The rise of business and civil society

Business and civil society take centre stage

Business and civil society are increasingly replacing governments as the key players in sustainability. Dutch energy company, Eneco, for example, has called for the removal of all energy subsidies – not just renewable energy, but nuclear, coal and other conventional sources of energy.

This type of thinking, if it’s followed by action, could create a genuinely level playing field with benefits for the renewable energy industry. People as well as companies are also increasingly taking responsibility. Across Europe political activism is on the increase with large-scale protests in Germany in particular. If this discontent is channeled into positive, entrepreneurial initiatives there is enormous potential for good ideas to become viable businesses serving receptive markets – not only in renewable energy but in the organics and other sustainable sectors.

New international approaches

Business and civil society have started to occupy the sustainability landscape in Europe. These developments build on Europe’s big idea of a social market economy that combines private enterprise, which harnesses the power of consumers, and government regulation to deliver better outcomes. In other parts of the world important new economic approaches have also developed. They include: American sustainable capitalism which aims to embrace the benefits of capitalism but with a long-term view.

And China’s long-term strategy on energy needs where government plays a fundamental role in delivering large-scale change.

Sustainable capitalism is interesting not least because it argues that capitalism can only efficiently allocate resources if you have a proper view of the broader context, including people’s well being and dignity and the planet’s capacity to support us. This has practical implications. For Triodos Bank, and many others, it means there must be a price-tag or tax on carbon emissions, for example. Sustainable capitalism has great potential but should not become an ideology, because change will not come from embracing ideologies.

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