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3. Changing the system by changing its purpose

Over the past hundred years or so, western civilisation began to confuse ends and means.

The original purpose behind commerce was the creation of wealth and improvement in the welfare of all. GDP became a measure of economic activity and, for a short period, its growth was correlated with improvements in societal well-being. For a while, as GDP went up so did incomes, consumption, longevity, happiness. Nevertheless, after GDP reached a certain level, these two correlates (welfare and GDP) parted company and began heading in opposite directions – well-being for the many flat-lined while GDP has continued to grow.

Slowly, but for certain, society began to confuse means with ends. GDP and well-being switched places in terms of our focus and attention. Increasing GDP became our fixation and a proxy for welfare to the point that human well-being was sometimes sacrificed for the sake of productivity and efficiency. More GDP relied on more spending and, in the case of tourism, that came from receiving more visitors.

Since GDP is a measure of total economic activity there was no need to differentiate on quality of output or for the costs associated with the income to be fully counted. That is until recently, when the negative aspects of increased production (pollution, carbon emissions, resource scarcity, income and wealth disparities, biodiversity loss, social costs etc.) have become too large to ignore. Other systemic flaws in the prevailing economic system have also become apparent (notably its inability to distribute wealth evenly) along with rising evidence of a deeper pyscho-spiritual malaise (lack of engagement, increase in depression and other mental health problems etc.)

It is in this context that Conscious Travel will work with communities to re-define success using the concept of flourishing that blends concepts from psychology (happiness, contentment, positive emotions, fulfillment, self-actualisation etc) and ecology (ecosystem health, vitality, adaptability and resilience). The concept can be applied to individual well-being (guest experience and employee engagement), corporate performance, environmental health and destination success. This goal is fully aligned with that of life itself which has been in a state of perpetual “becoming” since its first appearance on this planet some 4.8 billion years ago.

Unlike the difficult concept of “sustainability” the concept of “flourishing” has the power to inspire and stretch each of us by drawing out our full potential and capacity for creativity and celebration. It is associated with joy and possibility not merely survival, compliance and potential restriction. Aiming to flourish as individuals, companies and places is an essential part of creating a Regenerative Economy that, simply put, exists to serve life.

The word sustainability no longer inspires - and perhaps never did - as long as it's framed largely as surviving instead of thriving, as doing "less bad" instead achieving a world of flourishing.

Dr. Chris Laszlo, Case Western University