The Seven Habits of High-Performing Green Economies


The world’s political, financial and ecological systems are under ever-increasing pressure.

And bookshelves the world over are filled with business management books to help executives cope with whatever problems may come their way.

Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People has been a bestseller for decades, but with decision-makers having to face up to multiple – and parallel – crises, perhaps The Seven Habits of High-Performing Green Economies could fill a gap in the market?

Within the work of the Swedish government’s 2012/2013 ʻfuture commission’, a research team was asked to come up with suggestions on how governments can deal with these issues.

The team’s report could be read as a blueprint on how to build ecological, social and economic resilience to promote sustainable human welfare.

Its seven most important habits for green-economy candidate countries are:

Continual investment in a just transition. Investments could be considered a prudent insurance policy against any negative fallout from future ecological, economic and social shocks.

Such investments not only offer opportunities to bolster the resilience of society, but they also give countries the opportunity to prosper when the rest of the world demands new technologies generated by green policies.

Specific investment in: natural capital; clean, renewable-driven, real capital; and last but not least, human and social capital to strengthen the overall national balance sheet, especially in times of global stagnation and instability. A transition will require investments in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and mass transit transport systems.

To make the transition just, and to get democratic support for the transition, investments in social-floor welfare systems will also be necessary.

The adoption of proactive policies to ensure the green economic transition takes off…now. Being proactive might increase short-term expenditure and involve trade-offs. But, a wait-and-see approach – while cheaper in the short term – is probably more expensive further down the road, when relative prices have changed and all other countries want to move out of their unsustainable patterns at the same time.

Natural resources and fuel prices in particular are likely to be higher in the future, too. One can also foresee tighter restrictions and higher prices/taxes on carbon dioxide and other emissions. Lagging behind on the green transition not only forces countries to adjust to external events, but it will be under conditions not of their making.

Capitalising on the national comparative advantages in the transition. The national renewable natural resource endowment, the focus of a country’s university system, the technological level of different national industries, and the domestic social capital which will help spur the process of transition, differs from country to country. But there is always something in which every nation has a comparative, transitional advantage.

Goods, services and exportable technologies which carry the sustainability stamp will enhance a country’s international image as a sustainable role model.

Use of green economic policies to promote the development of a sustainable energy system (i.e. one based on renewable energy). This increases energy security and contributes to rural economic development, as renewable energy originates from rural ecosystems.

As an important part of any energy system transition, green economic policy instruments could be particularly helpful in unleashing the untapped supply of ‘negawatts’ (energy savings), especially in buildings used for housing and services.

Finance ministries should be directly accountable for ensuring that green economic targets are pursued as vigorously as any other headline economic indicator. The use of compulsory green procurement policies will provide a strong demand for green technologies and services. It is important to introduce a green tax shift, although it is crucial that such a shift is fair.

Securing the bottom-up involvement of the wider society in the transition. This will require policies designed to co-opt and support – as well as induce and push – the business community, key social partners, interest groups and civil society to be part of the transition process. Innovative ideas and out-of-the-box thinking will be required in these wider efforts, while the skilful communication of long-term targets is essential.

There is also a clear need to build solid democratic support for a transition, and to foster broad understanding of its potential benefits, without hiding its challenges.