Degrowth vs. Green Growth – a futile dispute

This article strives to explain why the dispute between supporters of the degrowth-movement and followers of the green growth idea is ultimately useless and perhaps even self-defeating. But before I get to that, let us back up for a second and take a look at those two concepts.

Degrowth can be defined as “an equitable downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions at the local and global level, in the short and long-term” (Kallis & Schneider 2008, cited in Kerschner 2009, p. 544). The word itself is actually a clumsy attempt of translating the French word “décroissance”[1] in one single word (Demaria 2018).
The ideal behind this movement is, that sustainable growth is not possible and therefore we have to change our behavior in such a way, that less commodities are needed to fulfill our needs. And this would result in a decrease of production and consequently in less damage to our environment.


The other concept is green growth. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states on their website the following definition:

“Green Growth means fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies” (OECD 2018).

In contrast to the degrowth-movement, this approach believes in the possibility of a sustainable economic growth. It ties in perfectly into the concept of a circular economy, whose intention is that of “an industrial economy that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design” (Ellen Macarthur Foundation 2013, cited in Lieder & Rashid 2015, p. 37).


Both movements try to show different approaches to the principal of “growth at any cost” that has been the economic precept during the last few decades. Sadly, instead of pooling resources to fight against the aforementioned maxim – the movements claim to have the only valid solution for the future. This results in a squabble against each other, publicly displayed and not helping at all. An example for this dispute; the zukunftsInstitut published an article in which green growth is declared impossible to work (Kliemann 2015). On the other hand, the idea of degrowth seems too extreme and induces fear in policy makers, says Tim Jackson, renowned economical economist (Green 2010). And I believe that’s true for the population of so-called developed countries as well. Because we fear that we would lose our privileges or that the necessary changes of behaviour would be inconvenient. Even if Matthias Schmelzer, member of the “Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie”, tries to convey a different picture in a guest article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine. He states that degrowth doesn’t stand for abdication and regression but a progressive alternative to our current economic system (Schmelzer 2016).

The degrowth movement is probably the more promising, because more fundamental, than green growth. But it is probably too extreme at the moment and generates too much fear – not only in politicians and economists, but also in the population of so-called developed countries. However, the green growth movement could be a first step in the right direction. Instead of condemning growth at all, why not try to sustain the growth that is achieved from now on? And in a later step tackle the drivers of our society: consumption and a materialistic culture. There’s in fact a study by the German Federal Environment Agency who gives this “middle-way” the name “precautionary post-growth” (Petschow 2018, p.7). One of the co-authors, Nils aus dem Moore, says that both movements are not that secure in their position to be the sole foundation for ecological behavior (Ammann 2018).

But instead of pooling resources, trying to work together with a vision to make our planet a more sustainable place, both sides enter a squabble over principles. Beneficiary are those who want to continue everything as it is – in the name of profit.

Those two movements are only two examples of a variety of alternatives to our current economic system. But I hope they showed you two pivotal points:

  • Without changing our economical behavior, we will never succeed in creating a sustainable environment.
  • Instead of pursuing an idealistic approach we should be realistic and support any idea that takes a step in the right direction.

The fundamental belief, that we can’t continue to use natural resources like we do today, seems to be the base of both movements. And that this is not just the figment of someone’s imagination has been proven numerous times. For example, this year’s Earth Overshoot Day has been on the 1stof August – the earliest it has ever been (Global Footprint Network 2018a). Which means that we live like we had 1.7 earth at our disposal (Sustainability Illustrated 2018). And by the way – Switzerland’s Overshoot Day was May 7th(Global Footprint Network 2018b). For more information about the Earth Overshoot Day, I can recommend you watch the following video.

Source: Sustainability Illustrated 2018

We all have the power to make changes. We can start with small things in our lives. There are plenty of good examples given in the blog entries of my classmates. But we should also expect those changes on a grander scale from our policy makers. And we should hold them accountable for more than just the economic wellbeing of our society.



Ammann, K., 2018. Auf Wachstum verzichten, um den Planeten zu retten?, Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen SRF, 09.11.2018, Online:

Demaria, F., 2018. The rise – and future – of the degrowth movement. Ecologist, 27.03.2018. Online:

Global Footprint Network, 2018a. Earth Overshoot Day. Online:

Global Footprint Network, 2018b. Country Overshoot Days. Online:

Green, D., 2010. Degrowth – is it useful or feasible?. From Poverty to Power, 19.01.2010. Online:

Kerschner, C., 2009. Economic de-growth vs. steady-state economy. Journal of Cleaner Production. 18(6), p. 544-551. Online:

Kliemann, C., 2015. Degrowth – eine realistische Version? zukunftsInstitut, xx.09.2015. Online:

Lieder, M. & Rashid, A. 2015. Towards circular economy implementation: a comprehensive review in context of manufacturing industry. Journal of Cleaner Production. 115(1), p. 36-51. Online:

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD, 2018. Green growth and sustainable development. Online:

Petschow, U., 2018. Social well-being within planetary boundaries. The precautionary post-growth approach, Dessau-Roßlau: Umweltbundesamt. Online:

Schmelzer, M., 2016. Degrowth, eine Alternative zum Wachstum, Frankfurter Allgemeine, 25.10.2016, Online:

Sustainability Illustrated, 2018. Earth Overshoot Day 2018 falls on August 1st. Online:

Foot notes

[1]Décroissance = decline in growth

One Reply to “Degrowth vs. Green Growth – a futile dispute”

  1. Thank you for this very well written post. You highlighted one of our current biggest challenges: By now, we know for sure (and agree) that our way of living is not sustainable. We also know (and mostly agree) how a sustainable wold/society should look like. What we do not know/agree what the best way is to achieve this goal!

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