Written by: Thomas Mande

In an age of many overlapping crises–from ecological breakdown, to staggering inequality, to democratic collapse–the term “systems-change” has become ubiquitous. Among the many systems that we must reconsider, none are more important than our systems of resource governance. These systems set the rules for who controls every resource in our societies, including land, water, labor, knowledge, money, and more. Collectively, resource governance systems determine fundamental dynamics of our economy, including how we select our priorities, how we create value, and how we distribute it. 

In our new WEAll briefing paper, Commons in a Wellbeing Economy, we examine the inadequacies of our two dominant systems of resource governance–the market and the state–and argue that a better model of resource governance lies in one of the oldest human systems: the commons. 

The term commons has had many meanings, both now and in the past. In our paper, we examine the commons as a versatile, democratic, and equitable resource governance system, with the potential to restructure our broken economies and societies of today.

Our paper begins by discussing resource governance and describing the different types of systems our societies use, including the two most prevalent systems, the market and the state. We then provide a global array of examples of commons systems in practice, focusing on four main types: natural resource commons, digital commons, urban commons, and financial commons. 

We analyze how commons governance is structurally different from other systems of resource governance, and how those differences create the possibility for a more democratic, equitable, and sustainable economy. We conclude our paper by providing recommendations for how people, communities, governments, and businesses can work to support the creation of new commons and protection of existing ones.

The commons is a rapidly expanding and evolving area of study, and any attempt to capture its essence in a ten page briefing paper will undoubtedly come up short. Our paper solely aims to provide an introduction to this exciting and important concept, and to encourage readers to seek to learn more.     

If you want to hear from us directly, and engage with other experts and organizations working to support the growing commons movement, please join us for our upcoming event on 2 February.

By Rohit Rao and Hugh Coppell

There is nothing on this planet more crucial to life than water. It is a fundamental human need necessary for our biological survival. It exists in the bodies of all people, animals, and plants and is a crucial element of almost all the products and services that we rely upon today. If managed sustainably, it also allows us to create thriving economies that generate social and ecological wellbeing for everyone.

Therefore, a Wellbeing Economy must ensure that people have safe and secure water access, and that sustainable water flows are created and maintained.

However, we currently face challenges that we must overcome in order to make this happen. The emphasis on short-term economic and monetary gain over long-term ecological and social wellbeing mean that is difficult to truly define and evaluate the value of water in terms of the holistic benefits it provides. This is compounded by environmental factors such as erratic rainfall patterns brought about by climate change and anthropogenic pollution, poorly designed transnational water legislation and urban water infrastructure, and a narrative that pushes expensive technology at the expense of nature-based solutions.

In our newly launched briefing paper, Water in a Wellbeing Economy, we propose some solutions to these challenges. Using case studies and examples from around the world, we show that, bit by bit, a Wellbeing Economy for water is both desirable and achievable.

The paper builds on the six Principles of Water Ethics set out by Jennings, Heltne, and Kintzele. These are:

  1. Respect for human dignity by providing all people with water, the essence of our basic needs
  2. Equity and proportionality in distribution
  3. Solidarity between various stakeholders
  4. Common good – with rules for governance and management 
  5. Responsible stewardship
  6. Inclusive and deliberative participation of entities 

It focuses on solutions that exist in the areas of good governance; ecosystem services accounting; health and sanitation; agriculture; industry; cities; and individual action.

These areas do not encompass an exhaustive list of solutions. Rather, they provide a starting point as more solutions and areas of focus are emerging every day. We have merely provided a taster of what exists and seek to create the space to facilitate a larger conversation between the general public, policy makers, and researchers towards building a Wellbeing Economy for water.

To find out more about practical steps that are being taken in these areas, and places were bold policies are already making an impact, read the full paper.

If you’re curious to hear firsthand from us, as well as share how your organisation is contributing towards a Wellbeing Economy for water, attend our upcoming event on August 10.

Around the world, there are a plethora of activities that blend environmental benefits with health benefits. This co-beneficial approach is outlined in our recently published paper, 5 Pathways to Health and Environment in a Wellbeing Economy

The paper showcases a number of these case studies that marry these two ideas – proving that we don’t have to choose between just focusing on environmental benefits or only focusing on health benefits. ather, there are ways in which we can develop policies that support both of these objectives simultaneously. 

On June 28th, WEAll hosted with the authors of this paper, a panel that brought together speakers from around the world implementing these practices in their local communities. 

The case studies show that multiple objectives can be achieved if thought of holistically. Social cooperation, food security, health, climate change – all of these can be tackled simultaneously to build a Wellbeing Economy. 

The first case study was Emma Whitman from Moo Foods. Based in the Scottish Highlands, Moo Food works to build community resilience by bringing people together to grow food, knowledge and confidence. 

“Everything we do at MOO Food is based on these three words; Growing Our Future.”

