Green Growth, past and future

On Saturday I attended the launch of the Green Growth Advisory Group’s report on ‘greening’  New Zealand’s growth.  As well as being an interesting cultural experience in its own right, it was useful to hear first hand some of the ideas and expectations that flow from the document.

The Greens see a lot in the report that we can support, but there are also some serious issues or concerns that the report skirts around. (In his presentation Phil O’Reilly, one of the authors, did make clear that the Group worked to a quite specific terms of reference).

Mr O’Reilly also proposed in his speech that “Our target should not be to try to balance economic growth and environmental protection. It should be about enhancing both environmental protection and biodiversity and engendering economic growth as well as all the other things that we seek in society.”

I couldn’t agree more.  I have long been suspicious of the language of ‘balance’, which has become a code for accepting  a little more environmental degradation in exchange for a little more (invariably short term) economic benefit. That’s just a race to the bottom, and we should have no part of it.

The report correctly notes that “The concept of green growth is also based on the realisation that natural capital is finite and that all ecosystems have limits, and that sustaining growth will mean working within those limits.”  We desperately need to be doing more to assess and report on the state of our natural capital and ecosystem services, and to embed those values into our economic strategy as firmly and as routinely as we address purely economic data.

Rather than simplistically measuring ‘growth’ as increases in production, consumption and exchange, we need to measure and incorporate indices of environmental and human wellbeing. Fortunately we do not need to break much new ground in this – such approaches have been adopted or trialled in a number of developing and developed countries.

One of my personal frustrations with the report is that some of its better recommendations propose doing things that people in business and the public sector were in fact doing at least five years ago, and in some cases much longer.

Recommendation three, for example,  proposes the Government should support coordination and integration of programmes to build business capabilitywithin SMEs, while involving private and public sector stakeholders.  Recommendation four encourages the government to facilitate businesses’ practical understanding of how to improve environmental performance and to take advantage of ‘green growth market trends’.

I know from my time as a sustainable business adviser that such programmes were gaining real traction and delivering measurable outcomes across a range of sectors, but sadly many of them took a hit and were scaled down or lost altogether when the government withdrew political and financial support soon after the 2008 election.

This report does provide some grounding for a better informed and engaged public debate about our future economic and environmental direction.  To do so will however require a willingness to adopt some different and challenging  assumptions about what constitutes ‘progress’ and ‘value’.

6 Comments Posted

  1. ….or accepting that cyberspace is the new CBD so we don’t spend huge monies unnecessarily re-building resource-intensive high-risers downtown in Christchurch.


    As a Canterbury resident I’ve been arguing that the CBD is everywhere in our computers.

  2. Nice post David. Andrew hits the nail on the head, it is about standard of living. But that means different things to different people. “nice back yard” is nice to have but in large cities it results in sprawl, and many people like living in more compact walkable city centres (see Julie’s post). (I have a nice backyard, a dog and a car – and I like them all)

    BJ. You will not listen to reason. Growth in consumption or effective inflation, HAS to occur for the banking system and monetary system we have to continue to function. that is untrue. It is the dominant paradigm, but it is not a result of the money system being based on debt (which it is not).

    BJ would not stand for me (as an economist) sayng that because electricity is based on elections only current matters. He (and I both) know Ohms law and can measure a watt. There is a similar phenomenon in economics with money. Debt can be used as money, and debts from a large part of the money system, but behind every dollar/yen/rouble/pound lies a good or a service – or you get inflation.

    BJ. I have urged you in the past, and I urge you again, LEARN SOME ECONOMICS!!! There is a 250 year continuous path of thinking and scholarship in economics and it has a lot to offer.


  3. Growth in consumption or effective inflation, HAS to occur for the banking system and monetary system we have to continue to function.

    This is the bottom line, and the inflation has to be allowed to occur in such a way and to such an extent, that accumulated wealth, naturally, shrinks. The incentive to spend it as soon as you’ve got it has to exist.

    That is not the case at all now, which is why inequality is increasing on every measure.

    The only way to restore sanity is to make our MONEY into something that is not backed by debt and thus something that does not require interest to be paid… and therefore it is not something that is issued by the banks in response to a request for a loan, or created by them when the loan is approved and issued.

    In other words, we have to break the fractional-reserve stranglehold that the bankers have on our society.

    This is not a trivial job but it makes “Growth” a nice thing to have at a natural rate, not a sacrament required at the altars of finance.


  4. ….or accepting that cyberspace is the new CBD so we don’t spend huge monies unnecessarily re-building resource-intensive high-risers downtown in Christchurch.

  5. We should never forget that the bottom line is living standards – not “growth” or “consumption” as such.

    The most efficient and robust economy is the possibly the economy that is designed to reduced the very dependency on consumption in the first place…

    Like insulating homes so you don’t need to ‘produce’ so much electricity, or allowing people to grow their food in a sizable back yard so we don’t have to produce all that waste, food-miles and packaging, etc. You know – all those options that have nothing to do with “growth”.

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