Economies, alternative economies and sustainability

Economies, alternative economies and sustainability

Faced with the claim that the capitalist economic model (classical economics, neoclassical economics and neoliberal economics) is a finished product - and therefore does not deserve further discussion because it is considered successful and irreversible - multiple schools, trends, currents, have developed in the world. disciplines and proposals that try to varying degrees to overcome criticism of the hegemonic economy.

Thus we have, among others: the blue economy (Pauli, 2011), the orange economy (Buitrago and Duque, 2013), the green economy (Pearce et al., 1989), the economy of the common good (Felber, 2013), the collaborative economy (Ray, 2007), solidarity economy (Singler, 2002; Mance, 1999), circular economy (Pearce and Turner, 1990), the economy of happiness (Easterlin, 1974) and one could even speak of an emerging Indigenous economy (Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, 2007). We could also mention the hybrid disciplines: ecological economics (Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Herman E. Daly, Kenneth Boulding, Karl W. Kapp, Robert Ayres), environmental economics (Hartwick, 1977; Solow, 1986), and Resource economics Natural

The purpose of this article is to review the main characteristics of these proposals and try to identify their level of articulation with the concept of sustainability. It is understood that this is a first approach and is at the same time an invitation to carry out more in-depth research that will lead to decision-makers from the various sectors of society to extract lessons applicable to the participatory formulation and implementation of policies. public.


We are going to collect from the literature the main aspects that characterize these proposals. It is clarified that not all have the same theoretical development but they are all valued anyway. From complex thinking there is no discrimination regarding the degree of scientific support of the proposals since they all have something to say and therefore to pay attention to them.

Blue economy: It seeks to use the knowledge accumulated over millions of years by nature to reach ever higher levels of efficiency, respecting the environment and creating wealth, and translate that logic of the ecosystem to the business world. (Pauli, 2011).

Orange economy: It represents an enormous wealth based on talent, intellectual property, connectivity and, of course, the cultural heritage of our region (Buitrago and Duque, 2013).

Green economy: It refers to an economy that improves human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities (UNEP).

Ecological economy: It is a scientific discipline that integrates elements of economics, ecology, thermodynamics, ethics and other natural and social sciences to provide an integrated and biophysical perspective of the interactions that are interwoven between economy and environment (Castiblanco, 2007).

Economy of the common good: It is defined as an alternative nonpartisan economic system, which proposes to build based on universal human values ​​that promote the Common Good. They place their focus of action on cooperation and not on competition, on the common good and not on the profit motive . From that place they propose to become a lever for change at an economic, political and social level, a bridge between the old and the new (

Collaborative economy: It alludes to a new economic model that is based on the “exchange between individuals of goods and services, which remained idle or underused, in exchange for a compensation agreed between the parties” (National Commission of Markets and Competition - CNMC, cited by Ten, 2015).

Solidarity economy: It is mainly concerned with studying the different ways of satisfying human needs, taking into account the available resources, putting first the respect for human rights, the protection of the environment and the dignity of people. It is therefore a type of economy with an ethical character (OXFAM Intermom).

Circular economy: it is restorative and regenerative on purpose, and tries to ensure that products, components and materials maintain their maximum usefulness and value at all times, distinguishing between technical and biological cycles. It is envisioned as a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimizes resource returns, and minimizes system risks by managing finite reserves and renewable flows. It works effectively on all scales. This economic model ultimately tries to unlink global economic development from the consumption of finite resources (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, n.d.).

The map of economies and their articulation with sustainability:

In order to locate the various economic proposals, we will use as a measure a line that goes from those that are located in the field of weak sustainability and at the other extreme the proposals that can be characterized as strong sustainability. In this case, strong sustainability is understood to be those that genuinely consider the economic, social and environmental dimensions at the same level and weighting. A line that runs parallel to the first refers to the proposals where superficial ecology is considered at the extreme left and deep ecology at the extreme right. Figure 1 shows the sustainability measurement scale.