Emma Whitman

They do this by supporting a multitude of agriculture projects in their community. From planting orchards to building growing spaces, to instigating school partnerships, Moo Foods reaches a  wide range of the community –  all centering around food security. This method of practice centers food security while also strengthening  community. 

The webinar then learns from Piedad Viteri from Johannes Kepler school in Ecuador. This school integrates regenerative design into all aspects of their curriculum. They’ve taken the  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the framework to further develop their strategy. They even went as far to declare their school as an ‘SDG Territory’. 

“We have to get together, in order to change things, in order to also regenerate.”

Piedad Viteri

One of the highlights of their program was the decision to move all the classrooms outside. This furthered the education of the students at their school to not only understand the core pieces of their curriculum, but also foster a deeper connection to the earth and to each other. 

Lastly, the webinar introduced Zeenath Hasan who works at Rude Foods in Malmo, Sweden. In Sweden there is an activist culture around food rescue. Rude Foods saw this and thought they could make food rescue a part of the mainstream. 

“Most of the economic activities that are hidden, is mainly what makes up the economy.”

Zeenath Hasan

With this in mind, they’ve built a strategy to rescue food and resell it to the community. This practice they refer to  as a ‘food rescuing catering service’. In this practice, they’re able to reduce food waste and blur the lines between the eater as an activist or the activist as someone who is food insecure. 

These case studies show the creativity involved to develop co-beneficial approaches to achieving both health and environment objectives. If you’re curious to learn more, please read the paper here.

Written by Isabel Nuesse

Authors: Olga Koretskaya, Gus Grosenbaugh

Read Paper

For the past several decades, the primary question for many businesses has been: “How much money can we make?”. It is still largely assumed that the social responsibility of business is to increase profits for shareholders, as that wealth should trickle down to benefit all. While the formal economy has never been larger, the unprecedented scale of environmental degradation and inequality it has created today makes us question business-as-usual and to look for alternatives.

In fact, all around the world, people are rejecting the status-quo of self-interest. In the midst of the global pandemic, more than ever, we see purposeful work towards building an economy that delivers environmental and social wellbeing.

  • With the election of Joe Biden, the US appears primed to re-enter the Paris Agreement.
  • New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget makes health a key, driving metric in economic decision making.
  • The ‘rights of nature’ are being recognised by national and local laws, predominantly in the countries of the Global South: Ecuador, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Mexico, Uganda, and Colombia.

While public awareness and government policies are crucial in supporting Wellbeing Business, it is companies – both large and small – that will be the engine behind the transition. The good news is: many of them already exist, and we know how to recognise them.

Here are eight key principles that define a Wellbeing Business.

  1. Redefining the vision. Primarily driven by the desire to create products and services that satisfy the needs of society, while staying in harmony with nature. 
  2. Ensuring transparency. Proactive in disclosing data about their environmental, social, and economic performance.
  3. Internalising externalities. Aware of the ‘negative externalities’ or negative environmental and social impacts they produce, and strive to reduce them.
  4. Having a long-term mindset. Make decisions that benefit the company and all important stakeholders including society and nature. This implies, for example careful consideration of resource use, and investment in employees and the communities within which companies operate.
  5. Making people an asset. Prioritise the dignifying of work and empowering of diverse voices within the company.
  6. Localising production. Become much more embedded in the community and ecosystems by striving to localise energy sources, financial sources, as well as distribution.      
  7. Switching to circular production. Design business processes to coexist with environmental and social systems.
  8. Embracing diversity. Acknowledge and embrace diversity in values, ownership structure, finance as key to a resilient business environment.

On 18 December we hosted a webinar to discuss this paper. You can watch the recording here:

Also, do check out the WEAll Business Guide as a nice pair to this work.

Want to better understand the arguments for a wellbeing economy? Change starts with knowledge. 

Today, we publish Understanding Wellbeing, the latest in our series of WEAll Briefings: Little Summaries of Big Issues.

WEAll Briefings consolidate and promote the research, theory and practice that demonstrates a wellbeing economy is possible and explores how we can get there. WEAll members, partners and collaborators help pull these together.

In this Briefing, we delve into how different communities of interest describe wellbeing and how governments use these concepts to improve lives.

Broadly speaking, the perspectives and models for promoting wellbeing can be categorised into three interconnected concepts: personal wellbeing, community wellbeing and societal wellbeing.

Community and societal wellbeing are more than the aggregate life satisfaction of citizens, but they cannot be said to exist in the absence of the personal life satisfaction of citizens.

Understanding Wellbeing has been written by Christopher BoyceLuca CosciemeClaire Sommer and Jennifer WallaceRead it and all other WEAll Briefings here.

Hungry for more? Browse our Wellbeing Economy Resource Library.

Got great resources you’d like us to feature or suggestions for future topics for WEAll Briefings? Send them to info@wellbeingeconomy.org