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B Corp: The Certification that won’t save the planet

Illustration by
Connie Noble
Michael O'Regan

The UK government has made post-Brexit regulatory reform a priority and has stated that the UK's exit from the EU creates a “unique opportunity” to support “the best interests'' of UK businesses and citizens. The zeal to deregulate and a backlash towards “woke capitalism” means the current government has increasingly delegated responsibility for standards and rankings in areas such as environmental protections and corporate accountability to private and commercial certifications, as well as public pledges. Rather than be seen to impose constraints on businesses, such as assessments for gender and/ or racial equity, or stand accused of adding ‘red tape’, the government is supportive of outsourcing the load of managing and verifying various standards. Whilst participation in such schemes is voluntary, businesses are pressured to change and show their commitment to issues important to stakeholders. Wanting to show that they are acting in a way that is deserving of trust, businesses have rushed to support certificates such as the Carbon Trust Standard Zero Waste to Landfill Certificate, the Living Hours accreditation and the Cradle to Cradle Certification, as well as pledges such as United Nations’ ‘Race to Zero’ campaign. However, long standing questions that have plagued certifications have re-emerged, such as high fees, and the fragmented nature of process-driven standards.

Small is Beautiful... But is it still relevant?

Dan Gregory, Tim Crabtree, Bronwen Morgan, Peter North, Fernanda Vidal & Juliana Diniz

E.F. Schumacher’s hugely influential work Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered was published in 1973, weaving together philosophy, environmentalism and economics to propose a human-scale economics. But what does ‘small’ mean today in the context of hyperconnectivity, rampant consumer capitalism, dehumanised economic systems, and ecological crisis? How might we find ways of being that meet the needs of all living things? Was Schumacher’s work an idealistic vision from a bygone era or have we not yet gleaned all we can from it?

In recognition of the book’s 50th anniversary, we invited a selection of writers and practitioners to reflect upon its continuing influence, and where they see its limitations today.

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Interview: Claire Dunning

Your book – Nonprofit Neighbourhoods – explores the rise of the nonprofit as the new partner in urban renewal from the 1960s, the restructuring of the federal government “as it retreats from American cities”, and how local development starts to largely take place within “pseudo-democratic processes.” Can you recap this historical process and the ideological shifts that underpinned it?

It's primarily a US story, but it’s also a model that has been clearly exported to other places. In the 1950s, American cities were undergoing significant transformations, as the rise of the suburbs and the growth of highways created incentives for white Americans to decamp from urban centres. At the same time, civil rights organising and Black protests demanding equal access and rights and opportunities were also on the rise. So there's a moment of crisis. The “urban crisis” in the United States, which has been highly contested as both a term and a reality, prompts the federal government to respond to a whole range of problems with urban renewal, a programme of heavy federal investment in urban areas, which oft en displaced poor working class Black communities. When the government encountered resistance to urban renewal, policymakers and bureaucrats – at both the local and federal level – decided to include local groups in the process. In the case of Boston, the focus of the book, I explore how local politics and local protests develop during this period, and how an early partnership between a local group – Freedom House – is forged between the city renewal authority. Freedom House, importantly, was a Black organisation led by an African-American couple, Otto and Muriel Snowden, who argued that if the government is planning to renew their neighbourhood of Roxbury and Boston, they would have to include ‘us’. So the government basically capitulates to these demands and they begin to start an experimental process of issuing a grant, a contract, to a local neighbourhood group to take on a role of facilitating neighbourhood participation in urban renewal. While this is a very specific story, it also speaks to a much larger transformation that then takes on a life of its own: it suddenly becomes a deeply politically popular move to partner with a local nonprofi t, particularly as a way of satisfying the demands for inclusion from Black Americans, and then later Latinx and other minoritised communities. It also, in some ways, compensates for legacies of exclusion and discrimination.

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The Rawlsian Revolt: A Review of 'Free and Equal'

Maxwell Jeffery

What does the phrase 'liberal democracy' conjure up for you? For many on the modern Right it is enough to provoke indignation. ‘Liberals’ under this designation are doctrinaire adherents to a set of beliefs that only concern people living in the bubble of affluent urban centres. For critics on the Left, ‘Western-style liberal democracy’ can serve as a byword for the stagnant system of representative democracy encapsulated by the unofficial 2020 election slogan ‘Settle for Biden’; a desultory politics that treats free market principles as sacrosanct while offering little else to advance social, environmental, or economic justice. In this context, attempts at reform are often met with cynicism or timidity, diminishing the ambition of proposals for change or preventing them from getting off the ground entirely.

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Demanding Democracy

Carne Ross

To celebrate a decade as a quarterly print magazine, we invited Carne Ross, a writer and thinker on new forms of economy and democracy to meet the demands of the twenty-first century, to deliver the inaugural STIR lecture, in Manchester in May 2023.

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