Many companies are becoming greener. Many more people are buying organic food. But is this healthy economic trend enough to really save the world? I don’t think so.
Moreover, if we scratch beneath the organic labels, we also see some disturbing trends—trends that may not be so sustainable.
Take the case of Cascadian Farm—started in 1971 by Gene Kahn as a food collective. It’s a sustainable company, right? Maybe not. Now owned and operated by General Mills, and with Kahn as a controversial millionaire, many organic farmers and activists believe Cascadian Farm is a symbol of a disturbing trend: the gradual takeover of the sustainability movement by corporate agribusiness.
What a confusing world we live in. You buy a jar of Cascadian Farm organic strawberry jam at the local coop, visualizing you are supporting Kahn’s original dream. In reality you are buying a corporate showcase.
You may recently have noticed that your local supermarket is selling organic Dole bananas, and you may think the world has changed overnight. But has it? Dole is still a $5.1 billion company, and the world’s largest producer and marketer of conventional fruit and vegetables. Just imagine how many tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizers this company consumes every year!
When shopping for sustainability, we must therefore look beyond the wholesome brands and the organic labels. We must ask deeper questions. We must distinguish between shallow sustainability and deep sustainability.
But, more importantly, I don’t think we can shop our way to sustainability. We need to go deeper than just making our consumer culture a tad bit greener. So, how can we better support a sustainable economy, culture, and worldview? How can we cultivate more sustainability in our own lives? And what does it truly mean to be sustainable, anyway?
Below are some suggestions, some are common sense and homegrown, some are from the world’s deepest thinkers and activists.
1) Sustainable Vision. What should the underlying values of a sustainable economy be based upon? Author David C. Korten claims that “a sustainable society needs a spiritual foundation.” Why? Because spirituality, not materialism, is the ultimate foundation of life. The late British economist E. F. Schumacher concurs. “No system or machinery or economic doctrine or theory,” Schumacher wrote, “stands on its own two feet: it is variably built on a metaphysical foundation, that is to say, upon our basic outlook on life, its meaning and its purpose.”
What you can do: Study both spirituality and science. Learn how the world of matter and spirit complement each other. Embrace the alchemical truth: As above, so below.
2) Sustainable Spiritual Practice. Philosopher Ken Wilber believes that we cannot achieve a sustainable society without leaders and activists rooted in sustainable spiritual practice. And the best way to achieve this, he thinks, is through an inner process of spiritual transformation. To truly be able to understand and serve Gaia, we must also understand and serve our higher Self.
What you can do: Start a daily meditation practice. Combine that with a more body-oriented practice such as hatha yoga and tai chi. As within, so without.
3) Local Economics. From sustainable development theorists to environmental activists, from bio-regionalists to natural capitalists, from Thomas Jefferson to Indian sage-philosopher P. R. Sarkar, economic decentralization is seen as the only panacea for the economic exploitation caused by centralized economies. Paul Hawken’s natural capitalism speaks of the need to “replace nationally and internationally produced items with products created locally and regionally.”
What you can do: Vote with your dollars by supporting local enterprises, especially small businesses, artisans, cooperatives, and their products. The more local, the better. Boycott multinational franchises such as Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, etc.
4) Production for consumption, not profit. A consumption economy is an integral aspect of a decentralized economy and should not be confused with a profit-oriented consumer economy. A consumption economy is an economy where goods are produced as per people’s needs. A consumer economy is an economy where goods are produced and sold solely for profit. Since the consumption economy’s main goal is to satisfy basic human needs, it also provides the economic security needed for people’s non-material sources of fulfillment—family, community, culture, and spirituality.
What you can do: Reduce material consumption. Support local businesses that produce basic human needs, such as bakeries, farms, agricultural coops, community gardens, farmer’s markets, etc.
5) Home food production. When I grew up in Norway in the 60’s, most of our fruit and vegetables were grown in our own garden. The whole neighborhood did the same. Today the apples rot on the ground while people shop for better looking apples at the supermarket. We need to bring back that 60s spirit and grow our own food again.
What you can do: Break up your lawn and plant a garden. If you don’t have a lawn, create a raised bed garden in a box behind your house or on your balcony. You don’t need much space. It’s fun. It’s healthy. And very tasty!
6) Eat more plants. From omnivore Michael Pollan to vegan John Robbins, from activist/author Frances Moore Lappe to activist/author Bill McKibben, the message is the same: a plant based diet is better for both people and the environment.
What you can do: Reduce your meat intake. Or become a radical: go vegetarian or vegan.
