Charlie Ashford

Growing happiness: What an organic Bhutan means for business

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Charlie Ashford
12th February, 2013, 12:53 pm

Bhutan is going organic.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom aims to ban all pesticides and herbicides. It expects that organic farming will not only help the environment, but will also help farmers to grow more.

The move, announced at a sustainable development conference, looks like a complete rejection of global agribusiness. It’s difficult to find an agricultural multinational that doesn’t describe itself as “sustainable”, yet these companies are often accused of harming the poor and damaging the environment.

Bhutan is often painted as a sustainable utopia. In 2008, the country didn’t just gain democracy; it also introduced an index of Gross National Happiness (GNH), to replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In theory, all decisions taken by government – from the granting of mining contracts to the introduction of a weekly “pedestrians day” – are guided by how they will impact on the happiness of the Bhutanese people, not just economic growth.

Regardless of how accurate this picture is, Bhutan’s experiment is interesting. Could it catch on elsewhere? The UK and France have already introduced their own happiness indicators, although GDP is here to stay.

When most people talk about sustainability, they really mean sustainable growth. Companies should minimise the harmful effects of growth, and maximise the beneficial ones. But above all, they should grow.

What if companies were judged using a different yardstick? The circular economy is one effort by business to think differently about growth. Another is Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, which this year will be followed by a wider campaign for responsible capitalism.

The West won’t be following Bhutan’s lead any time soon. But the debate over growth refuses to go away. Businesses need to seriously consider their true value to society, or they may face some very unhappy customers.


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