Critical theme: What would business look like in a steady-state economy?

Critical theme

The latest in a series of seminars at the International Institute for Environment and Development focusing on financial themes took place on 21 May with a discussion regarding the private sector and sustainable business practices.

Carina Millstone makes a Critical Theme presentation to IIED staff in May 2014 (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

Carina Millstone makes a Critical Theme presentation to IIED staff in May 2014 (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

Carina Millstone, visiting research fellow at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, presented "What would business look like in a steady-state economy?" and her full presentation is available on IIED's SlideShare platform and below.

With efforts under way to imagine how a "steady-state" economy – one that provides high levels of wellbeing without needing to grow in material intensity – would work, it is critical to find ways for the private sector to provide the products and services needed for decent material lives, and create livelihoods, without pursuing the logic of growth. 

What would the private sector look like without the growth imperative? What business models, scale, ownership and financing structures would prevail in different sectors? What would ecological innovation look like? How would existing organisations have to change?

In the seminar, Millstone covered the nature and workings of individual private sector organisations in the steady-state economy, with a particular focus on purpose, products and business models. Her presentation consisted of early findings of research she is currently conducting on sustainable business practices. 

IIED's previous Critical Theme took place the previous week, when Nick Robins' presentation on "How the financial system can serve a green and inclusive economy?" addressed the relationship between financial systems and the green economy, and then responded to questions and joined in lively debate.

Robins outlined the rationale behind UNEP's new Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, which has been tasked to deliver policy recommendations in 2015 that could help underpin the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agreement. 

In March 2014, Pavan Sukhdev, the founder and chief executive officer of GIST Advisory, discussed the importance of meaningful stakeholder reporting. His visit was organised as part of a strategic review of environmental economics by the institute, with expert speakers invited to attend a series of seminars to challenge thinking on economic issues, and answer questions and engage in an open forum that encourages dialogue and debate.

Sony Kapoor, the Managing Director of international think tank Re-Define, and Eric Beinhocker, the executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking's research program, have also visited IIED's Gray's Inn Road office this year. Kapoor discussed how to best connect the financial and economic policy-making community to the environmental agenda, while Beinhocker's presentation, "Escaping the Malthusian Trap", focused on emerging research that describes the economy as an evolving complex system.

Last year, Jesper Stage, Professor of Economics at Mid-Sweden University and a former IIED International Fellow, gave a presentation titled "Better indicators than GDP? Yes, but better at what?", and Kate Raworth, Senior Visiting Research Associate with the Environmental Change Unit at Oxford University and a Visiting Fellow in Economics at IIED, presented "Rewriting economics for the 21st century".

Find more details on the Critical Themes series here. 

Additional resources

In autumn 2013, IIED contracted independent consultants Olof Drakenberg and Anders Ekbom to review the contribution of environmental economics and economics to IIED's work. Read the full report.

Search through IIED's publications related to economics.

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