How can we work more sustainably, smarter and healthier? According to Kees Klomp - expert on the meaning economy - a paradigm shift is needed first. As a lecturer, entrepreneur, speaker, author and inspirer, he has been putting his heart and soul into this for fifteen years.
Kees Klomp identifies two forces in the increasing desire to work in a more sustainable, smarter and healthier manner: the majority of companies opt for superficial adjustments - which essentially change nothing - while a small, steadily growing minority have the courage to do things radically differently. He puts his cards on family businesses and SMEs: 'That's where I see the most room to make the inevitable shift to an economic ecology.
His own turnaround took place in 2006, when he and his socially committed ethics got stuck in conventional business after fifteen years. Kees quit his job, moved to the Drenthe village of Drouwen and decided to use his expertise in business development henceforth only to make the world a better place.
He emerged as a passionate advocate of the economy of meaning. An inspirer who is at heart an activist, in order to convince society that developing a different vision of our economy is necessary for our survival. This existential approach goes beyond a shift from profit to purpose, because: in order to be meaningful, we must become deeply aware of the interdependence in the natural system of which we are a part as a human species.
Industry of desires
'Meaningful business to me is that people are willing to behave as a good, cooperative species,' says Kees. 'Economic ecology demands that we recognize that we live in natural areas all over this globe and that we act carefully accordingly. It is a reciprocal system in which the balance has grown threateningly skewed.
The climate crisis makes us feel that we as humans are not above nature, and only when that realization - and its urgency - really hits home can we work more sustainably, smarter and healthier. The growing world problems have been predicted for decades and yet we stubbornly cling to the current economic system. This is worrisome. In that sense, climate disasters are also good news because they fuel a sense of urgency. Apparently we all need to feel it before we will act differently.'
The vicious cycle of our current economic thinking, according to the meaning economist, stems from the excessive disparity between human needs and desires. 'We have created an industry that largely caters to false desires. Because there is plenty of what we fundamentally need, only: we don't settle for that. Identification with stuff, money and image is cultural.
From trendy clothes, houses, cars and offices to the focus on growth, consumption and financial returns in life and work, our biggest problem is excess, in everything. At my Buddhist philosophy of life, at its core it is about: ENOUGH. The great challenge is to return to that core of basic needs and thereby stop the industry of false desires. The point is that many businesses and jobs will then disappear. That seems scary, while it mostly creates space for a new order. By letting go of prosperity, we can focus on well-being and help restore the seriously disturbed balance in the natural system.'
Meaningful business to me is that people are willing to behave like a good, cooperative species.
We can soberly observe that superficial adjustments fall finely short of such a turnaround. The perspective of an economic ecology in which people are no longer central is so fundamentally different that it calls for radical, disruptive change. And that is exactly where Kees sees opportunities for SMEs. "The Unilevers of this world are too unwieldy to make such a sharp change," he says. 'Smaller companies in particular have room to maneuver and experiment.
For me, therefore, the key lies with SMEs and especially family businesses, because they are strongly committed to values and are more concerned with their impact on the environment and the future. Nice example of a large family business is the French Decathlon, which is now consciously focusing on degrowth, a movement in which companies no longer naturally opt for more, faster and bigger, but instead commit to enough.'
'Inspiring examples are desperately needed,' Kees continues. 'Because they do exist, the companies that really do things differently, but they are still too often mangled by current market thinking. That makes it difficult to let go of the profit model. We still associate "doing well" as a company with growth, a shiny image and high returns. Being socially significant - by focusing on social and ecological profit - is now mainly an afterthought, whereas it should be the main focus of sustainable, smarter and healthier work.
Otherwise, it is only meant to score within long-standing market principles that are absolutely unsustainable. Every day we read in the newspaper about the consequences of that system. In Europe we have hardly been overwhelmed by major meteorological and ecological disasters yet, but the flood of refugees and growing social divide are already causing more social woes here too. This is painful, but it does force us to break new ground.'
Why should entrepreneurs wait for disasters when they can prepare for the future now? 'It starts with developing language to interpret entrepreneurship differently,' says the meaning economist, who has done important work in that area for years in his roles as a lecturer, speaker, author and inspiration. 'Value was once relegated to trivially putting a price on something, and the focus on those numbers has gone so far that we are massively ignoring everything that is really of value in this world.
The paradigm shift starts with looking and naming differently. And investors like NOM can also contribute to that, for example by broadening the perspective on returns to environmental value and livability in the Northern Netherlands. That way you make entrepreneurs more aware of the economic ecology of which they are a part.'
Keeping up? On LinkedIn, Kees Klomp regularly posts inspiring examples, confrontational insights and challenging questions that invite you to make the shift to a new world together.