Friday, 25 May 2018

The Futility of Social Enterprise - Peter Dauvergne's War on the Social Economy


Peter Dauvergne, author of "Environmentalism of  The Rich". the "Shadows of Consumption" and "Eco-Business: the Big Brand Takeover of Sustainability", is Canadian. But, assuming that last fact embodies a positive moral connotation, Dauvergne is not at all polite or nice about social enterprise,the business concept that fueled our creation of the TorontotheBetter directory. We take enterprises at their word and aim to enable their aspirational selves. But, simply put, Dauvergne thinks that 1) social enterprise and those who believe in their power for good are deluded to think that their "tiny environmental cuts" are ever "going to transform western-style capitalism" (p.6), and that 2) many well-meaning NGOs have sold out to their corporate enemies in return for sponsorship of their well-meaning business endeavors. The problem for TorontotheBetter and the enterprises within it is that  Dauvergne is largely right. Much private enterprise is dependent on sales of consumables, and so cannot, obviously, cure the ills of consumption, and many corporations cynically use charities merely to clean up their image.

Deluded or hypocritical, the social economy options presented both seem bad and would leave the field of social enterprise in political disarray, even though, in his more sentimental moments, Dauvergne recognizes the sincerity of many social entrepreneurs at a personal level. The question that Dauvergne does not answer is the key one; if private enterprise that is built on increasing turnover for success is always contributing to the problem it professes to remove how can enterprise improve its act? Selling green products is still selling and the pursuit of profit through more green products can be as taxing on the environment as non-green products in that both encourage use of environmental capacity and require more or less consumption.

The way out of Dauvergne's Gordian knot must start with a clear minded recognition of the in- principle aspirational futility of the ideal of clean consumption in a capitalist economic form built on endless growth. But just as TorontotheBetter supports other forms of social enterprise such as democratic workplaces, so enterprise can seek benign goals that do not depend on exponential consumption, e.g. protecting and conserving services, and contributing to greater understanding of the need for other kinds of intervention, such as government action, and community partnerships that restrict consumption. If recognizing the futility of one's actions might seem a contrary way to the greater good for society it is nonetheless entirely in line with the Socratic tradition of wisdom that starts with recognition of one's own limitations and, sincerely believed, can serve to spur further efforts. TorontotheBetter continues to support clear-sighted attempts to make the private enterprise that still makes up over 50% of the Canadian economy serve the greater/better good. Aspiration to the better is always better than acceptance of achievement of the worse. And even to acknowledge the error of one's ways is a positive step in most belief systems. Capitalistic growth may be a problem, but feeding people healthy nutrition does not have to be.                   

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