Walking the Fine Line: Green Development

The future is green, that much is easy to see. Between wind farm turbines and other renewables getting developed at record numbers, the rise of sustainable fashion hitting back at fast fashion giants like Forever 21, and growing climate strike movements, the demand for an eco-friendly future is being heard the world round. But how do we balance going green overall with the need for underdeveloped nations to grow economies that can meet the basic needs of their citizens? Can rapid economic development and staying sustainable co-exist? How do we walk the fine line between sustainability and economic growth?

The fear echod in quite a lot of the media is that rapid economic growth is incompatible with being sustainable, and this is understandable. Countries with higher incomes and standards of living often usually have a much larger impact on the climate per capita. Furthermore, those higher income countries got to their current state through two centuries of extensive carbon use. So if we think of “development” as simply recreating the developed world’s current way of life for everyone in the developing world, we will end up massively overshooting any sort of carbon goals for the world, which we’re already struggling to meet as is. And when looking at the industries in developing nations, some of the main “cash crops” are heavily unsustainable industries, such as palm oil in Indonesia and cattle ranching in Brazil, both industries responsible for rainforest destruction. The industrialists behind the palm oil and cattle ranching industries often try and make the argument that developing these industries is the only way to create jobs, justifying their environmental destruction by holding the economies of developing nations hostage. But that’s simply not the case.

We can’t unilaterally condemn growth everywhere, as developing nations still need to grow to develop their economy to be able to provide good quality of life for all of their citizens. Nor can we simply assume that any growth must be done the same way that was done previously, before the extent of environmental damage of that type of growth was widely known. This is where the idea of green growth comes in. Green growth is the idea of seeing the need for development not as antagonistic to climate change but as an opportunity to invest in a greener future. In 2012, the OECD outlined a report on Green Growth, and included several examples of successful initiatives that can be copied.  WasteConcern is a 1995 social business from Bangladesh that turns bio-waste into agricultural compost, and the model has been so successful they now operate in ten countries. Brandix, a textile production facility in Sri Lanka, was the first facility ever to receive a LEED Platinum certification for sustainability, and to this day is considered the 2nd most sustainable LEED facility in the world.  Even simple solutions help. Ghana is the biggest consumer of charcoal in West Africa, but an initiative by Toyota to sell a cheap but more efficient cook stove has saved an estimated 35000 tons of carbon. 

Since this report, others around the world have taken up the call of sustainable business growth. Going back to Indonesia as an example, innovator Mohamad Bijaksana Junerosano is working on Waste4Change. This environmental engineer designed program is not only designed to keep waste out of the rivers and oceans, but to also be the first step in building a circular economy through innovative and cutting edge recycling ideas. Sustainable manufacturing is another big step in creating a Green Infrastructure, that both boosts the local economy while redefining our relationship to consumer goods overall. In the fashion world, Tonle is a fashion brand in Cambodia that is working on creating zero-waste, hand sewn apparel, and the brand Rust & Fray are making Upcycled hand sewn bags in Bangladesh. Brands like these are helping to transform both the economies they are working in and how the world works overall through creation of jobs that addresses the current unsustainable consumption of fast fashion goods. Green development ideas are set to go even bigger too. The International Energy Agency is predicting that by 2040 more than half of the energy in Sub-Saharan Africa will be produced by renewable energy sources. This energy investment will further boost the region’s overall economy by 30%.

What all these different companies and innovators show is that Green Development might not be such a fine line after all. Building a more sustainable world and helping build the economy of nations doesn’t have to be antagonistic with helping fight climate change. With enough support from governments, investors, and consumers, these green development ideas can help transform the world to a more sustainable place while transforming the lives of the people in these nations.

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