The new economy is small, sustainable and smart

While the Hague is all waffle and new cutbacks, local pioneers are changing the face of the economy: less money and more commitment. The old economy is history, write Jan Jonker and Jos Reinhoudt.

‘Never waste a good crisis’. If this adage holds true and a sizeable crisis really benefits transition, we must be on the verge of some drastic changes in many areas. Pressing problems, such as climate change, debt, the depletion of raw materials, the euro, pollution, antisocial behaviour, poverty and loneliness are all crying out for a solution. Meanwhile, all the Hague has to offer is waffle and more cutbacks.

Not surprisingly, more and more people are turning their backs on politics. Fortunately, a number of hope-inspiring green shoots have been sprouting that could herald the arrival of the economy of the future.


Having had enough of waiting for others to solve the problems, many people have decided to act. These pioneers are looking for ways of organising their own ‘close-to-home’ economy with less money and more commitment. They are becoming self-sufficient in terms of energy, swap goods and services, grow their own food, share cars or form a healthcare cooperative.

Local initiatives like these bring back the human scale to the economy. Neighbours and other people from the same area join in boosting social cohesion in the process. They form cooperatives not geared towards realising a maximum profit.

It’s not only these local pioneers who have noticed that change is in the air. Leading businesses like Unilever, DSM and Ecover are working hard at developing company strategies based on sustainable agriculture, circular resource streams and scarce material sources. They, too, are preparing for a different kind of economy and are changing the nature of their partnerships.

Lease jeans

In the new economy, different business models, like the one applied by Mudjeans, will find a place as well. This trendy fashion shop doesn’t sell jeans, it leases them. If you tear a hole in them or if you want a different style, all you have to do is go back to the shop and get yourself another pair. The old pair will be recycled into a new item of clothing.

There are plenty of innovative initiatives. Interface doesn’t only make carpets that can be fully recycled, they also buy old fishing nets from Philippine fishermen. In this way the fishermen earn some money and the nets won’t end up in the ocean. Newcomer Peerby brings people together who want to borrow each other’s tools, a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to buying.

Another good example is the increasingly popular Repair Café: groups of volunteers repair things to give them a longer life. This doesn’t just benefit the environment, it also provides a social and fun place for people to meet. Already there are dozens of repair Cafés all over the country and their number is still growing.

Many of these developments are based on sound economic sense. The old model is obsolete so things will have to change. Waste becomes food, waste water turns into money and you can generate your own energy. Policy makers are not convinced, however, and they often dismiss this kind of initiative as amateurish, marginal or economically irrelevant.

We think these small-scale initiatives are what the new economy is going to be all about. The pioneers deserve support and respect. ‘Small is the new big’.


Jos Reinhoudt works for MVO Nederland and is a GroenLinks councillor in Nijmegen

Jan Jonker is professor of Sustainable Entrepreneurship at Nijmegen University

This article appeared earlier in Trouw





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