Wrestling with Green Capitalism and the Creation of Transgressive Spaces

Throughout my thesis process I have struggled with my relationship to the theory of green capitalism. Also called environmental capitalism or eco-capitalism, green capitalism considers ecosystems a wealth of natural capital, and demands governments resolve environmental problems to preserve such resources. Colloquially, green capitalism tends to refer to the maintenance of our current liberal-capitalist system with various sustainable components. Though I appreciate the emergence of theories which demand change, I have three major quibbles with green capitalism.

First, and most importantly, green capitalism doesn’t intend to transform or reform the system. It does not address that the system is based off exponential growth to maintain a profit, and the pursuit of profit at the expense of various communities, be those human and non-human actors.

Second, green capitalism is inherently anthropocentric- it considers resources important to preserve only in their relation to future human profit. A more biocentric view, which includes ecosystems and humans as intrinsically valued, is a more wholistic approach and more adequately considers the impacts capitalism has on all stakeholders.

And finally, green capitalism tends to only consider environmental resource impacts- not those impacts on people in production processes and those impacted by rising sea level and toxic waste dumping. Environmental justice is entirely missing from these conversations.

My avoidance of green capitalism has also emerged from a fear of people’s response that such a theory is simply unrealistic. I’m often met with questions of possibility- given the immense power of capitalism in the West, how could we ever hope to transform it? Too often it feels like the West accepts the current reality as stagnant, forgetting the short amount of time frame the current structures of sovereign states and markets has existed.

Despite the flaws of the theory, I don’t wish to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’- there is, at its core, the recognition that change is needed. My problem with green capitalism is not that it’s asking for the wrong things, but that it’s not asking for enough. We need a major transformation of the system to address collective impacts of capitalism.

As I struggle over green capitalism, I return to my focus question, how, if at all, can corporations work for the global good? that I wrote to avoid avoid asking, is green capitalism possible? Really my thesis is asking, how, if at all, can the liberal-capitalist system work for the global good? Global good refers to the occurrence of ‘more than profit’ imbedded in capital relations to stakeholder. My question asks what steps the state, market, civil society, and individuals (consumers/public opinion) must take to create an economic system which considers the good of all stakeholders equal to profit.

My recent discovery of ecotopianism literature has provided a direction to take my qualms over green capitalism and my hope for economic transformation. There is a place for utopias. First, we must imagine the place we want to live in. Next, we create transgressive spaces, niches throughout the world, that change material reality in the direction our utopia demands. Over time, our utopia pipe dreams become grounded more and more in reality. Social justice interventions at large, be that civil society naming and shaming, voluntary standards and certifications creating more stringent standards, states increasing regulation, or CSR programs responding to consumer demands, create transgressive spaces. 

My thesis at large questions the ability to transform the system- it cannot happen overnight. It will happen space by space, from different actors, for different reasons, but through these there is potential to transform a system at large. As my earlier post discussed, B corp certification is an example of such transgressive spaces. As benefit corporations work for ‘more than profit’ they are transforming capitalist norms. The question regarding the limitations of such transgressive spaces remains. This is what I hope my thesis answers. If benefit corporations represent a transformation of the liberal-economic system, just how affective is the movement in creating change?

Check back over the weekend to review my expected methodology to answer this question!

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