Ethical Markets

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Ethical Markets
The implicit goal of Ethical Markets is to push the green economy toward the tipping point and supplant our current unsustainable economic models with socially and environmentally responsible practices, such as fair trade and green building. Author Hazel Henderson, a futurist (which really means she is an astute observer of past and present trends), is uniquely qualified to tip, as she combines all three qualities described as essential components of tipping by Malcolm Gladwell in his book on the topic. She is a connector with wide and diverse social circles, a maven with broad knowledge about sustainability issues, and a salesperson with charismatic persuasive abilities. These qualities propel the book. Following the format of the television show on which the book is based, Ethical Markets (co-authored by show host Simran Sethi) conveys information primarily through the voices of experts, lending a living room discussion feel. Many of the experts interviewed serve on the Ethical Markets Research Advisory Board, which adds authority. This format ultimately serves the mission of the book best, as readers unfamiliar with sustainability will find comfort in the book's talkative nature, while those toiling in the field of sustainability may find some of the information old hat to them. For example, the information on socially responsible investing (SRI) will likely inspire many readers who do not already screen their portfolios to do so, but SRI veterans should not expect to discover new angles or strategies. The breadth of Henderson's expertise, however, practically ensures that all readers will encounter some novel information. For example, in a tangential discussion in the SRI chapter, she questions the central assumption of economists--that self-interest trumps altruism. Darwin actually believed that human survival was largely due to our genius for cooperation, Henderson states. This point circles back to her earlier critique of standard economic yardsticks such as gross national product (GNP) and gross domestic product (GDP), which ignore many vital aspects of our economy and creating disincentives for positive action, such as health maintenance. She points out that the love economy, encompassing work such as home-making, parenting, and eldercare that traditional economists ignore as unpaid work, accounted for $16 trillion globally according to the UN Human Development Report in 1995. That figure was missing from the official global GDP calculation of $24 trillion. Henderson provides a long list of alternative measures of economic vitality and wellbeing. She also stresses the importance of taking into account what money can t buy--namely contentment--which is a key component of the country of Bhutan's Gross National Happiness measurement and the Happy Planet Index from the New Economics Foundation in London. While the mainstream press focuses on whether or not carbon offsetting is a viable solution to climate change, Henderson highlights less publicized, but more innovative and equitable (and perhaps even more effective) solutions to lowering carbon emissions. In the preface, Natural Capitalism guru Hunter Lovins perfectly sums up how Henderson's book transforms apparent contradictions into sustainability solutions. The primary instrument of the [ecosystem] destruction is business as it seeks to meet our increasingly rapacious appetite for goods and services, writes Lovins. But business is also the most likely instrument of our delivery. Hazel is among the leaders of those proving . . . that there is a very good business case for behaving in ways that not only generate profit but that also protect people and the planet, Lovins concludes. - Bill Baue
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