Citizen Action Monitor

Thinking in terms of services reveals new ways to decarbonize, dematerialize economic activity

Services-based enterprise features “non-polluting energy sources, selling non-material services, not polluting products.”

No 2097 Posted by fw, November 11, 2017

To access all other synopses from Prosperity without Growth, click on the Tab titled “Prosperity without Growth” — Links to All Posts in the top left margin of the Home page.

In this synopsis of Section 2, titled “Enterprise as service”,  Jackson points out that “Thinking in terms of services reveals new ways to decarbonize or dematerialize human activities. … It is ultimately services rather than stuff that matters to us, whether this is in nutrition or housing or transport or health care, or education, or leisure. Almost all of our needs can be cast in terms of services. Moreover, the seeds for transformation to a service-based enterprise already exists in diverse forms, operating under the radar of mainstream economic infrastructure, ranging from local, community-based initiatives to social enterprises.

Tim Jackson is a British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey.

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Enterprise as service, a synopsis, from Chapter 8, “Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow” of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

Modern economic enterprise is built on three economic requirements:

  1. The goal must be to provide for human flourishing.
  2. Economic activities must not destroy ecological assets on which future prosperity depends.
  3. The economic system must afford citizens with the means to a livelihood and opportunity for meaningful participation in societal affairs.

“The critical question addressed in this chapter concerns the nature of the economic activities that will deliver these capabilities,” says author Tim Jackson.

If, as Jackson has emphasized in previous chapters, prosperity is as much about social and psychological functioning as it is about material stuff, then the goal of the economic enterprise must include “delivering the ‘human services’ that improve the quality our lives: nutrition, shelter, health, social care, education, leisure, recreation, and the maintenance and protection of physical and natural assets.”

Granted, materials are often an inherent part of the service economy, but even in these cases the economic activity can be thought of in terms of a service. “Thinking in terms of services reveals new ways to decarbonize or dematerialize human activities,” says Jackson.

For example, while food is material, nutritional services extend beyond mere food intake: less food can mean better nutrition; more food or fast food can be nutrition poor.

Energy services can extend beyond provision of harmful fossil fuels to include other means of heating, lighting, and transporting. An insulated house provides warmth without the release of carbon emissions. Emission-free solar and wind electric generating services provide lighting. And zero-emission vehicles get gas-guzzling internal combustion engines off the roads.

So, it’s time to stop thinking in terms of emission-producing “manufacture of material products” and start thinking in terms of “delivery of dematerialized services,” – a strategy some refer to as “sterilization.”

Delivery of dematerialized services is not to be confused with our current practice of offshoring manufacturing and then importing goods from abroad.

Moreover, Jackson cautions about the fast-growing “servicization” of leisure and recreation, pointing out that “In practice, the way we spend our leisure time can be responsible for as much as 25% of our carbon footprint.”

Nevertheless, he emphasizes, “It is ultimately services rather than stuff that matters to us, whether this is in nutrition or housing or transport or health care, or education, or leisure. Almost all of our needs can be cast in terms of services.”

And here’s a bonus: operating under the radar of mainstream economic infrastructure, the seeds for transformation to a service-based enterprise already exist in diverse forms,  ranging from local, community-based initiatives to social enterprises, including, to mention just a few:

  • community energy projects
  • local farmers’ markets
  • slow food cooperatives
  • sports clubs
  • libraries
  • community health and fitness centres
  • local repair and maintenance services
  • craft workshops
  • writing centres
  • outdoor pursuits
  • music and drama
  • yoga
  • martial arts
  • meditation
  • gardening and
  • restoration of parks and open spaces.

Is there not something contradictory about advocating a new engine of economic growth? Not at all, given that the proposed services-based enterprise features “non-polluting energy sources and selling non-material services, not polluting products.

Jackson wraps up Section 2, Chapter 8 on an optimistic note and a segue to Section 3, “Work as participation.” —

“But here at least is something in the way of a blueprint for what such an economy might look like. It gives us more of a sense of what people are buying and what businesses are selling in this new economy. It also gives us an insight into the kinds of jobs that characterize the new service-based economy. They will differ in some precise ways from jobs in the prevailing consumer economy. And, perhaps more importantly, as we see in the next section, there are likely to be more of them.”

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