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Green economy is cited as a feasible alternative way of sustainable development (Source, United Nation)

What is Green Economy?

By David Okul
July 28, 2019

Definition of Green Economy

The green economy is a relatively common concept in environmental management. Simply put, the ‘green’ economy can be considered synonymous to a ‘sustainable’ economy. However, the Green Economy concept often carries a more distinctive meaning, one that focuses specifically on the fundamental changes that are required to ensure that economic systems are made more sustainable. Ecological economics, industrial ecology and environmental/resource economics are the three closely related disciplines to the notion of the Green Economy (Ciocoiu, 2011). Green is synonymous with nature while the economy is the system to which a country’s/ region trade, industry, and money are organized. Simply put, the concept implies an active integration of environmental consideration in economic models.

In 2008, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP[1]) now called (UN Environment) launched a Green Economy Initiative that did culminate in the publication later in 2010 of a major Green Economy Report. In this report UNEP defines the green economy as “the process of reconfiguring businesses and infrastructure to deliver better returns on natural, human and economic capital investments, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions, extracting and using less natural resources, creating less waste and reducing social disparities.” (UNEP, 2010, p.5) Green economy purposes are human welfare improvement and reduction of environmental risks over the long term.

UNEP (2010) has provided some of the fundamental elements defining and explaining the core principles and concepts underlying a green economy. The main tenets of this green economy initiative are:

  1. investing in natural capital
  2. decarbonizing the economy
  3. creating green jobs.

The sectors analyzed in the UNEP report are agriculture, cities, forests, renewable energy, transport, water, buildings, fisheries, industry, tourism, and waste management.

Green Economy Coalition (GEC), on the other hand, defines green economy in terms of an economy adhering to the following blocks; 1) low-carbon energy, infrastructure, and transport; 2) sustainable systems of food production, water and sanitation, and waste; 3) ways of protecting and sustainably using biodiversity; 4) green jobs, decent work, sustainable lifestyles and livelihoods that ensure social justice and equity, and set real measures for progress and wellbeing; 5) investment in green sectors, 6) environmental ‘accounting’ and the introduction of new business models and 7) policy reform (GEC, 2012). Whatever the definition, it is clear that green economy ascribes to the principles of sustainable development, equity and poverty alleviation, the resilience of ecosystems, inclusiveness and environmental limits.

The nexus between development, poverty and environmental degradation is hard to define. Africa and other developing countries need to develop, but it is increasingly clear that business as usual in Africa and around the world is no longer an option. We are living beyond the carrying capacity of our planet. According to the Living Planet Report (2010), August 21 of 2010 was earth overshoot day. This implied we exhausted our ecological budget for the year. Today, it is estimated that we use the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide us with resources and absorb our waste. If current trends in population growth and consumption patterns continue, by 2030, we would need two planets to support us. Even if most of this capacity is used by people outside of Africa, overshooting the earth’s carrying capacity tends to have a disproportionate impact on the poor, who are the least equipped to deal with the associated challenge (UNEP, 2011). This means that the vulnerable are the most affected by environmental degradation despite contributing little to environmental degradation.  

A new approach to economic growth is thus necessary. We need to find ways of integrating environmental sustainability with economic growth and welfare by decoupling growth from environmental over-exploitation and social inequities and inequalities. “Environmental sustainability”, “sustainable consumption and production”, “green growth”, “climate-resilient, low emission strategies “, “inclusive growth” and “decent jobs” can be seen as ways to reconcile the demands for economic growth with the increasing scarcity of natural resources, and the challenges of poverty. This will require a significant transformation of the socio-economic system as we know it. The 2008/2009 global financial and economic crisis presented an unprecedented opportunity to bring about the necessary transformations, thus lending even more momentum to these concepts. The idea of a Green New Deal was thus put forward by several institutions (Green New Deal, 2008). Using the economic recovery packages as leverage, the green new deal focuses on ways to bring the world back on track from a combination of economic, environmental and social crises. The call has been heard by many governments: the Obama administration, for instance, included in the stimulus package significant spending on environmentally-friendly projects aimed at creating “green-collar jobs” and saving energy, and longer-term measures to safeguard the environment.

Silvica believes that the green economy concept is getting foothold in many parts of the world. Governments are acknowledging the importance of a healthy environment for a sustained economic growth.

[1] At its biennial meeting in February 2011, the U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP) formally presented their “Green Economy Report” with detailed recommendations. U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon urged governments and business leaders to abandon Business-As-Usual (BAU), which he called “a global suicide pact”, in favor of massive investment of public and private funds in “sustainable development”. Implicit in the Report is the admission that earlier efforts have failed to meet the needs of the poor, and to stop the dangerous plundering that destroys the health of our living planet.


Ciocoiu C. N. (2011). Integrating digital economy and green economy: opportunities for sustainable Development. Academy of Economic Studies, Piata Romana 6, Bucharest, Romania

GEC, (2012). Green Economy, concepts and opportunities. Green Economy coalition.

Green New Deal, (2008). New way of managing the Planet. Green new deal report.

Living Planet Report (2010). Living past the ecological limits.

David Okul is an environmental consultant, freelance writer, and a PhD student at a Kenyan university