Photo by greenforall.org | flickr.com

When we think of a ‘green economy’, it comes down to two essential concepts: we want to protect our local and global environments while improving our ability to be happy and well. This may seem contradictory – but I can assure you they are not, and that you can be a part of the solution.

One important concept to understand is that society drives the economy, and the economy responds to the needs of society. For example, if everyone wants large trucks, that’s what automotive companies will make. More companies will come into the market to provide them. On the other hand, if many people want renewable energy sources, or a sustainable growth of crops on an annual basis, the economy will respond. Companies will shift to make products that you (the consumer) demand to see.

However, transitioning to a green economy is far from simple. There’s an unfortunate belief that happiness is achieved by purchasing material goods. We often spend our money frivolously, ultimately believing that the things we buy (which frequently have negative impacts on our natural world) will make us smile. We get absorbed into wanting the newest MP3 player or the latest fashion.

But all too often, we see that objects don’t bring lasting joy. In fact, countries with the smallest economies (as measured by Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) can have the highest levels of happiness, demonstrating that we don’t need things to make us happy. In actuality, it’s completely possible to live a fulfilling life while failing to support industries that pollute our air, water, and land.

With the knowledge that society drives the economy, and that you don’t need to buy into the latest trend in order to make you happy – what can you do to encourage a greener future? Generally, there are two things you can do;

  • Use your purchasing power to promote sustainable options. By placing demand on the right things (and reducing demand for environmentally degrading materials), you are economically expressing that you want a greener future. Examples include buying clothing that was made by sweatshop-free labor, seafood options that have sustainability certifications, and organic or locally grown foods.
  • Advocate for a fairly managed economy. Since you are a part of the economy, you deserve to be involved with decisions that influence its well-being. All around the world, management systems have been used to ensure that people, governments, and other agencies work together to create solutions that work for everyone.

Although these objectives aren’t foolproof (often, sustainable options don’t exist, nor does the freedom to advocate for your beliefs), they are essential to remember while moving forward. 

No matter where you’re from, there are many initiatives that you can take part in. For example, sustainable urban planning in Brazil, ecosystem service in Ecuador, and organic agriculture in India are developments that empower us to become dedicated to sustainability. Even in Canada, I feel that I’ve been able to positively influence my economy. Through choosing sustainable seafood options and choosing sweatshop-free clothing whenever possible, I make a statement about my values and encourage my colleagues to do the same. Together, we’ll be able to show our economies what we truly want for our environment.

The notion of a green economy represents many things – the efficient use of resources, low emissions, the protection of biodiversity, and improvement of well-being and social equity, to name a few. It’s a lofty but attainable goal, and it’s one that both you and I can positively influence. Are you up for the challenge?