September 6, 2011

Can Business and Environmental Leaders Agree?

“What we don’t know about money and the system within which it operates is literally killing us. The time for polemics is past”

Can Business and Environmental Leaders agree that profitability and sustainability are compatible?

Can they agree it’s time to move beyond the blame game?

Can they agree to work together? 

Stephen Belgin, co-author with Bernard Lietaer of the newly released New Money for A New World, sat down with Elephant Journal contributing journalist, Bud Wilson. Together, they shared these insights. What follows is a sneak preview of a soon to be published watershed article addressing the challenges and conflicts between the business and environmental communities, that are no longer necessary.

Stephen and I agree that we are all in the midst of a tipping point, a significant transition in our way of being in the world is upon us, whether we know it or not, we’re all preparing to work together for a healthy, bright and sustainable future. In this interview, Stephen Belgin explains that we have a unique, historic opportunity for divergent segments of our culture to embrace new understandings regarding money. There are ways to meet our own personal needs as well as those of society and our planet. To do this, we need an entirely new way of thinking about and understanding the role of money in our society.

It would appear to many that business-as-usual and leaders of industry are the problem, MBA’s are the problem, Banks are the problem, the Federal Reserve is the problem, the EPA is the problem, Environmental Leaders are the problem, and ultimately the pursuit of money is the problem. The list goes on. This blame game misses the point. It is our lack of understanding of systems and appreciating the greater potentiality of money that is the real problem.

We now have a greater understanding of what money can help us achieve.

Consider the following: Do you know anyone who has ever attempted to build a house with only a hammer? Obviously, we understand that an entire tool chest is necessary to build a house. You can’t paint a wall with a hammer. As absurd as that may seem, attempting to sustain an economy with one kind of monetary tool: national currency, is equally absurd. We have new tools to work together for the benefit of all.

BW: Stephen, can you elaborate on the link between our problems and national currencies?

SB: It appears that dollars, pesos, Japanese yen are all different kinds of money. Essentially, they are all one kind of money: fiat based, bank debt, interest bearing currencies. These national currencies came into being several hundred years ago at the beginning of the industrial revolution designed for a very small, precise set of industrial-age objectives. These are the objectives: industrialization, the formation of  new Nation States, and commercialization. All national currencies are essentially commercial/business currencies with a very narrow range of functionality.  There’s nothing wrong with them, they simply do what they were designed to do.


National Fiat currencies were designed at a time when we knew nothing, or next to nothing, about the finite resources of our planet and how important vital eco-systems are to our very survival.  We knew little to nothing about toxins, pollution, and environmental degradation; we perceived a vast unlimited planet with more natural resources than we could imagine. This was a time with fewer than 1 billion people in the entire world and very few humans were engaged in any form of commercial business. At that time, the world was minimally monetized, entire communities were living in the context of a barter system. Our book reveals many details about our journey with money that we’ve been on for hundreds of years.

Right now, there are many different kinds of monies available to us, many of these are appropriate for addressing our environmental concerns, others are appropriate for long term investment, still others are effective to address education, social justice issues, health and wellbeing. It is our lack of understanding about the monetary system that provides a great opportunity to move forward together, once we discover and understand all the complimentary currencies that are available to us.

BW – What’s needed now to move beyond the “us vs. them” mind set?

SB – The time to point fingers and lay blame at the feet of business leaders in our industrial growth society has never really served transformation, and misses a few key points. The most important is that pointing fingers is not only counter productive, it’s simply not necessary.  Whatever one thinks of business and for profit endeavors, the simple point is that there are myriad ways for the business community to be extremely prosperous, while caring for and re-vitalizing our environment. Extraordinary new insights and understanding regarding one of the oldest of human inventions, money,  allow us to address the ecological and social challenges we are facing together. What if we found a way for businesses to continue to experience profitability and meet their fiscal needs, at the same time we all worked together to address the ecological and social challenges facing humanity? Well, our book spells out how we can move past the apparent incompatibility between for-profit businesses and the social, economic & ecological well being of our societies.

We all know the path we’re on is not sustainable. This is especially true of young people today, they are just as passionate as the environmental leaders, recognizing an urgent need to change. Not tomorrow, right now. What’s needed is a way to build a bridge or forge a mutually beneficial relationship between the world of commerce and the environmental movement.

Merging Economics and Ecology

As I mentioned, the first step to building this bridge is to understand that we are caught up in a monetary system based upon fiat money (money that a government has declared to be legal tender, with no objective value) . Within this system, business leaders are required by law to maximize a return on investment to their share holders. To expect any other behavior on the part of business owners and executives is naive.

BW: So, what we’re really talking about here is a paradigm shift that requires whole systems thinking. Beyond that, there is an entire domain of abundance consciousness that transcends the fear of scarcity. However, that topic will be reserved for a future article. Too many of us approach the issue of money with an orientation of “lack”.  

SB: Yes, and it’s more than that.  World Views take centuries to shift – the consciousness of the Enlightenment is still being discovered in many circles. I have a few friends that think Christianity might be a valuable concept, when is that going to happen?

BW: (chuckling with Stephen) Yes, it reminds me of a comment that Gandhi made when asked what he thought of Western Civilization, he paused and said: “That would be a very good idea”.  

