What does the notion of degrowth cover? What are its history and current influence? How does a degrowth mindset impact the sustainability or CSR strategy of an organization? Let’s take a closer look.

Degrowth: A Simple Definition

The term degrowth refers to an economic situation during which the economic wealth produced does not increase or even decrease. This concept is to be distinguished from the recession, a simple observation of a negative growth rate in the context of a productivist economy. The concept of degrowth is a voluntary process and not a reality. It is based on the principle of awareness of a finite world, with limited resources, and on the idea that only a reduction in global production and consumption can ensure the future of humanity and the preservation of the planet.

In fact, the ideology of degrowth implies a principle of balance at all levels, and in particular a readjustment of disparities. This means, on one hand, the reduction of natural resources withdrawn by rich countries. On the other hand, poorer, “developing” countries should be able to experience, at least to a reasonable level, the developments that have already taken place in rich countries. From the comfort of a home and having basic hygienic conditions to education, healthcare services and all the other positive consequences of the latest developments already experienced in “developed” countries.

Degrowth: From Its Origin To Its Use Today

Some of the first ideas regarding preserving the environment and the excessive exploitation of natural resources emerged at the end of the Second World War. However, it was in the early 1970s that the concept of degrowth took off, with the publication of The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, a book by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen that was quickly followed by the work of the Club of Rome with the Limits To Growth Report in 1972.

The ideas that came out of both these pieces were subject to further theories, developments and debate by many thinkers of different backgrounds (from economists to ecologists and philosophers). As a result, a couple of intangible principles were found and grounded:

  • A large part of the resources humans use and rely on are dependent of ecosystem services and are limited;
  • Each withdrawal of non-renewable resources has the potential to jeopardize the long-term survival chances of humanity;
  • Infinite growth (demographic, economic …) in a finite world is impossible.

Today, despite the absence of a total agreement and action on the most radical perspective that the idea of degrowth supports, many of the ideas put forward are reinforced by the undeniable reality of global warming as a result of human actions.

This is even more the case as the use of the GDP (gross domestic product) as a tool for measuring growth is increasingly questioned. Indeed, as an answer to its inefficiency, distinguished economists are working on more relevant and comprehensive alternative indicators, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), the ecological footprint or the social health index.

Degrowth And Sustainable Development

Degrowth is a shadow concept that’s doesn’t come up often at discussions taking place in the economic sphere. However, it still shows up in many discussions, especially those related to sustainable development. In fact, when it comes to ecology and sustainable development, the idea that the current economic model based on growth is the root of the environmental problems we are facing is becoming widespread.

Indeed, it is to support economic growth GDP progress that the world’s economic system is constantly pushing towards the consumption of natural resources, damaging ecosystems and polluting them by burning fossil fuels. It is mainly due to the preponderance of these economic activities and their externalities on the environment that global warming is the hot topic on the agenda today, together with other environmental issues such as the degradation of biodiversity or air pollution.

In the end, when it comes to degrowth, there is usually the idea that we must stop constant production at the expense of nature and, therefore, try to produce better and with less. Among other examples, the principles of eco-design or permaculture or agro-ecology, as well as tools such as LCA or Materiality Analysis, are strongly inspired by the major creed of the proponents of degrowth: the need to adapt the ecological footprint of human activities to the limited nature of the resources available. Ultimately, degrowth seeks to redefine our economic model by taking resilience as a basic concept.

[Image credits to Shutterstock on slowdown]