Post-Capitalism vs. Sustainability

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The WU Center for Sustainability’s mission is to establish the Principality of Sustainability at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business in Vienna / Austria) a key objective of teaching, research, knowledge exchange, and university management. The Sustainability Controversies talks add controversy to the public debate about sustainability. The Following Sustainability Controversies have already taken place:

Sustainability controversy I “No business as usual. Sustainability between privatization and politicization” on January 14, 2014.

Harald Welzer lectured about his ideas on sustainability and discussed this together with the interdisciplinary panel: Ulrich Brand, Professor of International Politics at the University of Vienna; Helga Kromp-Kolb, professor Meteorological and director of the Center for Global Change and Sustainability at BOKU; Andreas Novy, Professor at the Institute of Regional Development and Environment.  The panel discussed the role of the individual and the policy on the path to a more sustainable operating company.Fred Luks moderated the evening as director of the WU-Competence Center for Sustainability.



Sustainability Controversy II “What business do we want? About money, welfare and sustainability.” 15 May 2014.

This controversy took place over Christian Felber new book “Geld (Money)” in which it comes to “new rules of the game” a democratic monetary and financial system. With him discussed Silvia Angelo, Director of Economic Policy in the Vienna Chamber of Labor and member of the University of WU, Fritz Breuss (WU), Rainer Hauser, independent consultant and Senior Advisor at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and Franz Schellhorn, director of Agenda Austria about the role of money, and regulatory issues relating to responsibility in democracy.  Fred Luks (WU) moderated the controversial discussion.



Sustainability controversy III “Living well or living rightly?” on November 4, 2014

The philosopher Robert Pfaller presented his books “Gut leben oder korrekt leben, Living well or living rightly” and “What is worth living for” and discussions about sustainability, ethics, and politics.  The podium – WU Professor Verena Madner, the philosopher and journalist Andrea Roedig and the WU student Nathalie Spittler – and the audience intensively discussed various facets of the issue, for example, questions of regulation, responsibility and quality of life. Moderator of the third sustainability controversy was Fred Luks, director of the WU-competence center for sustainability.

Sustainability controversy IV “participation. Royal way in the sustainability or pseudo-democratic nightmare?” on March 24, 2015

The fourth episode of the series “WU sustainability controversy” discussed the issue of more participation: which opportunities are available and which risks arise in context to a more of participation. Robert Misik, journalist and nonfiction author from Vienna/Austria led the discussion with WU Professor and Vice-Rector for Personnel Michael Meyer, Michaela Moser, FH-Professor at the FH St. Pölten, and Rita Trattnigg independent researcher and process-consultant-coach and the audience whether more participation is now a silver bullet in the sustainability or may be a pseudo-democratic nightmare.  „Nachhaltige Gestalterin“

Sustainability controversy V “The economy of Sharing” contribution to sustainable development or rejuvenation of capitalism” on May 11, 2015

The participants argued about the hopes and fears connected with the “economy of sharing.” The main speaker was Reinhard Loske of the Witten / Herdecke University, one of the most prolific actors of the German sustainability discourse. With him discussed Richard Bärnthaler, WU student, Beate Littig, Institute for Advanced Studies, and Sigrid Stix, an economics expert at the Federal Environment Agency.

Sustainability controversy VI “post-growth economy! Overgrowth limits, limits growth and the search for sustainable management concepts.” on September 7, 2015

The principal speaker Niko Paech, one of the major post-growth economists, calls for a radical rethinking and abandoning the growth paradigm and considers that a sustainable economy is possible only if Exnovation and deceleration are more important as innovation and expansion. With him discussed Silvia Angelo, Director of Economic Policy in the Vienna Chamber of Labour and Member of the University Council of WU; Josef Hackl, Head of Sustainable Development at the Federal Environment Agency, WU professor and head of the Institute for Ecological Economics Sigrid Stagl, and Lorenz Stör, student WU master program “Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy”.

The presentation of Niko Paech to “post-growth economy. Overgrowth limits, limits growth and the search for sustainable management concepts” -> here. The Standard published a follow-up report on the event -> here.

Niko Paech believes that we are at a turning point in “green growth.” The so-called energy turnaround has failed: flopped bioenergy and negative CO2 balance. The reasons for the failure are the different rebound effects. On the one hand, we have the (ethical) growth boundary and on the other we are under compulsion for growth. The result is the search for sustainable management concepts. The peak is everywhere: raw materials, crude oil, water, rare earth, and so on. Through the dynamic of prosperity, the demands of the human are growing faster and ultimately leads to psychological and physical limits. The mental growth boundaries (economic pressure) are due to time shortage and overwork and are the cause of increasing depression and digital dementia.Niko Paech recommends a four-step reduction program: sufficiency, self-sufficiency, Regional economics and remodeling of the industry.

Sigrid Stagl trusts that the problems are well described, but still there is no holistic solution in sight, –  no effective decoupling mechanisms exists. Silvio Angelo points out to the ecological self-deception: the problem lies in the distribution of wealth caused by the neo-liberalism. She considers the privatization as no sustainable (she requests a reverse indeed) and growth is not a goal. Niko Paech recommends a different approach: the consumer behavior needs to change, – we must change ourselves and others have to change too. Things are changing for the better, but it is still too little. Lorenz Stör focuses on his power theorem. He criticizes the arguments put forward by Niko Paech as unrealistic and naïve.  The power politics and interests of the multinational companies will not allow any realization. Lorenz Stör’s conclusion: Not the politics and economics can generate a change (transformation), but the society: Profit versus society. The debate reflected the power of civil society. It takes civil disobedience, and alliances must be formed to fight against the elites. Niko Paech counts his transformation scenarios again with his conclusion: if decoupling is not working, then politics is at the end. Private exercise programs (experimental fields) are required to implement the transformation because individuals ultimately make the decisions, – people behave independently despite manipulation. Niko Paech urges the reform of the multilateral institutions like the WTO, IMF, World Bank to accelerate the necessary transformation. There were only a few neo-liberal views who defended entrepreneurship and the pursuit of profits: the approach of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) includes the concept of common good “public wealth”, –  increasingly adopted by political actors of the progressive left.

