At Centre for Thriving Places, we understand that this is a deeply challenging time. But we still believe it’s both urgent and possible to shift society’s compass from growth-at-any-cost to a new model of prosperity centred on wellbeing. To get there we need new ways of thinking and new measures to build a credible base on which to deliver change. Whilst it’s easy to see what’s wrong with our existing system, it’s harder to see what might be a route ahead to a better future - particularly when we live in an age of growing complexity and interconnection.
That’s historically been one of the benefits of GDP - it reduces an entire web of complex relations down to a single number and a single measure of progress - higher equals better. The numerous failings of using GDP as a proxy for wellbeing are detailed and many. Not only does it not ensure that wealth is distributed fairly but it actually grows with activities that negatively impact wellbeing - wars, exploitation and climate destruction all help that number to keep going up.
In 2020, it should be clear to all that this system of measurement has failed. Not only has it failed to ensure a good quality of life for every member of society, but it’s failed to recognise that the economy is not something that exists outside the rest of life. It depends on a sustainable and stable climate, and it doesn’t help us to thrive if it causes isolation, societal fragmentation and deep inequality.
That’s why we designed theThriving Places Index (TPI) to take into account a broad range of factors. The TPI measures both things that are individual (e.g. people’s health levels and mortality) and the conditions for wellbeing in general (such as community cohesion and amount of green space). That’s because wellbeing isn’t reducible to one key metric. It’s a complex idea that involves immaterial, material and environmental factors, both subjective and objective. People’s wellbeing changes over time and in response to different conditions, and is impacted by others’ experiences in their community.
All across the country new projects, organisations and businesses are springing up that recognise this – that an economy that only seeks to provide the material basis for life ignores the fact that we know that a fulfilling life is always more than its material components. Many of these value-driven organisations and businesses are focused on particular areas or sectors, but the benefits they offer exceed their primary purpose. Our partners at Triodos exclusively fund organisations such as these.
The TPI makes those interconnections visible - and shows that many different elements contribute to how well places can support wellbeing. For example, a community-owned renewable energy project might contribute to a local authority’s score on renewable energy generation. But it could also help address air pollution, reduce C02 emissions, increase a score for the number of local businesses, improve community cohesion or the rates of people volunteering.
We’ve got used to this joined up way of thinking in sustainability and health (less car travel = less emissions = better quality air = more active transport) but it’s time we started using this holistic approach to the economic system in general. A ‘wellbeing economy’ is an economy focused on delivering wellbeing, but it’s also an economy that recognises complexity, diversity and interconnection. An economy focused on wellbeing should make it easy for value driven businesses who work within this complexity to get started and deliver multiple and far ranging benefits.
The TPI makes that joined-up holistic approach possible, providing a compass for a new type of economic system. As well as having their basic needs met, people also need an economic system that provides opportunities to experience joy, creativity and spontaneity, connect with others, engage in meaningful work, culture and politics and get out in nature.
In times of crisis, understanding places in the round (and how best to support wellbeing) remains a key priority. It’s not enough to just survive – what we’re working for is a world where everyone has a chance to thrive.
About Liz Zeidler
Liz Zeidler is co-founder and chief executive of Centre for Thriving Places – a small team with a big mission, to help make what matters count. Centre for Thriving Places challenges the idea that the world has to be about endless consumption and GDP growth, because it thinks people want something better than that.
New data from the Thriving Places Index went live on 18 March 2020 - see your Local Authority’s score at the Thriving Places Index website