A few weeks ago I had an extensive dialogue with Bill Baue, a “corporate sustainability architect” who works with corporations and others to design “systemic transformation and company-level solutions.” He had wanted the commons community to engage with the idea of “context-based sustainability,” a system used by some companies to “measure, manage and report sustainability performance.” The whole idea is that there are stocks of financial, natural, and human (or social) capital that can be prudently managed to respect the “carrying capacity” of the capital.
Given my grounding in the commons world, I was profoundly skeptical – but open to a frank exploration of the ideas. Below is a record of an exchange that I had with Baue. My disagreements centered on whether corporations can or should be the primary arbiters of sustainability (that much-abused term), and whether treating nature and social relationships as “capital” is even appropriate. I instead advocated for commons-based approaches that first, would not regard commons as mere resources, but as socio-ecological systems, ans second, that would empower commoners, especially in contrast to market-based systems.
I don’t propose a "separatism" for the commons vis-a-vis business, but I do insist that commoners not become the domesticated junior partner that merely legitimates the least-painful, most market-friendly changes (as many market-oriented environmental groups do). Non-engagement, or oblique engagement, can be plenty effective. The organic food and re-localization movement have had a tremendous impact on industrial agriculture and major food companies merely by building their own alternatives, rather than trying frontally to get Coca-Cola and Kraft to change their ways. One might even trace this thread back to Gandhi and the spinning wheels.