When we look to the future, it is well to realize that the sustainable economy will serve three functions. It will serve people, the planet and provide profits. Contrary to our father’s and grandfather’s time, this new approach to economic wealth combines what is best for our pocketbook, people generally (our neighbors on Starship Earth) and the planet itself. Without concern for all three, businesses will be dead in the water. The old philosophy of business was based on flawed logic and ignorance of basic physical laws. I have been told, shown and promised that business requires screwing the other guy before he has a chance to screw you. In the old paradigm, based on the use of power and control, it made sense that this could work. Now-a-days, not so much.
In the old way of thinking, there were suckers, rubes, and marks all ready to be taken advantage of and those who would exploit their weakness for capital. The Calvinistic belief that the less fortunate brought on their own difficulties because of fatal personality flaws allowed guilt free exploitation of anyone whose money you wanted. If you had a product that could pull the wool over the eyes of people long enough to get their money, that was all you needed. If they finally woke up to the fact that you suckered them, but were too embarrassed to tell anyone, all the better. In this system, buyer beware was taken to it’s illogical acme.
As we begin to think logically and more locally, repeat business is not only required, but value and service come into play as logical enhancements that create demand for quality products. Adding value to items or services is a time tested method of making money and securing repeat business, but the extent to which we can do this is just beginning to be explored. People will return time and time again if they know that they are cared for, rather than just exploited. The best example of this is the rapidly growing sector of our economy called subscription farming. Consumers actually buy in to a farm, and in return share the bounty as well as the risk that the farmer does. Since the farmer is growing food for people, who care about his success (business), his interest is in getting them the best quality and healthiest mix of produce to provide his “customers” (investors) with the best possible returns for their money.
Many of us know about the opposite kind of “service”, perhaps you have purchased a new car, and had to return time and time again to have your car serviced at the dealership. I don’t know about you, but in this scenario, my best interests never seem to be considered. In the old way, you might have to return several times and still not feel satisfied. As your futile attempts to find an equitable resolution built, as did the frustration, it didn’t matter to the seller, because they already had you over a barrel. Shoddy products that only served the cash hungry owners were the rule rather than the exception. In our new economy, these businesses will go away quickly.
Many among us are always searching for the lowest price. Now that they have taken the corporate message to heart, hook, line and sinker, they perceive themselves as nothing more than consumers. This is one of the greatest obstacles to sustainability. In this mind-set, saving even a few pennies is worth whatever social or ecological fall out may come with a bad decision. Hey, if all the local bike shops go out of business because Mega-low-mart can sell shitty bikes for sixty dollars that last an average of two years. Are we any further ahead when everyone who used to sell and fix bikes is on unemployment or selling burgers? Then in two or four or six years when we keep buying the crap bikes, paying to landfill the junk, when do we finally see the error of patronizing the low price leader? People and the planet are left out of this scenario. All of my bikes were made by skilled craftspeople who did a fine job. My oldest bike is nearly fifty years old and provides transportation at a cost of less than ten cents per mile. I have bikes for road, track, off-road and just for fun. Each has the potential to outlive me. I may not have saved a penny (or even a dollar) on their purchase, but I certainly have supported people that deserve to have good jobs, with benefits and decent pay.
As we begin to think of the marketplace as our best shot at making real and positive change in the world, we will gain the necessary skills to fathom the depths of environmental effects of our purchases. This will again spur the development of better products that truly benefit the planet as well as people and their pocketbooks. Next time you are ready to spend your precious dollars, ask yourself: “Is this recycleable?, is it well made? will it last? how was it made? where? by whom? can I reuse it for something else after it has passed it’s useful life? do I need it?” These questions can help you in the quest for a sustainable economy. Good luck, best wishes and Bless you for doing your part. As we learn to make better choices, change will come. If you cannot find what you are looking for in the marketplace, ask for it. Times are changing and we, and our dollars are the engine that drive the economy.