The Green Economy, Human Needs, and Cooperatives

Written by Kara - Sunday, August 12th, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role that community plays in sustainability and the difficulty of explaining to folks what *I* expect out of green jobs and a green economy. To me, creating conditions that allow people to meet their basic human needs is part and parcel of the whole deal. There is no “sustainability” unless people are meeting their needs in ways that respect other people and sustain the planet. So a green job is not just one that happens to be in the field of energy efficiency. It also matters that the needs of the worker, the worker’s family, and the community surrounding the work are considered.

The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) uses Manfred Max-Neef’s definition of human needs and satisfiers to guide work in this area. The needs he names are not hierarchical, meaning they all have equal impact on our happiness and sense of well-being. The nine needs we use are Subsistence, Protection, Affection, Creativity, Identity, Freedom, Understanding, Participation, and Idleness.

This year happens to be the UN’s International Year of the Cooperative, so you may have been hearing more about this business model lately. Cooperatives can be for housing, food, or just about anything else. They can be worker-owned or not. They can be non-profits or for-profits – everything depends on how their bylaws are written. However, most cooperatives use the same “Cooperative Principles“:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
  2. Democratic Member Control
  3. Member Economic Participation
  4. Autonomy and Independence
  5. Education, Training and Information
  6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

A business need not be a cooperative to pay a living wage and protect its employees; to encourage participation, creativity, and understanding; to allow for freedom, and identity; or to make sure that employees have an appropriate work/life balance (affection and idleness). However, a business formed as a cooperative, using these principles, would be off to a great start.

If you’re interested in learning more about cooperatives and strengthening our network in DC, head over to Coop DC and join the Google Group to get on the mailing list. Right now, we’re a fairly informal group meeting regularly to share ideas. We will also be hosting a one day conference at UDC on October 27th, so save the date, and look for more information shortly!


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