In 1750, few could imagine
the outcome of industrialization. Today, the prospect of a resource productivity
revolution in the next century is equally hard to fathom. But this is what it promises: an
economy that uses progressively less material and energy each year and where the quality
of consumer services continues to improve; an economy where environmental deterioration
stops and gets reversed as we invest in increasing our natural capital; and, finally, a
society where we have more useful and worthy work available than people to do it.
-Paul Hawken, "Natural Capitalism"
Overview & Connection to a New Dream
As mentioned before, the Center for a New American Dream is not anti-consumption.
Indeed, some level of material consumption is necessary to sustain a good life – and
this is where business fits into the New Dream Puzzle. We need to be sure that goods we
consume are produced in a manner that provides quality jobs, revitalizes local
communities, and preserves the ecological systems that sustain our children and us.
Unfortunately business is often seen as the primary propellant of unsustainable
consumption when it can actually be a primary engine for constructive change. Already
there are many businesses working to redesign production processes and products to
minimize environmental impact and maximize value. Some are rethinking their product line
to focus more on service and less on material goods. Other businesses are redesigning
products to use recycled fibers and be reusable, repairable, and durable. Exciting
opportunities are emerging in energy efficiency, renewable resource management, organic
foods, information management, alternative transportation, non-wood based papers, and
organic fibers.(1) Several labelling initiatives,
identifying products which have been produced in the most sustainable manner, have been
followed by a growing demand for these goods, most notably in several European nations,
but increasingly in the United States and Canada. Whatever the industrial sector -
financial, technology, agriculture, retail goods - there is an urgent need and opportunity
for an acceleration in the production of truly green goods.
Local businesses also play an important role in building a new dream. In addition to
keeping dollars in the community and avoiding the hidden environmental costs of global
transportation, locally produced goods offer more transparent environmental and human
rights records because you can easily trace their source.(2)
Initiatives to redesign products for reuse and repair are music to the ears of the
repair industry. That industry has been decimated in recent decades, largely because our
economy’s failure to account for various costs of production has led to a throwaway
culture where planned obsolescence rules the roost. When a wire disconnects in your four
year old toaster, you might consider bringing it to a local repair shop. Assuming
you’re able to find one (big assumption), the fix-it guy probably wants a livable
wage ($10?) for 20 minutes of fix-it time. Odds are the bigger cost will be the
insignificant part that has to be special ordered because the manufacturer discontinued
your toaster model two years ago. You compare this to the cost of a new toaster, which was
mined from federal lands, assembled by cheap foreign labor, and shipped to your town with
subsidized fossil fuel. No contest, you plunk down 15 bucks for a shiny new toaster and
toss the old one in the dumpster to be disposed of in a municipally-subsidized landfill.
You might hem-and-haw about the waste, but can you really justify paying twice as much to
repair the old product?
Germany and other European nations have recently tried to rectify some of these
problems with "cradle to grave" or Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
policies. Companies are responsible for their products’ ultimate disposal as well as,
ideally, for the emissions and other hidden costs resulting from the manufacture and use
of products. These policies create an incentive for manufactures to efficiently construct
products with parts that are easily replaceable, repairable, and recyclable.(3)
Companies who thrive on planned obsolescence will no longer be
able to undercut companies who "do the right thing." We’ll also see a
remarkable recovery of an endangered species – the neighborhood "fix-it
If you’re involved with exciting projects in your community, please let us know.
Otherwise, please continue on the New Dream Puzzle Tour. Next stop: technology and efficiency