In search of a sustainable "new economy"

Who better to guide an emerging “new economy” than Bob Massie, the celebrated former executive director of Ceres—among the first organizations to bring together the business, investment and activist communities for a sustainable future—and a father of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) that continues to transform how companies conceive and report sustainability initiatives?

In his new role as president of the New Economics Institute (NEI), Massie is bringing to bear the full scope of his wide professional experience and personal strength—as leader of those groups, as well as business professor, Episcopal minister, apartheid rights activist, political veteran (most recently in his race for the U.S. Senate candidacy in Massachusetts), and healthy survivor of hepatitis, HIV and a liver transplant, recounted in his new book A Song in the Night.

That depth of character and breadth of action will likely be needed to help lead a fledgling movement that, up to now, may have been viewed by skeptics as something of a populist sideline.

I caught up with Massie—one of my longtime heroes in the business sustainability movement--in June at NEI’s first conference in upstate New York, which brought together economists, academics, business leaders, government officials, community organizers and others to examine what’s not working in our economy—as well as experiments that are working--and what role business and finance, in concert with other sectors, can play to help create positive change.

So what is the new economy? “It’s a way of thinking about our planet…our society…our lives as a whole,” explains Massie, adding that we want a system where “human beings can flourish, [that] advances justice, safety, diversity, prosperity, sustainability, democracy, health, and joy….[where] we are more than our individual consumerist impulses.”

That doesn’t sound all that different from what many business leaders have expressed through groups such as Business for Social Responsibility and the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, and what they seek to embed within their companies via “green teams” and other employee engagement programs that encourage community service and other proactive sustainability measures.

Next page: Is small still beautiful?