SB:  Within the human psyche we have no limits to the diversity of how we think, conversely, the economic system driving globalization has virtually no diversity. We are all caught in a monetary system that dictates the rules. Perhaps our first task is to simply create awareness regarding the system we’re functioning within. This system was established 300 to 400 years ago with no concept of the pressures modern society would be facing. The rules for this system have little or no regard for social or environmental values relevant to today’s world.

The next important awakening for those who want to usher in a more sustainable and human scaled society is this: It is simply wrong to expect the people living in the space of commerce and business to change their behavior. Why would they, why should they? The system works for them. Pointing the finger doesn’t work, besides, who are we going to point the finger at?

Let me put it this way: What can we all do together to move toward a sustainable future that is realistic? What will be needed for all of us to say “YES” and move forward together? The profit motive is not going away any time soon. World-views are not going to change quickly. People are not going to make extraordinary sacrifices to comply with an environmental agenda or a trans-partisan movement that requires them to dramatically adjust how they view “reality”. It is difficult to change what people understand to be so. It is extremely difficult for people to shift their ideologies or radically alter their beliefs. It’s not going to happen in the time frame we need.

BW: Rather than making those working in the space of commerce wrong, what do you propose? Some believe the triple bottom line approach to business is the answer.

SB: Well, we don’t make any progress telling business people they have to change. The blame game has to end. Even the 3BL (triple bottom line) approach misses the larger context of the monetary system within which all businesses operate. It’s the system that continues to dictate the rules. The tipping point is upon us. It’s time to engage in the process of dissolving the tendency to point fingers at the so called “bad guys” – the way to do this is to create a complimentary system that allows for a new consciousness to flourish, this new consciousness is already here. A complimentary system addresses the requirements of our age. It responds to the challenges we are facing. The core values that sustain a triple bottom line business can be blended with the core values of conservation and environmental awareness. However, that blending of values only goes so far. It’s time to cut through the contentious polemics and implement complimentary systems that directly allows people to do very well, to earn an above average living by doing the right things, in terms of social justice and environmental protection.


Creating A Complimentary System to Support a New Consciousness

SB: Allow me to be really clear on this: A complimentary system can be created. Not an alternative to what we currently have, rather a complimentary method of exchange for goods and services, one that allows people to make great money. Right now, the NGO’s and other environmental organizations doing “for benefit” work are not able to financially compete with the business sector. Hence, they lose good people to higher paying jobs.

A complimentary system provides a way for young and old alike to have great lives, engaged in doing what needs to be done while earning a great living. There is a separation between survival, making money and caring for the environment.  This concept  goes beyond “doing well by doing good”. Creating a values driven complimentary system that adequately rewards young people financially, will attract the bright and creative hearts and minds that are currently being drawn into the existing monetary system. A merging, a convergence of these two systems IS the tipping point.

The factor that changes people instantly is the answer to the question: “where’s the money?”

While there may be those driven by altruistic motivations, those rare and precious individuals do not exist in sufficient numbers to tip the system. The change to a complimentary system will not create the shift in consciousness, rather it will support and allow the consciousness that is already emerging to flourish and grow. Before the conscious awareness arises, it is a matter of money. Our challenge within the human economic system is to attract those who want to do good with the greatest financial reward possible. This will drive the shift.

We’ll address Bucky Fuller’s Money Honey Bee idea in a future article

BW: Clearly, that provides a conceptual overview, there will be those readers who would appreciate an example or two.

SB: Certainly, Bernard and I address many examples in our book, New Money For A New World. For the sake of our interview, let me mention a couple of examples of thriving communities. These examples don’t represent all the solutions, but they are on the right track.  Curitiba, Brazil considered to be one of the world’s most sustainable cities has a population 5 times larger than Geneva and a budget 10 times smaller.

On a smaller scale, there is also the Gaviotas sustainable community in Colombia. As founder Paolo Lugari states:

“The only deserts are the deserts of imagination”

As is my practice, here is a flash back to the past. Perhaps a simpler time, no less revolutionary.


Stephen and I continued to ponder the importance of this new consciousness and the need to understand the overall system within which we are currently stuck. The framework of a National currency system has no understanding of the concerns and values of the environmental movement. Making money remains the primary and appropriate purpose of business and commerce. Currently, the production and distribution of goods and services is the servant of a national debt-based fiat system. It is the inherent design of the system that is not capable of responding to the urgent needs of our modern world. The ethics, values and needs of our society must be ignored within the current monetary system. It’s a simple fact that the agenda to make money is in direct conflict with the agenda to preserve and protect nature. This doesn’t need to be the case, we’ve simply lost sight of the fact that money is a human construct originally conceived to serve us, rather than the other way around.

Stephen concluded our conversation with 3 key points as a summary:

1) There are many different types of currency available to us right now – these different types of monies are well suited to addressing our challenges.

2) It is not the National Currencies that are the primary problem, it is the fact that we just don’t understand that we have many complimentary monetary tools available to use.  If there is an “enemy” it is our ignorance (ignoring) of the availability of these other monetary tools and currencies.

3) Since we don’t know about these other tools, we are only using one tool, fiat currencies, that force companies to act the way they act. Using only one tool forces them to focus on short term profits and other business behaviors that aren’t addressing all of our needs. So, we blame the businesses for their behavior rather than understanding the system. If we and business leaders knew about these other currencies available to us, business leaders would make other choices that would be more sustainable and more profitable in the short term and the long term.


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