Weak sustainability Strong sustainability

(Surface ecology) (Deep ecology)

Fig. 1: Sustainability measurement scale

Classical economics (neoclassical, neoliberal) is found in the weak sustainability field, as its fundamental orientation is economic growth at all costs and considers that human society is separated from nature and that the latter is an unlimited source of resources. In this case, it is considered that people are at the service of the economy and not the economy at the service of people. This economic model is the cause of the great crises of humanity, among which the climate crisis and the crisis of values ​​stand out by advocating individualism, consumerism and competition.

In the field of strong sustainability is the ecological economy that is defined precisely with the science of sustainability and part of a deep criticism of the neoclassical (neoliberal) economy (Arce, 2016). This is a scientific proposal that has not reached the instrumental development of classical economics (neoclassical, neoliberal) but that has influenced the generation of biophysical indicators (Van Hauwermeiren, 1998).

The Bioeconomy and Economy of the Common Good are also close to sustainability. While in classical economics (neoclassical, neoliberal) the fundamental success indicator is money, in Bioeconomy the fundamental indicator is respect for life rather than only to the production of goods and services that come from nature (Maldonado, nd). In the same way, the Economy of the Common Good considers that money is a means and not an end, paying more attention to substantial aspects such as human values ​​and collaboration.

Very close to these proposals would be the proposal to put happiness at the center of development, as is the case of Bhutan. The Gross National Happiness of Bhutan measures: i) Psychological well-being (spirituality and life satisfaction), ii) Use of time (balance work, leisure and sleep), iii) Community vitality (integration between communities, families and friends) , iv) Cultural diversity (cultural diversity and continuity of traditions such as festivals and others), v) Ecological resilience (evaluation of environmental conditions and “eco-friendly behaviors), vi) Living standards (income, financial security and purchasing power ), vi) Health (physical and mental conditions of the population), vii) Education (formal and informal education, knowledge, values ​​and skills), viii) Good governance (Perception of government management and service provision) (Espitia, 2016).

Although the economics of happiness is interested in researching people's happiness beyond the perspective of economists (Easterlin, 1974) it is still more a measurement method than an independent proposal that advocates sustainability. However, the mere fact of exceeding the materialistic indicators of development already constitutes a contribution of fundamental importance.

At the same level as Bhutan's Gross National Happiness would be the indigenous economy. The indigenous economy is based on cooperation, solidarity, reciprocity, taking distribution and the close relationship between human beings and nature as the organizing axis (Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, 2007). However, it must be recognized that the indigenous economy is for now more a political than a theoretical proposal.

A little further back, but with great weight in its orientation to sustainability, would be the blue economy and the solidarity economy. The blue economy proposes that the lessons of nature be used to generate ingenious, creative and profitable development alternatives. For its part, the solidarity economy has a strong weight in recognizing the work of producers who take into account social and environmental considerations.

In between would be the circular economy and the orange economy. Both highlight specificities of sustainability that are also very important to take into account. Thus, the circular economy places great emphasis on recycling and reusing things in order to reduce pollution and generate new sustainable employment opportunities. The orange economy also emphasizes the deployment of the creative talent of individuals and communities. The interesting thing about the orange economy is that it is a wake-up call to those who consider that the only thing that a country can develop is the commitment to extractive industries. Under this consideration, the post-extractivism proposals would make real sense because they bet on looking more closely at the richness of biodiversity and the cultural diversity of peoples (Alayza and Gudynas, 2011). Also at this same level we would put the collaborative economy that emphasizes collaboration using the possibilities offered by the internet.

Something further behind these proposals (already entering the field of weak sustainability) would be the green economy, the environmental economy and the economy of natural resources. The fundamental characteristic of these proposals is that they have taken note of the criticisms of classical economics (neoclassical, neoliberal) and claim to actively incorporate social and environmental aspects. The issue is that they do not abandon the basic assumptions of the commodification of nature and therefore need valuation in order to internalize externalities.

