An Economy That Works

  • by Oliver Dudok van Heel
  • May 29, 2014

A systemic approach to creating a new economic paradigm that delivers prosperity, competitiveness and sustainability, now and in the future


‘An Economy That Works’ offers a much welcome springboard for an authentic conversation about the future shape of our economy and the purpose we want it to serve.'
Sir Ian Cheshire, Group Chief Executive, Kingfisher


Why we need a different paradigm
For many of us who live and breathe sustainability on a daily basis, these are interesting times. For some, there is an overwhelming sense of despair at the way we are depleting social and natural capital, while for others there is a palpable feeling of excitement at the opportunities these social, environmental – and economic - challenges offer to build a better society. Most of us probably feel a mixture of concern and hope.


The reasons for concern are multiple:


Much of the growth we have experienced in the UK since the 1980s has not been distributed equally, which has in turn undermined the stability of our society.


The long-term stability of our planet is threatened by rising carbon emissions, pollution, extreme weather events, increased resource scarcity and a decline in the richness and robustness of our natural world. This is undermining our food, water, resource and energy security, and climate stability.


Much of this is the result of our pursuit of short-term economic growth, yet the economy remains unstable, exposing us to the risk of high unemployment, unsustainable levels of public and private debt, global financial instability, volatile resource prices and squeezed incomes.


And yet, it is exactly these challenges that lead me to be hopeful about the future.


What lies behind the social, environmental and economic challenges we are facing is a systemic failure, rather than a large number of isolated hurdles. The failing system is our economy, driven by a growth model that no longer meets society’s needs. It just isn’t working.


Yet I am hopeful, because this means that we can have a health, resilient and prosperous economy if we address our current economic paradigm.
To this end, the Aldersgate Group is launching a new initiative: An Economy That Works.


The aim of this initiative is to identify and promote policy changes that will enable Britain to have an economy that works for people and planet now and in the future. The first question to be answered therefore, is ‘what is an economy that works’? What is the fundamental purpose of the economy?


What is an economy that works?


Based on extensive research and engagement over the last 12 months, we have come to the conclusion that an economy that works has the following 6 core characteristics:


1. High employment
2. Equality of opportunity
3. Wellbeing at the core
4. Low carbon
5. Zero waste
6. Enhancing nature


But achieving these will not happen overnight. We have identified 4 key enablers that need to be in place to achieve the transition:


1. Long term: Removing the chronic short-termism that too often prevents the right economic decisions from being made by business leaders and politicians.
2. Innovative: Constant innovation, and the ability to exploit this innovation, will remain critical.
3. Inclusive: Including the voices, skills, knowledge and networks of all active participants in an economy ensures that societal goals are shared – and strengthened.
4. Strong communities: Change happens fastest when individuals work together, whether in geographical communities or through communities of interest.


Our focus over the coming months will be to build a coalition of organisations that support the aims of An Economy That Works. These will be leaders from business, politics and society dedicated to the transition to an economy that delivers prosperity, competitiveness and sustainability for British companies and citizens, now and in the future. Its role will be to define and promote the policies needed to achieve this, and integrate these into government policies.


To find out more and to download a copy of ‘An Economy That Works’ or join the initiative, go to


Oliver Dudok van Heel is a Director with the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of leaders from business, politics and society that drives action for a sustainable economy. He is also a senior associate of the University of Cambridge’s Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

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