Bioregional Economies

Reliable Prosperity

When the health of ecosystems and communities is not integrated into economic activities, all three suffer. In turn, economic dependence on destructive activities creates apparent conflicts between work, nature, and community. How can we create an economy that effectively meets human needs while regenerating natural systems? An economy which grows organically — and fills new niches — by working with nature and enriching human capacities?

In a world of reliable prosperity, economic arrangements of all kinds are gradually redesigned so that they restore — rather than deplete — nature and society. This will create extraordinary opportunities for those who foresee and drive these changes. The fundamental needs of people — and the ecosystem services that sustain them — are the starting point for a different kind of economic prosperity that can endure generation after generation.

While reliable prosperity functions on a global scale, it can be imagined as a healthy mosaic of bioregional economies forged within coherent geographic and cultural regions. Even in a globalizing economy, diverse bioregional economies that are more self-sufficient more competitive and less vulnerable.

Globalization is creating economic insecurity and increasing the gap between rich and poor. At the same time, it is undermining cultural diversity and turning complex ecosystems into streams of standardized commodities.

Bioregional economies reflect the capacities and limitations of their particular ecosystems, honor the diversity and history of local cultures, and meet human needs as locally as possible. Bioregional economies are diverse, resilient, and decentralized. They minimize dependence on imports while focusing on high value-added exports. Paradoxically, this gives them an important competitive advantage in a global economy, allowing them to trade on favorable terms without sacrificing their economic sovereignty in the process.

Bioregional economies recognize the need for fair trade, refraining from importing or exporting goods produced unfairly or in an ecologically destructive manner. They make a transition to true cost pricing, building actual social and environmental costs into market prices. In order to provide independent certification of product attributes (e.g. sustainably harvested, fair trade, organic, shade grown, green power), they promote product labeling.

Bioregional economies do not deplete their own society, nature, or capital. They export only their sustainable surplus, most often taking the form of intellectual property or high-value products and services rather than bulk commodities. Their sense of place becomes the key component of their brand identity. In the coastal temperate rainforest, products evocative of place include Copper River salmon, Tillamook cheese, Willamette Valley wine, and Walla Walla onions.

Bioregional economies are physically constrained by the network of connected wildlands, the availability of productive rural areas, and the distribution of towns and cities.

This allows them to substitute ecosystem services for more expensive imported alternatives. It also makes them attractive destinations for ecotourism.

Bioregional economies can have vastly different mixes of local foods, energy sources, building materials, land-uses — all responding to the possibilities of place. However, their underlying design principles are remarkably consistent. Together they form an interdependent, mutually beneficial reliable prosperity at the global scale.

Bioregions need to reclaim a strong measure of economic sovereignty by becoming more self-sufficient and trading on their own terms. They can create economies that celebrate and mirror local ecosystems and cultures.

Reprinted from Reliable Prosperity, an Ecotrust project

Reference: Korten, David. The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. San Francisco, CA. 1999.