By way of conclusions:

Although the map developed is still preliminary, it allows us to draw valuable conclusions:

  • From capitalism itself, proposals are developed that erode the fundamental dogmas of classical economics (neoclassical, neoliberal). This reveals a deep crisis of the capitalist model, even though its defenders insist on denying it.
  • A fundamental shift toward sustainability is the shift from money to life.
  • Another twist is to overcome a vision exclusively in competition to recognize the value of cooperation, or in any case of cooperativeness.
  • It is interesting to recognize the proposals that put the real value of life and happiness as indicators of success.
  • Although ecological economics has not had the instrumental and methodological development of classical economics (neoclassical, neoliberal), it has exerted a notable influence to generate alternative proposals more oriented towards sustainability.
  • The various proposals reviewed realize the need to strengthen complex thinking that pays more attention to things that have not been seen or have not been wanted to see for convenience.
  • The proposals also highlight the need to break the colonization of thought and creatively and innovatively seek alternatives that aim to better manage local energies.
  • Finally, there is a need for these issues to enter the public debate, for more research, case studies and pilot projects to be developed. There is already a good information base that accounts for the possibilities of these alternatives but they are not yet sufficiently valued and known.

By Rodrigo Arce Rojas


Bibliographic references:

Alayza, Alejandra and Gudynas, Eduardo. Editors. (2011). Post extractivism transitions and alternatives to extractivism in Peru. Lima: Peruvian Network for a Globalization with Equity - RedGE and Peruvian Center for Social Studies - CEPES. Retrieved from:

Arce, Rodrigo. (May 1, 2016). Contributions of the ecological economy to environmental management. [Post on a blog]. SERVINDI. Lime. Retrieved from:

Buitrago, Felipe and Duque, Iván. (2013). The orange economy. Washington: Inter-American Development Bank. Retrieved from:

Castiblanco, Carmen. (2007). Ecological economics: A discipline in search of an author. Investigation. Volume 10 No. 3 December. Recovered from:

Ten, Bethlehem. (2015). The collaborative economy: a new model of consumption that requires the attention of economic policy. Degree in Business Administration and Management. Faculty of Economics and Business. University of Valladolid. Retrieved from:

Easterlin, R. (1974). Foreign Affairs. Obtained from

Espitia, Raúl. (2016). Gross National Happiness (GNH) and its effects as an indicator of social welfare on the population in the Kingdom of Bhutan (2010-2015). Case study Presented as a partial requirement to opt for the title of Internationalist In the faculties of Political Science, Government and International Relations University Colegio Mayor Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Recovered from:

Felber, Christian. The economy of the common good A democratic alternative from below. DEUSTO. Retrieved from:

Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada. Economy of happiness. No. 28 May. Barcelona: Center for Research in International Economics (CREI)

Ellen MacArthur Foundation (s.f). Towards a circular economy: economic reasons for an accelerated transition. Retrieved from:

Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. Indigenous economy and market / Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. -San José, C.R .: IIHR. Retrieved from:

Maldonado, Carlos. (s.f.) Biodevelopment and complexity. Proposal of a theoretical model. Retrieved from:

OXFAM Intermom. (2018). Solidarity economy: the definition of a fairer future. Recovered from:

Pauli, Gunter. The Blue Economy: 10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs: A Report for the Club of Rome. Barcelona: Tusquets, 2011. Retrieved from:

Pearce, D.W., Markandya A. and Barbier, E.B. (1989). Blueprint for a Green Economy. Earthscan, London

Mance, Euclid. (1999). A revolução das redes: a solidária collaboration as a post-capitalist alternative to current globalization, Petrópolis: Vozes (1999), p. 178, ISBN 8532622801.

Singer, Paul. (2002). Introdução à Economia Solidária, São Paulo: Perseu Abramo (2002), ISBN 8586469513.

Van Hauwermeiren, Saar (1998), Ecological Economics Handbook. Quito: Institute of Political Ecology. Pp. 97

* Rodrigo Arce Rojas is a Doctor in Complex Thinking from the Edgar Morin Real World Multiversity in Mexico. His email is [email protected]

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