Using wellbeing indices to achieve sustainable social economic development
My name is Haley Knox, graduating in the 2019-2020 class for the Corporate and Sustainability MSc Programme at Cranfield University. With my passion for finding solutions to combat social inequalities and environmental injustices in the present world, I have combined this passion with my research to produce a comprehensive literature review on how we can achieve sustainable social economic development. It’s time to turn words into action and lead our systems to care more and contribute to the wellbeing and betterment of our communities and the environment!
Our world is at a crossroads, where we can either make the collective decision to act in favour of social and climate justice, or continue to go on with “business as usual”. Business as usual is what has led to today’s conflicts and injustices. For example, we are experiencing a changing climate with the warming of earth’s oceans and atmosphere, thus resulting in environmental detriment in the form of biodiversity loss, weakening ecosystems, natural resource depletion, drought and famine, raging wildfires, rising sea levels, as well as mass animal endangerment and extinction. We are also facing rising social tensions from gender and racial divisions, as well as unequal outcomes related to income, health, and educational opportunities. Reconciling these injustices starts with first acknowledging that we need to make changes now. The main challenge in making the necessary changes thereafter require reforming our current political systems.
The metrics and paradigms that we use to influence political decision-making in the United States are embedded in American culture. The concept of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the perfect example of this. GDP is a monetary-driven metric that we use to gauge human development and progress, and it does not include wellbeing components in its measurement. For example, critical wellbeing components that GDP disregards includes the mental and physical health, life expectancy, quality of education, income equality, social stability, pollution emissions, and environmental quality of a population. Instead, GDP increases in events such as natural disasters and pandemics. This is concerning because when GDP increases, we assume that our economy is growing, and along with it the wellbeing of society. In reality, GDP feeds capitalism, which prioritises profit maximisation and ignores the negative externalities that economic growth can have on social and environmental welfare. As a result, when GDP increases this then communicates to society that consumer-oriented, wealth-accumulating and materialistic behaviours will lead to higher achieved wellbeing and ultimately happiness. When such behaviours are reinforced by our political systems, related actions then become embedded in our sense of culture.
Combatting injustices must first begin with experiencing paradigm shifts in how we measure wellbeing and promote human progress. By utilising measurement frameworks that encompass a wellbeing lens, we could measure, report on, and ultimately incorporate welfare metrics into policy for promoting sustainable and inclusive human development. This would prioritise human an environmental wellbeing just as highly as economic growth. Also, with the support of our administration in implementing welfare metrics into policy, this would require the appropriate and necessary resources and services in ensuring that, at minimum, basic quality of life standards are being met. Without administrative support, we risk systemically undermining welfare values in our cultural views and related behaviours. Therefore, our solution is to adopt measurement frameworks for policy implementation that connects human wellbeing and the health of the environment, with economic development models.
Adding wellbeing perspectives to metrics and policy would make quality of life standards central to decision making, while furthermore minimise the negative externalities of current economic and developmental behaviours. There are already frameworks out there that are attempting to do exactly this. Such frameworks include:
- The Gross National Happiness index in Bhutan
- Thai Happiness Index
- Genuine Progress Indicator (a metric that has been suggested to replace, or supplement, gross domestic product (GDP))
- Human Development Index
- Happy Planet Index
- OECD’s Wellbeing Framework
- Better Life Index
These frameworks have their imperfections, but they all encompass metrics that go beyond measuring economic growth. The United States should learn from these frameworks to develop a new paradigm of our own that will benefit the livelihoods of the American population. Upon doing so, we could minimise the toxic behaviours associated with an economically focused culture, and instead learn to value and practice behaviours supportive of environmental health, climate resilience, the acceptance of cultural differences, equality in income, housing, and educational opportunities, as well as human rights and welfare. The goal is that we may remain progressive and continuously achieve developmental goals, but do so without jeopardising human and environmental health and wellbeing in the process. Therefore, with the injustices currently affecting our nation, we must remove “business as usual” from our systems thinking and logic and instead come to realise that our only way out of the detriment is in centralising wellbeing in our political structures and cultural views.
For further reading please see my thesis.
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