Sustainable Throne Speech 2020

The corona crisis has shown irrefutably that the axiom of a purely return-oriented market thinking is outdated. We must let go the myth and obsession of economic growth. We will have to redesign and reorganize our lives and economies within the limits of our planet and taking into account the potential of people. Even if this means less, no or even negative growth. Because, of course, an end to the way we live now does not mean the end of our lives. Right?

Tuesday, September 2, 2020, by prof. dr. Jan Jonker

“The past few months have been characterized by great uncertainty, turmoil and sadness. With unprecedented measures, the government has tried to contain the nature and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite all the pain, worry and grief, our society has been able to transform itself more or less overnight from a ‘society-as-usual’ to a society focused on broad disaster response.”

In addition to vulnerability, the crisis also shows how incredibly dependent we are on each other. Add to that already-played-out issues such as ecological erosion, structural pollution, and unacceptable social inequality, and it becomes clear that we inexorably have a number of flaws in our society.

Now that we can make choices again, how would we approach this differently? How should we proceed? Should we distribute wealth differently, so that no one in the Netherlands has to sleep outside? Should crucial professions not only receive applause, but also structurally more support and security?

What are we going to do with the billions in state aid: bring back old certainties? Shouldn’t we judge companies much more strictly on the real added value they bring to society? We are perhaps unwittingly at a crossroads, a crucial moment of choice. The pandemic, painful as it is, may be a blessing in disguise.

In times of crisis, a new basis for the future can be created in a short period of time. Let’s not let that moment pass us by by routinely returning to the economy we already had. Let’s choose a new route towards an economy in which our beautiful planet and courageous people can live together in a healthy and sustainable way.

Our economy is based on buying and throwing away

We live in an over-organized society. This has narrowed in recent decades to thinking in terms of markets, returns and efficiency. Maybe that’s why there are four billion euros for KLM, and applause, thank-you cards and a cookie for the people in healthcare. The pandemic shows that in addition to thinking in terms of markets, we also value ‘being human’ again, being there for each other, and want to invest in that.

We think in terms of markets, returns and efficiency, and our collective economic thinking can be characterized as market-driven…

It indicates that we want to organize society around multiple values – not just those of the market – in such a way that it enhances the resilience and robustness of society. Resilient means working collectively for sustainability. Resilience is the ability to deal with adversity and possibly emerge stronger.

Our collective economic thinking can be characterized as market-driven. Not only where ‘the’ economy is concerned, but in all possible areas such as education, health care or nature.

Our economy is based on buying and throwing away as the highest attainable form of human happiness. An economy that is eating into the earth’s reserves at an ever-increasing rate. For example, the rate of extinction of animal species today is as high as it was when dinosaurs disappeared. In the name of economics, we are attacking nature with a chainsaw. If we do not stop the further development of this tragedy, biodiversity will suffer such a blow that our planet will become unlivable.

The Sustainable Throne Speech in The Netherlands has existed since 2012. The ninth edition is delivered by Jan Jonker (65), professor at Radboud University. He has published several books on the subject, including ‘Sustainable Organizing’ (2020). Jonker was five times in the Trouw Sustainable 100, the last time in 2014.

The unrelenting and inevitable conclusion is that the axiom of a purely profit-driven market mentality is outdated in the year 2020. We have to let go of our obsession with economic growth. We need to start managing our economies in a way that protects our climate and our natural resources, even if this means less, no or even negative growth.

We need to reorganize

In doing so, it is downright naive to think that we can rely on technology alone to solve existential problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Our lifestyle based on abundance at the expense of others, socially and environmentally, must change. We gain nothing from material prosperity if it comes at the expense of well-being, ecology and social inclusion. We need to reorganize en rethink how we would like to reshape our future.

The inexorable and inevitable conclusion is that the axiom of a purely return-oriented market thinking is outdated.

The community should be in the centre of a new, regenerative economic model, not the individual. The recent crisis has shown that we are capable of rapid and radical adjustments in policy. And that it is about more and different values than purely financial ones. We need to put the values that matter at the center so that we ensure social, environmental and economic sustainability. That is not easy. We are already solemnly stating in countless reports what we consider important. However, these considerations are not leading for the actual actions of organizations. With the best will in the world, the current sustainability efforts of organizations therefore usually have little more than a marginal and non-optimal result.

Creating sustainability must be a collective task, just like fighting a pandemic. This means that organizations must start working together much more in radical interdependency. After all, change will only come about on the basis of new forms of collaboration, new agreements and new rules between citizens, businesses and government. A decisive government – without totalitarian overreach – is needed to implement measures that we want as citizens but do not applaud as consumers. Recently, the government has shown that it can do this.

The seven crowbars for real progress

The pursuit of broad prosperity and biodiversity should be central to all policies. To move toward a sustainable, resilient society, seven breakthroughs are needed over the next decade:

  1. Shift the burden from labor to resource use and emissions, and phase out fossil industry tax breaks.;
  2. Include the value of ecological and social capital in economic decisions.
  3. Work toward real prices that include all costs, such as CO₂ emissions, nitrogen, pollution, and a living wage.
  4. Give more room to forms of organization of citizens and companies together, for example for the management of land and other ‘commons’.
  5. Make producers responsible for the entire life cycle of their product, even when it is at its end.
  6. Tax wealth instead of labor and reduce economic inequality.
  7. Invest in stopping companies that do not contribute to societal values by pricing and taxing combined with legislation and regulation.
Sustainability is not about less, but about more. Much more.

If we do it smartly, sustainability is not about less but more: more comfort, more health, more clean air, more creativity and craftsmanship, more quality, and more equality. Inevitably, people will lose their jobs. But other jobs will be created in new sectors. The danger lurks that the desire for the old may be stronger than the appreciation of the new, which after all costs time, uncertainty and money. But we should not be deterred from doing so. Every political party that does not make the pursuit of sustainability, biodiversity and circularity its spearhead in the coming elections should be shunned. The axiom that we must first get the economy in order and then we can work on sustainability is dangerous and misleading and only puts us at a disadvantage.

A stable national transition plan – like the one we already have for dikes – valid for an entire decade would provide a powerful starting point. In doing so, we must also give ourselves the opportunity to make mistakes. Because in order to deal effectively with the changes, we may have to learn to approach the social engineering of society with more modesty. What we have to do along the way leads to a process of fiddling and trying, of trial and error.

In all of this it applies that we humans are passers-by on this earth. We must cherish, restore and manage the earth with the utmost care so that the generations after us can live and love it.

The Sustainable Throne Speech 2020 of prof. Jan Jonker combines seamlessly to my nominated Management Book of 2021 and best seller ‘Once Upon A Future – kies zelf je koers in een veranderende wereld’ en op het inspiriment “De Great Reset”.

More info: [book: Once Upon A Future] and [inspiriment: De Great Reset]

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