Should we start defining progress in terms of planetary health and social wellbeing, rather than economic growth? We explore this question drawing upon references from Less is More by Jason Hickel. 

The term ‘economic growth’ is an all too familiar term when we hear politicians talk about progress or the solution to a nation’s problem. But what exactly is meant by this term? Is it really progress? Does it make us healthier and happier? Does the ecological damage associated with economic growth outweigh the benefits? 

Economic growth is measured with Gross Domestic Product, the monetary value of goods and services produced in a given time. Our world economic system uses GDP growth as a key indicator to measure progress and success. It is based on the assumption that more is always better. This has led to ever-increasing levels of industrial extraction, production and consumption. 

The result? Multiple planetary boundaries have been overshot. This includes climate change which has been described as ‘the single biggest health threat facing humanity’ by the World Health Organisation. We are also experiencing a wealth gap that is continually widening with the richest 10% of the population holding over three quarters of total net wealth.

When we view the big picture, it doesn’t quite look like progress.

Could degrowth be the answer?

Our fixation on a growth economy is proving increasingly destructive to people and planet. A transition towards an economy that can thrive in equilibrium with the living planet is needed, whilst promoting social equity so that we can all be happier and healthier.  

Degrowth is a planned downscaling of energy and resource use to bring the economy back into balance with the planet in a safe, just and equitable way. It is a model that frames progress as widespread social and ecological well-being instead of GDP growth. Degrowth challenges the long-held view that more is always better. 

What does degrowth require?

High-income countries to dramatically scale down energy and resource use.

Rich countries are urged to reach net zero by 2030, given their greater responsibility for historical emissions, by drastically reducing energy and resource use. Most low-income countries would need to decarbonise by 2050. 

Not all sectors must grow

Certain parts of the economy drastically need to degrow such as fossil fuels, private jets and SUVs. Practices that are designed purely to maximise profits rather than to meet humans’ needs also need to go. There are sectors, however, that do need to grow including renewable energy, public transport, healthcare and regenerative agriculture.

Shorter working week and redistribution of wealth. 

Shortening the working week has a positive climate impact and improves people’s well-being. Wages would need to be adequate for people to live well. Wealth inequalities would be addressed with a tax to distribute wealth.

Investment in health, education and affordable housing. 

The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a GDP of $60,000. Yet, numerous countries such as Spain, Portugal and Chile exceed their life expectancy rates with a fraction of the income because they invest in good-quality healthcare. The same happens with investments in education, with Finland and Poland out performing the US despite lower GDP. 


Our technology can support the paradigm shift that is needed to redefine progress in terms of the health and happiness of people, communities and planet, not just profit. The OnePlanet platform helps users to focus on the Outcomes they want to achieve such as ‘Healthy residents’ and ‘Improved biodiversity’. Users can then map the Actions they need to take and the Indicators they will use to track their achievements.

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