Trevor Hancock: A new ecological civilization: How do we get there?

Last week, I explored Guy Dauncey’s ideas for a “new ecological civilization” based on an “economics of kindness,” which he describes as “a cultural system of compassionate values expressed in the economy through the use of democracy.”

But as one of my readers wrote to me in response to that column, this is all very well, but “how do we get to ... the economics of kindness? Alternative economics is fine, but how do we sway society away from profits and environmental degradation?”

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A raft of proposals to do this are to be found in a recent brief on rebuilding B.C. (for which Dauncey was a lead author) from the Vancouver-based Green Technology Education Centre on how to guide economic recovery to create a just, sustainable and resilient society.

Importantly, many of the recommendations have already been adopted in other industrialized countries and been shown to work.

At its root, the key to all their proposals is a re-focusing of the business we are in, as a society, as communities and as an economy, to “prioritize the public good” rather than private gain. Elsewhere, Dauncey has called this “changing the social DNA of business”.

A particularly important set of proposals are concerned with encouraging “a province-wide transition to purpose-driven business”, as suggested by B.C.’s United Way Social Purpose Institute. In practice, this means businesses would adopt social purpose charters that clarify that they have a “fiduciary duty to include the pursuit of social and ecological as well as financial purpose.”

Globally, there are already 3,300 certified B-corporations, as these are known, of which 70 are in B.C., they report.

Some of the key proposals are focused on significant reforms to the present financial system. B.C. should establish a Green Investment Bank of B.C. that would “be used to finance recovery investments that support B.C.’s climate action targets and other goals”. This would be a public bank, such as exist in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain and France.

It would use public funds to leverage private funds for investments in green infrastructure projects, as the Connecticut Green Bank has done, “attracting $5 private-sector dollars for every government dollar.”

Such funding could support an aggressive program of neighbourhood-scale building retrofits, investments in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, acceleration of the electrification of transportation or support for non-profit societies to accelerate the construction of affordable housing.

Another important proposed business innovation is to help companies avoid bankruptcy by transitioning to employee or community ownership, with support from a suitable agency and some transition funding.

Bankruptcy is also an issue at the household level, the report notes: “B.C.’s average household debt is the second highest in Canada, at $155,500 per household.”

This “poses a huge obstacle to the recovery of consumer confidence, and risks pushing households into bankruptcy.” To address this, the report suggests supporting “the Credit Counselling Society to expand the reach of its services” and using “the government’s ability to borrow at very low rates to establish a large pool of funds for household debt consolidation and repayment”.

Another important approach, which I touched on a couple of weeks ago, is social procurement. The B.C. government should create Community Benefit Clauses for all government purchases (as has been done in Scotland), requiring all contracting authorities to consider how the funding can be used to “improve the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of the area in which it operates”.

There is much more to this report than I can cover in one short column, including proposals for establishing a Crown corporation to kick-start an Advanced Green Manufacturing sector in B.C. and establishing a Community Mutual Support Fund to support community organizations to support and develop mutual aid initiatives.

But the challenge of dramatically reforming our economy to put people and planet first requires two changes that I see as the far larger challenges we face and that I will address in the next two columns: How do we arrive at a shared understanding of the challenges we face and what to do about them, and how do we establish a very different set of values to those that have guided our societal and community decision-making over the past couple of hundred years?

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