Sustainability controversy VII “Degrowth business? About sustainability, limits to growth and transformation processes.” on October 13, 2015

The discussion viewed “degrowth” from a microeconomic perspective: companies that do not explicitly focus on growth. The WU-Master students Maria Juschten and Heidi Leonhardt investigated closely at the growth mechanisms, reasons for the growth and so-called post-growth companies. Their contribution to the debate, – usually performed at the macroeconomic level,  is focusing on entrepreneurial perspectives. The discussion offered new insights into controversial topics of sustainability. On the panel discussed Ulrich Brand (Professor of International Politics, University of Vienna), Heidi Leonhardt, (student in the master program “Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy” of the Vienna University of Economics) and Eveline Steinberger-Kern (Founder and Managing Director, The Blue Minds Company).

  • Brand, Ulrich (2015): Degrowth und Post-Extraktivismus: Zwei Seiten einer Medaille? Working Paper 5/2015 der DFG-KollegforscherInnengruppe Postwachstumsgesellschaften. Jena. Link

Sustainability controversy VIII “degrowth transformations: Paths in the next economy” January 19, 2016

Preliminary text:  Because of the decisions of the Paris summit on climate change, terms such as reducing and shrinkage of the economy are on the top of the sustainability policy agenda. The question is:  How does ecological deconstruction complement with the economic goals and how can transformation towards sustainability succeed? André Reichel, Professor für Critical Management and  Sustainable Development at the Karlshochschule International University in Karlsruhe, Germany, researched this topic and presented a model with a Multi-Level-Perspective: Landscape, Regime, and Niche stressing the role of entrepreneurial activities. He discussed at the podium with Verena Madner, Head of the Research Institute of Urban Management and Governance at the Vienna University of Economics, Alexandra Strickner, co-founder and chairwoman of ATTAC Austria and Lorenz Stör, a graduate of the WU Master’s program “Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy.” Fred Luks moderated the evening as director of the WU-Competence Center for Sustainability.

The Author of this posting attended this event, and he remembers some of the remarks in the debate.  Andre Reichel presented a graph, – although abstract and static -, indicating how three inter-reliant levels such as Landscape, Regime, and Niche could induce an efficient transformation and what should be done on this levels to enhance and accelerate sustainability. He recommended a new strategic model based on the diversity of economic activities:  Dominance, Sufficiency, Subsistence, and Niche. He alleged that the Dominance-Strategy, although dangerousness -, should be considered only by large international companies like (VW, Toyota). The Sufficiency-Strategy proposes that the manufacturing of products shall be reduced (car sharing and so on). The Subsistence-Strategy is an economic model based on the collaboration with the consumer, such as supporting the domestic production for and with the customer and extending the lifecycle. The Niche-Strategy needs to consider qualitative technologies, geographic scope and the assurance of product promises. Based on the multi-level perspective,  Reichel mentioned as an example (based on the Zukunftsreport of Mathias Horx) at the level Landscape: Low Growth Energy Carbon; at the level Regime: Collaborative NetworkEconomy and at the level of Niche: Entrepreneurial Activities.The question arose how the politic will accept this model and how it will react. Verena Madner and Andre Reichel discussed Governance spectrum of the State and over the Governance Gap, i.e. that States may take less and less influence on the economy.  Alexandra Strickner replied that the results of Paris (climate change) and the above-mentioned model does not fit into the existing neo-liberal system (enterprises want to make profit, distribution of the wellness) as well as to the trade policy of TIIP. Thus, the system does not wish to support the required transformation. From the audience came the objection that companies must make profits to secure jobs and to create new ones and to pay taxes to remain our welfare state. Lorenz Stör disputed that is too naive to believe that large multinational corporation will support the transformation of a new economic order: they do not want change,  – they are too powerful (his power-theory). Instead, the change should focus on a new society and social distribution of wealth. Reichel replied that politics do react when it is almost too late: the situation in Paris or the refugee crises, and so on. He also repeated that Niche-Enterprises will play in the post-growth-phase an important role. De-growth research is critical for both for SMEs as well as for large multinational companies. Reichel asked to interpret the term transformation in different ways, like some form of planned Laizes Fair Change and mentioned the Porter model (shared value approach). Fred Luks pointed out that enterprises through the approach of Corporate Citizenship respectively CSR behave like political actors. Andre Reichel criticized that the great multilateral institutions such as the IMF were pretty clueless about the current situation and the requirement of the transformation. The incentives should, therefore, come from the consumers too, and Lorenz Stör added that the Civil Society should do their part. He pointed out that the power of large multinational corporations could have an adverse impact on the required transformation; and therefore, its better to start from the lower level (family) as a  counter-power. Verena Madner added that the research is an important issue to Governance. Alexandra Strickner asks that society and the business system  must be redesigned to achieve a “good life for all.” Andre Reichl concludes that transformation without economic growth will not work because people in developing countries ask for a higher standard of living too.