Transitioning to an economic system that is both equitable and sustainable will require building a network of regional economies, each with a broad spectrum of place-based manufacturers producing for local needs.
A strategy to achieve this objective is first to identify, and then replace locally, goods currently imported into a region. This would mean shifting to small-batch, more labor-intensive fabrication methods, utilizing appropriately scaled technology, and transporting over shorter distances—a localization of production similar to that of the sustainable food movement.
The result would be more jobs—but not more “stuff”—and a smaller carbon footprint. It is an ambitious target, but one that is essential for climate health, the creation of living-wage jobs, and the retention of the range of skills that ensure local economic resilience in the face of an ever more fragile global economy.
Adopting such a strategy will take a cultural as well as economic shift. It cannot be achieved by entrepreneurs alone; the initial risk is too high. It cannot be achieved by changes in government policies alone; the public cost is too high and the process inefficient. It cannot be achieved by creative financing alone; even well-run new enterprises can’t afford to service debt on the rising cost of land and raw materials.
Instead it will depend on the good will of citizens, business owners, non-profit groups, schools, and government officials banding together to research and create conditions that support new import-replacement enterprises in their communities—pre-organized markets, affordable sites, local suppliers, skilled workers, tested business plans.
We have named this strategy community supported industry. The key to its broad implementation will be a rigorous education program that highlights effective citizen-driven economic tools, assembles resources, shares models, and prepares a new generation in the rationale and intricacy of shaping viable local economies.
The Schumacher Center for a New Economics has a 35-year history of developing and implementing new economic institutions in its home region of the Berkshires, of gathering resources that support this innovation, of convening events to inspire and train others, and of articulating the theoretical framework that holds these pieces together.
The Schumacher Center is leveraging this legacy to create a new-economics training program equal to the need. Over the next three years the Center will partner with over 50 individuals and organizations to launch Schumacher College for New Economists and construct an associated open-access online curriculum with detailed reference materials.
The need for such a robust education program is urgent. Your support is critical to enable us to meet the opportunity. Please consider a generous year-end donation.