Degrowth vs Decoupling

  • Illustrate the concept of degrowth and its implications for society, the global economy and the environment.
  • Distinguish between relative and absolute decoupling of economic growth and environmental impact.

We have analysed examples of decoupling economic growth and resource consumption. These innovations are designed to reduce the negative environmental impacts of growth and increase business competitiveness by capturing lost value. Considering these aims, the difference between relative and absolute decoupling is significant. 

Do you believe that absolute decoupling is possible? Consider what the challenges to this may be, both globally and in your own professional context. 

  • What challenges or implications do you think a degrowth economy could have for society, business and the environment?
  • Do you think it is possible to decouple economic growth from resource consumption in absolute terms?
  • Does absolute decoupling offer any opportunities or benefits for your own context, or for society as a whole?


Degrowth fundamentally conflicts with current systems of politics and capitalism that is still based on the Adam Smith Wealth of Nations conception of “ownership” of land (and natural resources) as basis of wealth, and labour as production of value (from agriculture to industry). 

   The planet (and science) is telling us that the consumption of natural resources and emission of GHG should no longer be free because this is creating an inhospitable living environment for humans.  I now understand why this course has put the emphasis repeatedly on the financial sector to change this.  It seems we began to accelerate our demise with the industrial revolution and wholesale clearing of forests for polluting industry in the name of progress and large scale production.  Fundamentally, it’s a flaw with our economic model that clashes with a 8 billion human population. 

First, we will need to engineer a paradigm shift, whereby the consumption of natural resources and emission of GHG should no longer be free.   

Secondly, I actually think degrowth does help.  But only as a first step in revolutionising our economy away from mindless and mind-numbing consumption and into building natural and social capital systems.  In order for degrowth to happen without social unrest and inequality, it will need to happen with in tandem with a Universal Basic Income.  

From there, we can roll out decoupling, first relative and then gradually absolute.  Ok, I think I’ve grossly over simplified it, but there (dropping mic).