Arguments can, and are, being made for why, to avoid an environmental collapse, we need exponential growth of solutions, we need to become growth agnostic, and we need to de-grow the economy.

For companies making claims of being sustainable, a force for good, or socially responsible, it is still only the very bravest who publicly question whether growth is right for them; and in those rare occasions, asking such questions can paradoxically lead to more growth (see Patagonia’s “Don’t buy this jacket” campaign). But it is in asking this exact question that we can most quickly, and I think most accurately, understand whether a company is enriching our world or exploiting it.

The answer is obvious if we just ask the right question.

B Corp scores, GRI standards, ESG indexes, even Environmental Profit and Loss statements, what do they tell us about whether we should want those companies to succeed (grow) or do us a favour and go away (de-grow)? Not a lot.

A more effective approach would be to ask any layperson on the street if Company X  was to triple in size overnight, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Their answer will tell you all we need to know.

It could range from “that would be awful”, to “I dunno”, all the way to “that would be fantastic”. Most companies might evoke the middle response, indifference or unsureness, but many would immediately illicit responses on the extremes.

For example, ask someone about Evian (a B Corp) and they might think that it was catastrophic, then ask someone about Dopper (also a B Corp) and they might think that’s terrific news. Simple, right?

Companies should exist to meet needs. And justifications for meeting all manner of needs can be made. A lot, if not the majority, of businesses meet those needs in a way which is in some way incongruous with a healthy and thriving society and a healthy and thriving natural world. That is the problem we have when it comes to growth. Those companies have a monkey on their backs, and everytime they grow the monkey becomes larger. By imagining the rapid growth of a company it help highlight the monkey.

We need to start asking these simple questions more often, because there are some companies genuinely trying to work out how to meet needs in a way which IS congruous with a healthy society and a healthy planet, and hopefully we will start to see more companies like them. It’s their growth, if any, which should be celebrated

So, what about your business? If it tripled in size overnight, what would people say?

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