AXIS Performance Advisors

Demystifying sustainability

Upside of Down Economy

Copyright 2008 AXIS Performance Advisors

The Upside of a Down Economy: Etching a silver lining around the black clouds

by Darcy Hitchcock

Courtesy Stuart Miles,

Courtesy Stuart Miles,

No question, times are bleak. A 50 percent drop in the stock market so far this year, people losing their houses, the Big Three and the UAW begging at the door of Congress. Like most people, there’s part of me that wants everything to turn around quickly. And part of me wants the troubles to stay around long enough that we are forced to learn new habits.

Look, either this is a nasty Bear Market and Grim Economy that will turn around in a year or two. Or this is the end of the world as we know it. Maybe that’s not all together a bad thing. Maybe this is the beginning of the Great Turning, the time when we rethink the direction of our society, evolve.

What I propose are three principles that would help us either way.

Share the pain—I’m so disappointed by the knee-jerk response of most corporations: layoffs, a reptilian-brain response. Hey, corporate America, I’m not feeling the luv yet! Either these companies have known for a long time that they were way over-extended and now see that the party is over. Or they are dangerously short-sighted. Lay people off and feed the downward spiral: employees left behind feel insecure and their productivity falters; you lose talent and later you will have to hire and retrain; and you make the economy worse, leading to more layoffs.

Instead of letting people go, my husband’s company has let staff volunteer to take a month off. Lots of people stepped forward. Other companies are cutting back hours but keeping people employed. There are alternatives to mass lay-offs, which only make the nation’s mood more bleak.

What if we all, everyone in the industrialized world, took a step back from the brink together. Drop down to a 4-day week (32-hours, not 4-10s). We’d take out the over-capacity and share the pain. Maybe people would learn that they could live on less, get to know their neighbors, play with their kids, read a book, or grow some food in the backyard. Sure, we’d produce less and buy less, and prices would drop, but we’d destroy the earth a little slower. And it’s going to be cheaper to build the future energy infrastructure on $50/barrel oil than $148. Maybe we can refrigerate the economy long enough to rebuild America during this temporary dip in commodities.

Rediscover ‘enough’—Imagine a delightful meal with family or friends. The candlelight, some wine, a fabulous entrée, great conversation, a scrumptious dessert. Now imagine you’re forced to do it all again the same night. More food, more wine. To be satiated is sublime. To persist beyond that is perversion. And for the past 50 years, all we’ve wanted is more: more gadgets, three-car garages, second homes, multiple TVs, the latest i-Phone. More isn’t better. It’s just more, and often it’s less. Research has shown we’re no happier with all this stuff and there’s an epidemic of depression, even before this crash. With 6.5 billion people on the planet, more is also a disaster. Do the math. Imagine every person on earth having a car. The law of big numbers is now in play. Enough is enough!

Disprove the maxim that money makes the world go around—Municipalities are squeezed. How will they sweep the streets or provide music in schools? They lay off police and shrug. I want to know, why can’t we ask citizens to help? Do you know how to play the violin or use a rake or watch someone’s kids or cook a meal or change the oil? Then get to work. It can be very satisfying to get your hands dirty or do a favor for a neighbor. Why does the absence of money have to get in the way of contributing? You can’t save time like you can money, only waste it, so spend time instead of money. Let’s ask our citizens to do more than vote and pay taxes. Create social mechanisms to help communities identify their needs and meet them themselves.

I’m struck by the gap between the numbers and our reaction. Economists are forecasting a couple percentage point drop in holiday sales, the first real drop in years. You’d think the world had come to an end. I wonder if the drop in the economy has less to do with the credit freeze and more about Americans reevaluating their values and the buy-stuff/go-into-debt/work-harder cycle.

What if this truly is the start of a second Renaissance, a shift toward a society that is more socially just and environmentally sound? Let’s not blow it, praying for the Good Ol’Days to return. They were an illusion, a Ponzi scheme, an economy on Crack. Instead of yearning for a return to Irrational Exuberance, let’s rebuild our economy not on the basis of how much crap people buy but instead on how well we care for one another, how healthy are our ecosystems, how much joy we can create. Let’s not lose this chance to change for the better just because we fear the unknown. The past wasn’t all that great. It created disenfranchised groups, fish loaded with toxins, a climate reeling from a CO2 buzz. We can do better.

Yes we can.


Sustainability planning and reporting are now standard practice. This book lays out a practical, well-tested, step-by-step approach to creating a sustainability plan and report.

Each chapter has two vital sections. The first contains background reading, tips and case examples to help you be successful. The second presents a set of methods each with step-by-step instructions and a selection matrix to help choose the best methods. The book also contains sample worksheets and exercise materials that can be copied for organization-wide use. Click here for a more complete description.

Customers in the USA and Canada can order through Earthscan’s US affiliate, Stylus, 800 232-0223 Email: (When ordering, indicate Source Code STEP8 to receive the book for the discounted price of $45.00 plus s/h. US orders only.)


© Copyright 2008 AXIS Performance Advisors, Inc. All
rights reserved.


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This entry was posted on August 3, 2013 by in Articles/Posts and tagged , , , , .

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