What are the limits to growth?

Overall economic growth is limited. That is why a one-dimensional pursuit of quantitative growth cannot make sense. The closer you get to natural limits, the greater resistance will be felt that inhibits further growth.

Then it is more likely that those capabilities that can be used to tap into qualitative growth dimensions will determine sustainable success. Organizations that have these capabilities will be able to outperform other organizations and achieve relative growth within a naturally limited overall market.

This is not a fundamental plea against growth; companies that operate sustainably in their business areas can and should certainly grow healthily, but with moderation, in cycles and, if possible, primarily in qualitative terms.

Often, there are even growth limits that can be influenced and resolved by appropriate measures. In order to assess the situation accurately and act appropriately, a good understanding of the system interrelationships is required. What mechanisms are inhibiting further growth in your business? Can these mechanisms be influenced? Can the effect of such mechanisms perhaps even be inverted so that they support growth?

If you fail to do so, overall growth is obviously definitely limited; promising strategies should then reflect this insight. There are certainly worthwhile strategies that do not pursue quantitative growth, but rather the implementation of qualitative goals. A balanced target system can be well developed and implemented with the balanced scorecard.

Economic growth is supposedly understood as the basis for prosperity. If there is more work to be done, the income for those involved and the value of what has been created increase – so the common, abbreviated formula goes. After many centuries of very moderate economic growth, growth has accelerated exponentially since the beginning of industrialization toward the end of the 18th century.

In fact, this accelerated growth has ostensibly brought many gains in prosperity. Today, products from all over the world are available to us, and we enjoy increased mobility and “comfort machines” (air conditioning, electric seat adjustment, etc.) powered by energy, and useful applications of telecommunications (mobile telephony, mobile access to Internet-based applications). But all these possibilities are fed by an increasing overexploitation of nature and of human beings themselves. It would therefore be an illusion to assume that we can continue this development indefinitely, let alone gain from it. Since there is no perpetuum mobile and transformation processes are even loss-making, we are moving in a one-way street from energy sources to energy sinks. Those who see it differently are very likely to view the transformation chain in a truncated form.

For all our satisfaction with growth, we have long looked at only one side of the coin, and we have not come to grips with the reality that this growth is limited. This realization is not new. As early as 1972, the Club of Rome’s report on the state of humanity, “The Limits of Growth,” written by Dennis Meadows et al. explicitly pointed out the limits to growth. Meinhard Miegel, in his book “Exit – Prosperity without Growth,” published by Propyläen in Berlin in early 2010, very aptly addressed the issue at the societal level.

Try to take Miegel’s sharply formulated and extremely well-founded macro-level thoughts and Nicholas Stern’s valuable ideas and suggestions on climate protection (“The Global Deal,” C. H. Beck, Munich 2010) into account in your corporate practice decisions.

Unsustainable growth increasingly burdens our environment and our health.


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