Free market economy is often blamed to be the scapegoat these days, especially in discussions on sustainability and resources efficiency. Enterprises are accused for using resources irresponsibly. Some experts demand for stronger regulations, others claim that adapted economic models and even command economy are needed to solve the resources problem.
In my opinion, the implementation of measures that go against free market economy does not make any sense. Why? I would like to illustrate this to you using a concrete example: The WRF 2011 in Davos has around 400 participants (including students). The World Economic Forum (WEF) is hosted at the same location and had around 2500 participants in January 2011, quite a few of them arriving by private jet in Switzerland. This illustrates very impressively the balance of power. The sustainability community is still a very small one.
Conclusion: It is extremely hard to change policies in favour of sustainable industries if those policies harm traditional resources consuming industries. So we shouldn’t put too much effort into that and focus on another strategy:
First of all, it is necessary to look at the free market economy objectively. In a free market economy enterprises battle for competitiveness and innovate with new technologies and solutions constantly. The best ones (i.e. the ones who earn the most) go forward, the weaker ones fall behind. It is also important to realize that free market economy is not a governed system. Its participants have to struggle within the current boundaries and challenge the rules. A natural result of a competitive market. Once we’ve understood how the system works me must realize that there is only one solution to promote sustainability and resources efficiency in a free market economy: To start businesses, get bigger market shares and win the competition. The best players are going to win in the end.
How can green business win more market shares? By offering solutions that are more sustainable, more efficient and cheaper at the same time. The best thing about it: Time plays against resources squandering. As soon as scarcity will reach a certain level, prices will rise dramatically and sustainable solutions will outpower any traditional resource intensive industry. There will be a cumulative effect too: If we could manage to establish step by step resources efficient industry with big market shares, we’d suddenly have a voice outside the sustainability world. Therefore it might even be worth sending people by private jet to the WEF to let them fight for better policies and better framework conditions for the industry.
You might ask yourself the question if the above scenario is just an unrealistic daydream. I say: Not at all. Despite all current obstacles, the transformation process has already begun. You can find people at the WRF who have started a business or support green business. One of them is Chris Slijkhuis, working for “MBA Polymers, Inc.“, a company that is successfully and profitably recycling polymers out of electronic waste, seeing themselves as a plastics provider, not as a recycler only. Another one is Dr. Theodoros Staikos who supports eco-innovations, while he is also project officer of the Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI). Construction company Rhomberg has launched a program to build skyscrapers out of wood.
There are also young people at this conference, some of them our Student Reporter team, who are talented and would prefer a job at a sustainable company, even if those pay less than for example mineral oil multinationals. In times where one UBS trader is able to gamble 2.3 billion USD and many nations wont be able to repay their debts, money is not such a secure value to rely upon anyway.
So let’s bet on sustainable technology and enter business.