Five church responses to the environment

In her important book Doughnut EconomicsKate Raworth includes a chapter on regenerative business and the circular economy. Among the various useful ideas in the chapter are a summary of five possible responses that a business might have to the environment:

Do nothing – this is the default option. Unless you’re forced to act, you do nothing at all about it. This might protect profits in the short term, but it makes your business part of the problem rather than the solution. And it may backfire: climate change and resource depletion could put supply chains and reputation at risk, and you’ll be left behind by more proactive companies.

Do what pays – plenty of things that are good for the environment are also good for business, such as energy efficiency. A second response from business might be to adopt the practices that are most profitable. This is even better if you can get your PR team to shout loudly about every incremental improvement – but it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, and smarter customers will know that ‘less bad’ is not the same thing as doing good.

Do our fair share – Another phrase we often hear from business is that they want to ‘do their bit’ for the environment. A business takes a view on what is a fair and responsible course of action, and commits to that. It asks what is expected, and perhaps what others in their sector are doing. Engagement won’t go further than the competition and there’s no effort to lead or fundamentally rethink the business.

Do no harm – getting towards the more serious end of possible responses, some businesses commit to zero harm, or zero carbon. This means taking responsibility for the whole of the business and its supply chain, and working to reduce its environmental impact across the board. It’s fundamentally different from the approaches above, and represents a much more ambitious commitment.

Be generous – finally, a business could choose to give back more to the environment than it takes, through a business model that is restorative and regenerative by design. And it will be by design – this level of response is rarely going to be something that can be retrofitted to an existing business.

These five responses can also be seen in the way that governments respond to environmental challenges. We can see it with political parties and local authorities too. And, I would suggest, it applies to churches too. A congregation might do nothing on the environment at one end of the scale, or take on a radical eco-church project at the other.

As Christians, we are called to live generously. Our churches should be able to do more than just what saves us money, or carrying out the minimum as stipulated by denominational headquarters. We are called to do more than ‘our bit’. We should be asking how the church can give back to the environment, and demonstrating leadership on the subject to business and politics.

What does it mean for a church to be generous towards God’s earth? How can we be good news for wildlife, for future generations, for our global neighbours? How can we be churches that regenerate the natural world?

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