally orientated income and wealth taxation; public/common ownership of key resources and infrastructure.

7. Better democracy

Ensure effective, transparent and inclusive democratic processes at all levels; end regulatory capture from corporate interests and corruption.

8. Wellbeing economics organisations

Prioritise in all businesses and organisations social and ecological goals; implement circular economy principles to minimise resource use and waste; ensure economic and organisational democracy.

9. Cooperation

Ensure cooperation and solidarity at all levels, including in international politics and the global economy; across industrial sectors and government ministries; across scales (global, national, regional, local).

10. Public control of money

Introduce public and democratic control of money creation. Spend newly created money on investments that promote social and environmental goals and avoid post-recovery austerity.

What does building back better look like in practice?

There are already great examples around the world of governments starting to employ these principles.

The city of Amsterdam has sped up the adoption of a doughnut economics framework in response to COVID-19 to guide decision making.

New Zealand, Iceland and Scotland are already implementing wellbeing economics principles, through the formation of the Wellbeing Economy Government group, and wellbeing budgets and decision-making frameworks. These countries have also achieved better outcomes in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

Of course, other decision makers are opting for business-as-usual, what the WEAll Briefing paper calls a “back to worse” approach. Notably, several governments, including in the US, UK, Australia, Sweden and Denmark have bailed out airlines, without environmental conditions in response to COVID-19.

Download and read the paper for more examples under each of the ten principles of Build Back Better and Back To Worse approaches.

“Building back better” will require great creativity and coordination. Concerted effort is needed to truly value wellbeing and ecological sustainability simultaneously and for all.

New ideas are a crucial ingredient for such an endeavour. We’ve suggested the ten principles above for responding to COVID-19 – and we recognise that this is a unique moment of change. So, we invite you to engage in this discussion as we work to build back better together. Comment below with further suggestions of principles and examples for what this means where you are.