Sustainable Economic Development and Green Business: The Case of Cultural Arts

Sustainable_developmentDoes adopting a green business philosophy serve as an impediment for sustainable economic development? Are the two concepts mutually exclusive or is there an overlap that promotes the implementation of green business sustainable economic development projects? According to the United Nations, common ground exists: “The green economy approach seeks, in principle, to unite under a single banner the entire suite of economic policies and modes of economic analyses of relevance to sustainable development”. Thus, opportunities exist to foster sustainable economic development with the goal of alleviating poverty while pursuing green business practices. As illustrated here, these opportunities exist when social, economic and environmental concerns converge.

Detractors claim that green business practices inhibit sustainable economic development by introducing “unnecessary” cost barriers into the equation. But this argument is not necessarily accurate. Sustainable economic development is focused on the creation of micro-enterprises. The premise is that inhabitants of depressed economic areas can’t afford to wait for the jobs to come to them, they need to create jobs. At its core, green sustainable economic development is nothing more than entrepreneurship with a social and environmental conscious. Minimizing negative environmental impacts and sourcing eco-friendly and/or natural materials need not cost entrepreneurs more than do alternative options. Managing the process to ensure minimal adverse environmental impact is the key to success and can serve as a layer of competitive advantage.

Cultural Arts as Economic DevelopmentTerra Prometida Fairloom

My colleagues and I have experience in fostering the development of female owned and operated cultural art cooperatives in developing countries. Our efforts with Fairloom in Fortaleza, Brazil are featured in an article entitled The Dimensions of Peace published by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the premier accrediting agency globally for business schools. The women of Terra Prometida produce Brazilian bobbin lace (renda de bilos) using natural fibers. They work together to preserve a cultural art, provide economic opportunity, alleviate poverty and to reinvest in the community. This summer, we’re attempting to do this locally with members of an immigrant community who will be working together to preserve a Central American cultural art (Mayan backstrap loom weaving) and to provide economic opportunity to members of their community. The goal of both endeavors is to produce green fair-trade goods that can be marketed locally, regionally, nationally and internationally through channels such as ebay’s worldofgood.com.

Mayan backstrap loom weavingCritical Success Factors

These green micro-enterprises only succeed if the requisite infrastructure exists to support their growth. We’ve identified basic critical success factors that are known to increase the odds of survival when fostering sustainable economic development. They are:

-Access to education/training in entrepreneurship and commerce

-Access to information and communication technologies (ICTs)

-Access to inexpensive capital (micro-lending without prohibitive or punitive fees)

-Access to business support services (including legal) and training

-Pro-business local, regional and national government regulations (open markets)

-Secure (safe) business environments, and

-Access to banks and financial institutions

Other important critical success factors include the drive, determination and dedication of the micro-entrepreneurs involved in the project as well as the commitment of the community partners who are providing the support infrastructure. These collaborators serve as change agents and have the potential to provide the spark that ignites others in the community to launch their own micro-enterprises.

How Can You Help?

You play an important role in the process. This model only works if you, the consumer, are willing to purchase the fair-trade goods and services produced by green enterprises and developed to provide sustainable economic development opportunities to otherwise economically disadvantaged communities. Thus, you are the most important change agent involved in the process: you serve as the source of revenue. Support cultural arts and artisans, entrepreneurs and micro-enterprises by purchasing their products. Contribute to a world of good.

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