Limits of growth?

23rd July 2012


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Business & Industry ,
  • Products ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Minimisation ,
  • Life Cycle Analysis

Author

IEMA

Innovation will be at the heart of the massive culture shift needed to ensure that future growth is truely sustainable, argues Paul Suff

Is continued economic growth compatible with safeguarding the environment? For many environmentalists the answer to that question is quite simply no. They will argue that we cannot go on exploiting natural resources and polluting the planet without potentially catastrophic consequences.

But for most of the world’s population the growth versus environment argument is nonsensical. People in developing countries quite rightly demand the sort of living standards enjoyed by many in developed ones.

The global “middle class” is predicted to grow 172% over the next 20 years, and it will consume a vast amount of additional resources. At the same time, people in the developed world are unlikely to relinquish their own living standards without a fight.

So, we need to secure continued economic growth without further damage to the planet.

That will require a huge cultural shift and technological innovation, but it is not impossible. Humans are good at innovating. Companies such as GE are already proving this by achieving superior economic and environmental performance.

Many of the businesses attending the Rio+20 talks were there because they believe it is possible to prosper without further harming natural ecosystems – in fact, they understand their very survival depends on it.

Also, as the report from the Aldersgate Group highlights, moving to a circular economy model, where industrial and agricultural systems are restorative and eliminate waste, would ensure that resources are used time and time again, removing the need to deplete virgin sources.

As well as greater innovation and a new business model, we also need to change how economic prosperity is measured, so that it captures the value of the natural environment.

In one of the few positive outcomes from Rio+20 there was agreement that a new understanding of wealth was needed that goes beyond gross domestic product (GDP), and UN statisticians are to investigate how to incorporate natural capital into GDP.

There should be no limits on growth; we just need the right sort of growth.


Transform articles

Water companies fail to hit environmental targets

None of England’s water and sewerage companies achieved all environmental expectations for the period 2015 to 2020, the Environment Agency has revealed. These targets included the reduction of total pollution incidents by at least one-third compared with 2012, and for incident self-reporting to be at least 75%.

30th July 2021

Read more

The UK’s pipeline for renewable energy projects could mitigate 90% of job losses caused by COVID-19 and help deliver the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. That is according to a recent report from consultancy EY-Parthenon, which outlines how the UK’s £108bn “visible pipeline” of investible renewable energy projects could create 625,000 jobs.

30th July 2021

Read more

Billions of people worldwide have been unable to access safe drinking water and sanitation in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a progress report from the World Health Organisation focusing on the UN’s sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) – to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030”.

30th July 2021

Read more

The oil and gas industry is set to burn through its allocated carbon budget 13 years early unless decisive action is taken immediately, new analysis has found.

22nd July 2021

Read more

The UK will no longer use unabated coal to generate electricity from October 2024, one year earlier than originally planned, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has announced.

2nd July 2021

Read more

The UK government is not on track to deliver on its promise to improve the environment within a generation and is failing to stem the tide of biodiversity loss, a damning new report from MPs has revealed.

1st July 2021

Read more

Renewable energy will account for nearly 40% of the world's power mix by the end of this decade, overtaking coal within the next few years, according to research by GlobalData.

24th June 2021

Read more

The UK's solar energy capacity must treble over the next decade for the country to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but is only set to double under a business-as-usual scenario.

18th June 2021

Read more

The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) has today been launched to support financial institutions and corporates in assessing and managing emerging risks and opportunities as the world looks to reverse biodiversity loss.

4th June 2021

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert