I’ve been thinking about sustainability a lot in recent years. If capitalism relies on MORE – more production, more consumption, more people – to succeed and grow the pie, then is capitalism at odds with sustainability? And since the planet is required for our survival as a species, does that mean we must abandon capitalism? What would take its place? Maybe Elon Musk will succeed at colonizing Mars, but I have a feeling we will need to find a way to sustain the Earth.
There is a lot of fear in the political climate about having this discussion. Last week the Attorney General of Louisiana requested that the state’s pension plans fire BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, for its focus on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing and sustainability. According to the AG:
As Chief Legal Officer for Louisiana, I am appalled that a New York City-based global investment firm is making money off our State while assaulting our very way of life.
While this is embarrassing for AG Landry and for my adopted home state, I understand the fear of change. Louisiana’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas production. But even Saudia Arabia has the foresight to pivot its economic dependence on oil and gas. The world’s largest oil companies have invested billions of dollars in renewable energy. I think the fine people of Louisiana can handle the truth.
.@AGJeffLandry says he opposes policies to get to net zero emissions, and demands his likely gubernatorial opponent @LATreasury force the state retirement system to divest from BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, over their net-zero goals. #lalege #lagov pic.twitter.com/817jJB9SQp
— Sam Karlin (@samkarlin) January 21, 2022
As I envision a world that is more sustainable, I think about my personal contribution to the cycle of MORE. I’ve flirted with attempts to reduce single-use plastics, but the packaging industry makes this impossible. For a while, I collected my glass items and drove them to a recycling facility on the other side of town. I quit when they closed for several months after Hurricane Ida. As a mother of two young children, I stress about the amount of trash my family produces on a weekly basis. Nothing is more stimulating to the economy than raising little children, but it is also the least sustainable, from an environmental perspective.
I have never been a fashionista. Clothes and handbags were never my thing. Shopping is a chore, and I tend to fill my closet with semi-replicas of the same black and navy items. But in an effort to dress appropriately for my age and stature, I signed up for a monthly subscription to Rent The Runway a few months ago. For a price lower than what I would spend buying new clothes, I can rent up to 8 items a month from Rent The Runway’s closet. So far, I enjoy having a new outfit for every occasion. If I don’t like an item, no sweat, I’ll have something new next week.
If everyone bought into a clothing subscription, we could produce fewer items of higher quality. I hope we can find a way to avoid dumping thousands of pounds of unpurchased ‘fast fashion’ in the Chilean desert. Even better, the subscription model maintains jobs – jobs to manage clothing inventory, to update the website, to develop the algorithm, to clean or repair the returned items, to ship the clothes to clients. Rent the Runway has reusable garment bags for shipping. The bag protects the clothes, no outer packaging is needed. The company will also reuse the plastic bags covering each garment. I stash those bags in a drawer until I’m ready to return my items.
Maybe I’ll get bored of the clothing after renting for six months. Who knows? Rent the Runway IPO’d in public markets a few months ago, and its stock is getting crushed. It is currently 70% below the IPO price. Ouch!
Imagine the subscription service applied across all facets of the economy. I can’t wait for self-driving cars that come with a subscription. When I need an SUV to haul things, I’ll request one on the app. For nights out, I’ll choose something fancy and comfortable to drop me off and pick me up. Road trip with the family and dog? We will choose a minibus.
I’m not sure where I’m going here except to say that these are questions worth asking ourselves. Humans are the dominant species on Earth because we were good at adapting to changes in circumstances. We are innovative and creative. Why should we stick our heads in the sand about capitalism being unsustainable? Instead, we should dive headfirst into finding the solution. I don’t see the value in the political pandering, posturing, and denial like what we saw from my state’s Attorney General last week.