From Stick to Carrot

November 14, 2019

Share this story

by Alan Thornburrow, Director, Business in the Community

To coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the publication of the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, the Carnegie UK Trust is publishing a series of blogs which outline the approach taken to measuring and improving wellbeing by different governments, organisations and initiatives around the world.The pressing need for change is growing as we run out of time and earth’s resources. As Kate Raworth and many others argue, current economics (and economies) are not delivering the change we need to solve our overwhelming population and climate challenges. Global co-operation is stalling even as we move towards the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow in just over a year’s time. The international capital markets are financing activities which Mark Carney warns will lift global temperatures far beyond the 1.5C agreed in the Paris Agreement.

The concept of wellbeing economies is steadily gaining traction within economic and political circles. Scotland has embedded wellbeing as a core purpose of government, and our National Performance Framework (NPF) measures how as a nation we are performing against specific wellbeing outcomes. You can follow a golden thread from these outcomes all the way to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, ‘the world’s to-do list’”. And fully adopting a wellbeing economy would achieve the just transition to a zero-carbon future that we need, in which humans have purpose, needs are met, nature is restored and society prospers.

Businesses have a vital role to play in our future, as the changes we seek cannot possibly be accomplished without their participation and transformation. Members of Business in the Community (BITC) already understand that their success is inextricably linked with that of society and a force for good we have three aims: developing a skilled and inclusive workforce for today and tomorrow; building thriving communities where people want to live and work; and innovating to sustain and repair our planet. ‘Employers and workers are not passive bystanders, but agents of change able to find and shape new pathways to sustainability’, says Maria Helena Andre, ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV).

So why is the current demonstrable threat of global catastrophe not resulting in immediate and sweeping changes to behaviour by business, by government, by each and every one of us? As a colleague recently said in relation to climate emergency, ‘where are the blue lights? The problem lies perhaps in an approach to the future rooted on opposition – on what we shouldn’t be doing anymore, on what’s wrong with how we currently behave. Kate Raworth quotes Buckminster Fuller: ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete’.[1]

I would argue that what we have at global and national level are a series of measurements, of objectives. But what are they in pursuit of? Where is our North Star, the unifying vision we can all work together to achieve? Katherine Trebeck, in a previous blog in this series, supports this view: ‘We designed the current economy, so we all can design a new one: the only limits are our imagination’. If we use our collective imagination, what does that a better future look like?

The United Nations has just launched a global conversation which aims to build a global vision of 2045, its centenary, increase understanding of the threats to that future, and support enhanced international co-operation to realise that vision. Meanwhile, let’s get to work here in Scotland and build a positive vision for our future. For me, that looks like a society in which humans have purpose, where needs are met, where nature is restored and all in society prosper. Where does your imagination take you? Let’s build a vision of what a good life for each of us in 2045 would look like and make it our North Star.

Then we can use the infrastructure of organisations like BITC, Scottish Enterprise, the OECD, Zero Waste Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the many more besides who provide practical tools to help us get there. Then we can use frameworks like the Global Goals and, closer to home, Scotland’s NPF to help set a course. Then we can measure what matters and see how our efforts are creating the future you want for ourselves and those who come after us.

But let’s start now.


[1] Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (Kindle edition), 2017