7) Cooperative enterprises. The Darwinian notion that competition promoted the evolutionary survival of the fittest individual is outdated. New research reveals that evolutionary success had more to do with the survival of the fittest community through interwoven cooperation. Thus cooperation, not competition, must be the cornerstone of a more equitable and sustainable economy.
What you can do: Support our local food coop, farmer’s coop, etc. Purchase products made by coops rather than by corporations.
8) Small-scale private enterprises. Proponents of today’s free market capitalism seem to have forgotten that their mentor, Adam Smith, proposed a market structure in which there were no corporate businesses with monopolistic powers. Small-scale, private capitalism stimulates the entrepreneurial spirit and purchasing power of individuals and families, yet avoids the gross disparity and poverty so often caused by unbridled concentration of wealth in the hands of corporate monopolies. Large corporations can in turn be transformed into cooperatives.
What you can do: Support your local bookstore, clothing store, artisan, and other local merchants. If possible, boycott large corporations.
9) Eco-villages. While most eco-villages are located in the affluent countries of the North, some also focus on helping poor, rural communities in the South achieve self-sufficiency. One such project is the Future Vision Ecological Park in the interior of Sao Paulo state, Brazil. According to its founder, Didi Anandamitra, the goal of this project is “to provide a practical model for social and economic life that can be replicated in communities, especially rural communities, anywhere.”
What you can do: Start an eco-village, a co-housing project, a community garden, or simply visit such a project for learning and inspiration. Create community by starting or joining a discussion group.
10) Economic democracy. Concentration of wealth and economic power corrupts the political process. In Third World countries, especially, money buys votes outright, and the moguls of capital maintain the ultimate veto power of capital flight. Money must not be allowed to rule politics, and power must be extended beyond the political sphere and into the economic sphere.
What you can do: Support Living Wage initiatives as well as measures that redistribute wealth from the top down. Support a maximum wage!
11) Self-sufficient, regional economies. People can best collaborate in social and economic development if they work together within regional socio-economic units that are defined on the basis of common economic potentials, common economic problems, similar geographic features, ethnic similarity, and common sentimental legacy. Regional economies need to control their resources and capital and be totally free from any kind of domination by outside economic forces.
What you can do: Seek out and support local, organic farmers and other businesses that utilize local resources. Support Native American causes. Boycott “foreign companies” that exploit local resources and labor.
12) Deep ecological ethic. The ultimate solution to all environmental problems lies in a deep spiritual understanding of what nature is and how it operates. From this deep understanding of human psychology and spirituality, on the one hand, and the natural world, on the other, humanity can develop a genuine environmental ethics. In other words, develop a balanced socio-economic philosophy based on the dynamic interrelationship between the fields of ecology, economy and spirituality. At this point in history, this is one of humanity’s most urgent tasks.
What you can do: Meditate and study. Learn from science, from nature, from local elders, and from indigenous cultures.
13) Free and fair trade. The giant globalization efforts by the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank is promoting “free trade” and “free markets” as a panacea for creating prosperity and sustainability. Yet, today’s so-called free trade between rich and poor nations, between the North and the South, is neither free nor fair. It favors large corporations over small scale enterprises, it has widened the gap between the rich and the poor, and it has increased environmental degradation.
What you can do: Shop locally, think globally. If you can’t shop locally, support “fair trade” businesses.
14) Cultural vitality. The irony of material development is that it has created what Paul Wactel calls “the poverty of affluence.” While consumerism has enticed people in the Western world into gorging on material things, it has failed to provide a sense of inner fulfillment. Restoring a community’s non-material treasures and cultural roots is an integral part of overcoming the inner poverty of affluence.
What you can do: Support local music, arts, poetry, theater and crafts.
15) Sustainable globalism. Decentralization, self-sufficiency, and smaller scale industries does not mean neglecting a global agenda. We need a global movement with at least three separate, yet integrated, goals. 1) A strengthening of the global polity through the UN, combined with a gradual movement toward a global federation, or world-government that can safeguard the needs and rights of people and the environment. 2) The formation of self-sufficient, socio-economic regions of free and fair trade zones—that is, a global grid of sustainable and self-sufficient trading partners. 3) The development of a global movement rooted in a life-affirming vision of spirituality and oneness with all of creation.
What you can do: Protest against the current globalization efforts by the IMF and the World Bank. Donate money or your labor to activist groups. Cultivate a global, sustainable vision of oneness with Spirit and of cooperation with Gaia.