Commoditization and Consumption Efficiency:Contributions to Theory in Ecological Economics Jack Manno New York Great Lakes Research Consortium SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Theory needs • Theorize the evolution of unsustainable economic patterns. • Describe structures and mechanisms determining and governing these patterns. • Go beyond I = f(population x affluence x technology). • Link the personal and the political. • Identify key points of leverage for solving the problem of sustainable development .
Sustainable development The challenge for ecological economics: • How do we create and sustain ways of livelihoods, communities, nations and world where people prosper without undermining the life support systems upon which all prosperity ultimately depends?
The economic key to solving this problem • Increasing Consumption efficiency, welfare produced CI = energy and material resource consumed * welfare : the satisfaction of human need. • Marginal Consumption Efficiency is the amount of welfare produced per any given additional unit of energy and material consumed in the satisfaction of any human need.
Improving consumption efficiency? • Sufficiency/frugality (living simply, lightly on the earth)
Improving consumption efficiency? • Sharing Sharing
Improving consumption efficiency • “prioritizing synergic satisfiers” subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, identity and freedom. freedom, leisure. Manfred Max-Neef
Improving consumption efficiency? Through biomimicy, ecoefficiency, designing with nature, appropriate technology Nature as Model Biomimicry is a new science that studies nature's models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf. Nature as Mentor Biomimicry uses an ecological standard to judge the "rightness" of our innovations. After 3.8 billion years of evolution, nature has learned: What works. What is appropriate. What lasts. Nature as Measure Biomimicry is a new way of viewing and valuing nature. It introduces an era based not on what we can extract from the natural world, but on what we can learn from it. ~Janine Benyus (1997) Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.
Improving consumption efficiency? Through eco-synergy, synergism, permaculture for example: The Three Sisters: Corn, beans and squash Squash Corn Bean
Effective means of increasing consumption efficiency (welfare/consumption) involve and require relationships, relationships between people, between people and the land. The Community Organic Food Garden Vancouver, BC
“It’s not the earth that needs to be healed but our relationship to it.” Robin Kimmerer “It’s not a matter of belongings but a matter of belonging.” Robin Kimmerer
Commoditization theory • there exists a powerful tendency to privilege (favor) those satisfiers with the greatest commoditization potential in a competition for limited resources (attention, power, and material inputs) among competing satisfiers to meet any and all human needs and desires. • In the competition for energy and material investments, those satisfiers with characteristics that make them fit for functioning as a commodity will always out-compete those less able.
In order of descending priority potential waste reduction and pollution prevention effectiveness Reuse Recycle Recover Manage Reduce • Reduce packaging and materials in products. • Make products that last longer and are easy to repair, recycle, reuse. • Change industrial processes to eliminate use of harmful chemicals. • Reuse products. • Repair Products. • Compost. • Buy reusable products. • Recycle products. • Buy recycled products. • Treat waste to reduce toxicity. • Incinerate waste. • Bury waste in landfills. • Release waste for dilution or dispersion into the environment. • Recover embodied energy and materials The highest priority and greatest potential effectiveness also has the least commoditization potential. The greatest share of waste-related dollars goes to the lowest priority, i.e., waste management.
What are the qualities that characterize something as being subject to the pricing mechanism, in other words, what makes something a commodity? • Not all satisfiers have equal potential to function in an economy as a commodity. Home House
The fundamental distinction b/w commodities and non-commodities lies in whether value can be alienated from relationships. • The basic feature of something that can function as a commodity is that its needs-satisfying character can be extracted and readily transferred to a buyer. • Non-market values are typically those values that exist in relationships between and among people or between a person or a group of people (community) and a place. • Changes in the relationship result in changes in the welfare-producing value. • One party to the relationship cannot transfer it to another party, the other party needs to first establish its own relationship.
The net result of the constant privileging of commodities over non-commodities is an evolutionary process of development that hyper-develops commodities and under- develops relationships, leading to a distortion of overall economic development, maldevelopment, unsustainable development.
Attributes of Goods and Services and their Effects of Commoditization on Development
Table 2.(continued) Attributes of Goods and Services and their Effects of Commoditization on Development
Global Ecosystem WASTE HEAT SOLAR ENERGY Expanding Economic Subsystem Advertising & other Consumption Stimulants Expanding Material Demand Human Needs Expanding HCP High-entropy Matter/energy Economic Nutrients (capital, raw materials, human attention) Expanding HCP R&D Expanding Population Shrinking LCP Shrinking LCP R&D Low-entropy Matter/energy The process of commoditization.
Next Steps in Developing Commoditization Theory • Developing measures of commoditization potential. • Conceptualinzing the two economies: the economy of commodities and the economy of relationships (an economy of care and connection). • Developing the proper balance between the two. • Developing the concept of “attention” as a scarce resource. • Policy.
Remember the key to healing our relationship to the Earth is paying attention. You have the power to decide where to place your attention.