The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
ConservationEconomy.net Home
Learning Network The Roots of Our Work Contact Us A project of Ecotrust
Browse Mode
Explore Whole Patterns
Explore Patterns Images
Explore Pattern Case Studies
Pattern Image

Child Playing in Salmon Street Fountain, Portland.
Image by Katy Langstaff.

Social Capital

Social capital is poorly understood, loosely measured, and chronically undervalued. Current economic activities do not properly account for social capital, resulting in its unnecessary diminishment.

In A Conservation Economy, Social Capital is enhanced within the means and opportunities of nature. Social Capital is taken as the starting point for growing and developing diverse Bioregional Economies that meet Fundamental Needs.

Apparent conflicts between Social Capital and Natural Capital — jobs vs. the environment, loggers vs. spotted owls — result from short time horizons and the failure to include broader social and ecological costs in decision making. Studies consistently show that U.S. states that have invested most heavily in environmental protection offer a higher quality of life. Thriving Natural Capital pays important quality of life dividends in clean air, water, and soil; recreational opportunities; a connection to nature (biophilia); and a decrease in environmentally-induced Health impacts including breathing disorders, learning disabilities, and cancers.

Social Capital includes education, governance, religious institutions, neighborhood groups and associations, Cultural Diversity, languages, libraries and other knowledge archives, health-care facilities, community development corporations, legal and police systems, and so forth. Social Capital, like Natural Capital, suffers from chronic underinvestment because its stream of benefits, including safety and Security, friendship and Community, a sense of civic identity, Access to Knowledge, and many others, is hard to quantify in economic terms.

In A Conservation Economy, investments in Social Capital are extensive. Green Businesses work to provide Community Benefit. True Cost Pricing provides incentives for proper accounting of Social Capital. Local Economies and strategies of ownership ensure that needs are more broadly and fairly. The Community institutions at the core of Social Capital are supported.

Although quality of life is partially correlated with income, it is possible for Household Economies to make decisions that lead to lives of comfortable sufficiency rather than stressful accumulation. Quality of life is highly idiosyncratic, and each household can determine a balance of social, financial, and ecological returns which is most fulfilling. From this perspective, Social Equity includes universal fulfillment of the most fundamental human needs along with broad access to meaningful work, while respecting the enormous range of life circumstances and personal goals which may drive people to seek different kinds of livelihood.

Invest in the community institutions and green businesses that build social capital. Support ownership strategies that meet needs more broadly and fairly. Seek policies that properly account for social capital. Allow household economies to find a better balance between social capital and economic capital.

Examples of this pattern in action:

GreenMoney Gallery of Products & Services
They promote the awareness of socially and environmentally responsible business, investing and consumer resources. Their goal is to educate and empower individuals and businesses to make informed financial decisions through aligning their corporate and financial principles.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Global Living Project

The New Road Map Foundation

Simple Living


Daly, Herman E and John B. Cobb. For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Fu. Beacon Press. Boston, MA. 1989.

Ekins, Paul, ed. The Living Economy: A New Economics in the Making. Routledge. New York, NY. 1990.

Ekins, Paul, ed and Manfred Max-Neef. Real-Life Economics: Understanding Wealth Creation. Routledge. New York, NY. 1992.

« Previous Pattern | Next Pattern »

Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling