Rethinking Green Economics: Beyond the Triple Bottom Line (TBL)

The popular sustainability phrase, “People, Planet, Profit”, was coined by John Elkington in 1995, and in 1997, it was adopted as the title of the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell’s first sustainability report. As a result, the 3Ps of sustainability have become a well known icon of green economics in the Netherlands, as well as in the rest of the industrialized world. Since its coinage, many private companies and even multinational corporations pride themselves of adhering to TBL tenets.

For a company incorporating TBL guidelines, it means that all business decisions ideally combines three concerns: are the company’s business practices financially, socially and environmentally responsible? Considering these questions, the company can continuously self-regulate its business practices and move beyond bottom-line profit motives and optimize its performance and enhance its contribution to the environment and community it operates in. Today, the 3Ps have become a hallmark of the green business movement and are largely promoted as a panacea to creating a more sustainable world.

The following is a short review of TBL and how the concept differs from the old business model, where financial profit generally is the sole indicator of a company’s success.

“People” refer to a company or corporation’s fair and beneficial business practices toward the employees, people and community in which it is conducting its business. In practical terms, a TBL business would strive not to hire child labor, would pay fair salaries to its workers, maintain a safe labor environment and reasonable working hours, and would not otherwise exploit a community or labor force.

“Planet” refers to all natural resources utilized by a business and thus to its sustainable, green, or environmental practices. A TBL company endeavors to minimize its environmental impact, or reduce its ecological footprint by, among other things, carefully managing its consumption of energy and non-renewables and reducing manufacturing waste as well as rendering waste less toxic before disposal or recycling.

“Profit” is the economic value created by a business after deducting the cost of all inputs, including natural resources, cost of pollution, capital, etc. Profit within a TBL framework, therefore, differs from traditional accounting definitions of profit, which would take for granted the free services rendered by nature and not account for the company’s environmental impact. Normally, profit is limited to the monetary profit made by a company or organization, but in the TBL approach, profit also refers to the positive economic and service impact a company has on people and planet.

The TBL formula quite effectively points out the essence as well as main defect of capitalism: that the totality of the private business enterprise, even the totality of the goal of economic life itself, can be reduced to one word: profit. “This means,” wrote economist E.F. Schumacher as early as 1973 in his monumentally influential book Small is Beautiful, “that an activity can be economic although it plays hell with the environment, and that a competing activity, if at some cost it protects and conserves the environment, will be uneconomic.” In other words, according to capitalist economics, as introduced by Adam Smith’s irrational economic philosophy of selfish needs creating altruistic results, money is the highest of all values, and profit is the driver of progress, indeed of civilization itself. Schumacher understood the inherent flaw in this theory and the market on which it is based, and which he aptly described as “the institutionalization of individualism and non-responsibility.” (Small is Beautiful, E. F. Schumacher, Hartley and Marks, Vancouver, BC, 1999)

Building upon Schumacher, the green movement of the 1980s until today has carefully developed a new economic reform-model, which some call sustainability and others call green capitalism.  The value system of green reform-capitalism strikes at the heart of the simplistic errors of classical capitalism, as well as those of neo-capitalism, and points out that the pursuit of profit takes nature for granted and avoids the negative effects business can have on people and the environment. With these defects in mind, TBL was developed to right the wrongs of business as usual. But is reforming this staggeringly flawed system enough? Is it indeed possible to reform an economic system that has brought us an increasingly divided world of rich and poor nations, that has given us a financial system run amok in speculative ventures creating mega-profits but no real jobs, while effecting nature so negatively that many scientists think we are on the brink of world-wide collapse?

The green movement surely thinks so. Green reforms can indeed tame the capitalist beast, the movement bravely claims. Since Schumacher’s influential book came out in the 1970s, the greens have been busy implementing all kinds of economic, political and activist ventures in pursuit of a market system that is benign for people and planet while  also good for the bottom line. But one of green capitalism’s most ardent proponents, however, popular writer Paul Hawken, admits that progress has been small. So small, in fact, that Hawken likens its impact to mere “drops in a bucket.” (Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken, 2007) The reason green capitalism has so far made very little impact is partly political—lack of comprehensive changes in environmental and economic policies—and partly economical—corporate capitalism is still the predominant economic system. And as long as we have an economic system acting as a predator in relation to nature, we can only expect cosmetic changeto the status quo.

Published with permission of Roar Bjonnes and

Rethinking Green Economics: Beyond the Triple Bottom Line (TBL)
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Charlottesville – Double Standards and Hypocrisy in Media Reporting

During a rally organised in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017 Heather Heyer, a 32 year old white woman, was deliberately run over by a car and killed. The rally, “Unite the Right,” was organized by Jason Kessler of the “Proud Boys,” an ultra-nationalist white supremacy group.  The perpetrator, James Alex Fields, Jr., has been charged with second degree murder.

President Trump quickly condemned the violence ‘on both sides,’ causing a firestorm of media condemnation for treating white supremacists and those protesting against the hate groups as two equal parties having equal blame. It was quickly pointed out that this was in marked contrast to how the President had clearly come out and condemned ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ when the perpetrators were Muslim. Now, when it was a neo-Nazi with Trump sympathies, the violence was blamed on people from both sides, with no mention of terrorism.

It is clear that the stance of President Trump is hypocritical. When a young Muslim man drives a truck into a crowd and kills innocent victims Trump rightly condemns it as terrorism. But when a Neo-Nazi with Trump sympathies does the same, Trump blames ‘both sides’ for the violence and does not even mention the killing.

It is commendable for the mainstream media to point out this double standard, but unfortunately this is a rare instance where this is done. Using different standards for judging your enemies and your friends is the norm among US Presidents rather than the exception, and the only really extraordinary thing about Charlottesville is that this time the press is making an issue out of it.

Noam Chomsky has shown that if you used the standards set up by the US administration to try Nazi war criminals at the end of the Second World War, then every sitting US president after 1945 would have been prosecuted and hanged for war crimes. But who reports on it? Governments consistently condemn the actions and atrocities of their opponents and rivals, real and imagined both, but ignore or whitewash those done by our own countries. In this regard there is little difference between any of the major powers.

Let us look at the concept of terrorism. If we use the common definition of terrorism as the use of force against civilians to threaten and force governments in power to accede to a demand or set of demands, then all major state powers, whether United States, Russia or China, are the greatest terrorists on earth, simply because they have the greatest resources for violence. They routinely use force to pressure other governments to do their bidding.

For example, after 9/11, the Bush Administration informed the Taliban government of Afghanistan that they would bomb their country unless the Taliban handed over Osama bin Laden. This is a text book example of State Sponsored International Terrorism, and fits the above definition like a glove. Yet, nobody would call it terrorism. Yes, 9/11 was an atrocious terrorist act that should be condemned by everybody, but when even more innocent people are killed by greater force, why is there silence?

As for examples of terrorism conducted by China and Russia, the atrocities in Tibet and Chechnya come to mind.

If a weak opponent hurt the population of a powerful nation, then it is terrorism. If a powerful nation does it to a weaker nation or to a weak opponent, then they are simply supporting the peace process; upholding democracy; or at worst, engaging in counter terrorism. They are never labeled as terrorists.

The US routinely supports dictators that are allies, regardless of their crimes. President Suharto killed off more than a million people in Indonesia that he considered communist, all with the blessing and support of the United States. This was not reported on, in the same way as no condemnation is leveled against Saudi Arabia for its discrimination against women and other forms of suppression. After all, these were allies.

On the other hand, hardly one person in the West failed to hear about the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, the murderous regime in Cambodia that also killed millions of people. Khmer Rouge was an enemy, and so their crimes were reported, whereas Indonesia was an ally, and so their crimes were covered up. The fact that CIA actually funded the Khmer Rouge after it was ousted by Vietnam is another little reported fact.

Not only do powerful nations gloss over terrorist acts committed by themselves and their allies and justify them with some glib words, but recently the word terrorist is being used to attack opponents that are a thorn in their sides, even if they have nothing to do with traditional terrorism. For example, the little known Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act passed in the United States in 2006 is directed against groups like the Animal Liberation Front and any other group that uses extra-legal means to protect the rights of animals. Any person who causes financial losses to animal research facilities or animal enterprise can now be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail!

So while it is wonderful that the press in this case condemns President Trump for his double standards, let us hope that this starts a new trend in media coverage where all double standards are pointed out, and not only the ones that are convenient. Maybe our Proutist slogan should be, ‘No Double Standards with regards to Double Standards!’

Charlottesville – Double Standards and Hypocrisy in Media Reporting
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The Trump Enigma

If there is one thing all progressives are united about, it is the universal condemnation of Donald Trump. Rarely has one person managed to create such a united opposition in such a short time.

From a Proutist perspective, we naturally join in the opposition to Trump, as any sane person would do. If we had to choose one of Trump’s policies that stands out as potentially the most disastrous to human civilisation, it would be his stance on global warming. By pulling out of the Paris Accord, and openly denying that global warming is even happening, Trump has accelerated the path towards catastrophic changes in the climate on planet earth.

But it does not stop there. The list of crazy things that Trump stands for is long; the boarder wall against Mexico; the dismantling of Obamacare; the lowering of taxes on rich corporations. The list goes on. Regarding his so called ‘tax reform,’ it is interesting to note that the main beneficiary will be Donald Trump and his rich friends. If these ‘reforms’ becomes law, Trump and his peers stand to gain billions of dollars in lowered taxes. Naturally, he has all reason to pursue this course of action. Rarely has the conflict of interest for a sitting president of the United States been more glaring and obvious.

But then again, there is another side of Trump, and that is where the enigma starts. Trump sometimes actually has some good ideas, and he brings up issues that other established politicians rarely dare to talk about. Take, for example, Trump’s opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which he pulled out of. Trump has also threatened to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement, the free trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, and he is attacking other free trade deals negotiated under the auspices of the WTO. Even though these free trade agreements are disastrous for most developing countries, they are considered sacrosanct and all established politicians sing their praise.

Free trade is clearly beneficial to developed nations, but for a struggling developing country, where the local industry is not internationally competitive, it destroys the local industry in a very short time. What is needed instead are fair trade deals, so that developing countries have a chance to gradually develop their industries to a point where they are competitive on the global market.

Naturally, Trump is not concerned with any of this. He is worried about the deals that already exist, those which already favour the United States, but, in his mind, do not favour the United States enough! There is a breath of fresh air in this irony, however. That someone in the establishment finally dares to break the silence and speak out against free trade, might actually embolden more leftist politicians to question these deals from a progressive point of view.

Another area where Trump is breaking with orthodoxy, and not in a bad way, is his willingness to work with Russia. The rhetoric in the United States, and most of the rest of the world, is that Russia is the great demon and the United States is the angel. In reality, they are two of the world’s most powerful nations acting according to their own strategic interests.

Take the issues of Crimea. Crimea was a part of Russia from 1783 to 1954, when it was transferred to Ukraine shortly after the death of Joseph Stalin. However, at that time Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, so it was just then a matter of changing the internal administration of a small region within a country, with no expectations of giving up its sovereignty. What makes the Crimea so important to Russia is that it is the base of its Black Sea Fleet, and there is no chance that Russia would allow this base, with all its military ships, to fall into US hands, no more than the US would allow Cuba to become a Russian outpost. The security threat is just too much.

After the West backed a coup against the democratically elected government, and the new government decided to join the EU, Russia had no option but to take Crimea back from Ukraine. The US would definitely have done the same under similar circumstances, so the shock and horror and talk of Russian aggression is just more theatrics.

This ability of Trump to look at the political reality, and see the opponent as just another player which he can deal with, without falling into stereotypes, is a positive trend. Unfortunately, in this case, where Trump could actually do something positive by improving relationships with Russia, Trump’s hands are almost totally tied due to the investigations of his ties with Russia and the accusations that Russia influenced the US elections in favour of Trump.

Finally, another positive initiative of Trump is his decision to invest a trillion dollars to rebuild US infrastructure. Unfortunately, this policy has been reduced to giving tax and other incentives to private companies who are willing to do the investments.

So what do we, as Proutists, take from all this?

Trump is a dangerous president, who has advanced many policies that could be disastrous for the United States, its citizens, and the entire world. Trump’s tax policies promote the benefit of the richest of the rich, without stimulating the wider economy. His failure to sign the Paris Accord threatens to accelerate global warming and possibly the extinction of human civilisation as we know it. And his foreign policy is unpredictable and might unleash major armed conflicts, even a nuclear war.

The present escalating war of words with North Korea pits two personalities that do not know how to back down when challenged. Trump may not have the intention to start a nuclear war, but his lack of diplomatic skills and self-control could very well trigger a nuclear confrontation. When you play brinkmanship, things do not always go as planned.

If we end up with a nuclear war, then nothing else will matter, and everything else will fall into the background. If, on the other hand, war is avoided, another interesting angle can be considered.

By questioning taboo issues, such as free trade, the EU and the US relationship with Russia, Trump has changed the political climate by legitimizing new discussions on these topics. He has thus made it more likely if Proutists raise these questions from a progressive standpoint that the audience will be more willing to listen. And that is not such a bad thing, is it?

The Trump Enigma
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