Is Growth a Dirty Word?

At next week’s GLOBE Forum in Vancouver, I’ll moderate an expert panel taking up exactly this question, in the context of global economics and the role of business. Great timing, then, that last week, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance released their Business of Wellbeing Guide.

Watch the business section of the average newscast, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that economic health is measured solely by growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Consider the Bank of England’s warning of last week that Brexit may constrain growth to “around 1.1% on average until 2023 without excess inflation.” (That’s about half the rate before the EU referendum, which marks what is readily argued as a precipitous downturn.) That’s a fairly typical headline on the five o’clock news.

What are we really talking about here?

Obviously, GDP is not the only figure introduced in even the most basic course on economics. But it’s also true that growth seems to dominate our thinking about economics. But what if the spoils of growth aren’t evenly distributed? (Think increasing wealth gap, or concentration of economic power among ‘The 1%.’) Or what if that growth fails to account for carbon output? (Think ‘externalized’ impacts of industrial activity, for which we all pay an environmental price.)

Can we get richer without ruining our planet in the process?

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) is a new global collaboration of organizations, alliances, movements, and people, all working together to change the economic system toward one that delivers human and ecological wellbeing. Their ideas are already reaching around the world: In the last week alone, BBC, SBS, and Time Magazine have all featured stories about wellbeing economics. The latter put the challenge succinctly: “If we recalibrate how we measure growth, we may be able to get richer without ruining our planet in the process.”

What’s the role of business in a ‘wellbeing economy?’

WEAll’s Business of Wellbeing Guide was written for leaders of private and public enterprises that are ready to acknowledge that business is at a crossroads. Leaders are learning that they must either choose between people, the planet, and profit, or they must adopt a new way of thinking about success.

The Guide quotes Martin Rick, Co-founder and Executive Director of FutureFit as saying, “Today, society and the environment are serving business, when business needs to be the servant of society.” Bold? Certainly. But it’s also intuitive—and it aligns perfectly with the much touted shift from profit-maximization to purpose-driven leadership in business, and with the stakeholder ethos of the B Corp movement.

In this shift to a new way of thinking about economic health, business leaders are paying more and more attention to environment, community, workers’ health and wellness, customers’ success and wellbeing, and their organizations’ governance. The Guide touches on all of these, presenting a long list of possible solutions to the challenges of a mode of shareholder-centric capitalism the days of which may be numbered.

Leadership comes with responsibility. Leaders of companies know that they have responsibility for their work and their staff. They’re learning—quickly—that they also have responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their companies. The Business of Wellbeing Guide encourages leaders to also think about the role of their companies in our collective human, societal, and planetary wellbeing.

In an era of climate emergency, business simply must be part of the solution…. Audacious? Perhaps. But it’s clear the status quo no longer serves the vast majority of us.

Intrigued? Wondering where to start? Download the Guide and check out the self-assessment tool on page 29…. And give us a call if you’d like to chat about how to get started….

Let’s Be Audacious Together….


Mike Rowlands is President & CEO of Junxion. He and co-owner Adam Garfunkel were proud contributors to the Guide, and Junxion is a member of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. Reach Mike via [email protected].

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