Growth and Development
July-August 2007
In a world with limited resources, growth and expansion aren’t endless and forever-lasting. A statement that seems rather obvious and yet, from the executive suites of the Western world, sales growth is still the only measure of success. Naturally when a small business expands and a few more zeros are added to their sales figures, they’re clearly doing something right for their customers. We can therefore assume that the company is playing its role well and is adequately responding to society’s needs. But how and, especially, where does success stand in our productivity-based model?

In the cooperative environment where social accountability is part of the mission statement, another indicator of success is added to the equation: benefits to the community. In this respect commercial activities can be applied to a much broader horizon. In fact, a cooperative must take into consideration the full impact of its growth objective. For example, agricultural cooperation is directly dependent on a resource that is less and less available yet increasingly in demand: the earth. What I mean is good earth, fertile soil. It is well documented that desertification is becoming a real threat. According to a report produced by the Canadian government, seven million hectares of fertile soil is destroyed every year all over the planet. The main culprits are overgrazing, deforestation and mechanical farming. Even the Canadian prairies are affected by this phenomenon.

In fact, our soil resource is very limited. And this reality should prompt soil-dependent businesses into action. This year, the energy industry has already started to apply pressure: a portion of all agricultural land should be used to fuel the energy sector. Obviously, with the growing enthusiasm for biofuels, it’s become a very lucrative industry, and in view of the past financial hardships experienced by farmers, who could blame them for being tempted by this new venture?

In the end, let’s not forget that the market is in fact us: you and me as consumers. Think about it, isn’t this odd competition created between man and machine as to the destination of farm products proof, to a certain extent, of the pervasive imbalance inherent to our lifestyles? If so much energy has become necessary for our societies to function properly, it’s because of our endless search to quench our thirst for consumption. The business world is not into moralizing, it is simply responding to our needs. Yet, and this is a fact we all know, rampant consumption does not mean increased happiness. In the 70s, economist Richard Easterlin demonstrated that beyond a certain level of comfort, money and possessions no longer increase our level of happiness. In the July 2004 issue of Le Monde diplomatique, academician Jean-Marie Harribey states: “Liberal capitalism is unable to provide a meaning to life in society other than consumerism, waste, buying up natural resources and revenues from economic activity….” Nothing happy there!

Imagine if everyone in the world decided to adopt our lifestyle. The world would never survive. In truth, scientists have had to calculate this equation in the number of planets that would be required to make this happen. No way! Now what? It’s a “yes” for us and “sorry” for everyone else? It seems like this is the only way to sustain the unbridled growth of our North American society; by maintaining the rest of the world in abject poverty. Which is obviously immoral.

We’ll need to change this paradigm and replace the objectives of growth and expansion by one of development. Development that, according to Harribey, is defined as “the possibility for all of Earth’s inhabitants to have access to clean water, a balanced diet, health care, education and democracy.” This kind of hope and optimism can only be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Something to think about for certain. And here we are, somewhat in spite of ourselves, pushed onto the path of responsible consumerism, voluntary simplicity – call it what you will. Not exactly easy for us since we live and breathe in a wealth of abundance, but it’s all about coherence: if we want Human Rights to be more than a self-important declaration written on luxuriant parchment, we’d better stop thinking and start doing.

 

Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: (514) 858-2025
 



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