Reliable prosperity
Society | Nature | Capital

Reliable Prosperity

This coastal estuary in Prince William Sound, Alaska is part of the coastal temperate rainforest stretching from Big Sur to Kodiak Island.
Image by Adrian Dorst.

When the health of ecosystems and communities is not integrated into economic activities, all three suffer. In turn, economic dependence on destructive activities creates apparent conflicts between work, nature, and community. How can we create an economy that effectively meets human needs while regenerating natural systems? An economy which grows organically — and fills new niches — by working with nature and enriching human capacities?

In a world of reliable prosperity, economic arrangements of all kinds are gradually redesigned so that they restore — rather than deplete — nature and society. This will create extraordinary opportunities for those who foresee and drive these changes. The fundamental needs of people — and the ecosystem services that sustain them — are the starting point for a different kind of economic prosperity that can endure generation after generation.

While reliable prosperity functions on a global scale, it can be imagined as a healthy mosaic of bioregional economies forged within coherent geographic and cultural regions. Even in a globalizing economy, diverse bioregional economies that are more self-sufficient more competitive and less vulnerable.

Based on our 20 years of work in the coastal temperate rainforests of the West, we believe that individuals and businesses flourish best by aligning their interests with the communities and ecosystems around them. In the long-run, this involves getting price signals right by instituting true-cost pricing. In the short-run, this means creating new business models, adopting new strategies (e.g. resource efficiency), transforming legal or institutional frameworks (e.g. fair trade), or looking at multiple benefits in a synergistic manner (e.g. green building). Reliable prosperity is emerging in cities, rural areas, and wildlands; in for-profits, non-profits, and governments; in corner coffeehouses and vast corporations; among rich and poor. Individuals and organizations that see its potential and acquire the skills to build it will create ongoing and enduring economic opportunities. Individuals and organizations that continue to depend on the depletion of social and natural capital will face increasingly unpredictable global commodity markets, tightening laws and regulations, new taxes, public outrage, loss of motivation, and many other symptoms of economic transformation.

Despite the obvious depletion of nature in the Pacific Northwest, this region retains enormous financial and ecological assets, skilled people, and technical capabilities. The great cities of the region along with its inventive smaller towns are beginning to show serious engagement with the patterns that underlie reliable prosperity. Significant trends toward better agriculture, forestry, fisheries practices, renewable energy, and ecotourism signal rapidly increasing investment in better forms of living.

New investments, advanced learning processes, and significant political commitment will greatly accelerate this bioregion's transition to toward more reliable prosperity. It is now possible to imagine a tangible timeline — perhaps twenty-five years — within which we will achieve a fully functional reliable prosperity in the bioregion.

Over the long-term, decrease economic dependence on activities that deplete natural or social capital. In the shorter-term, make investments with triple bottom line — economic, social, and environmental — returns. Harness both market forces and changes in laws, taxes, and policies that favor reliable prosperity.

Case Study
Examples of this pattern in action:

Seven ways to becoming more sustainable
Strategies for reducing one's footprint on the environment are detailed in the book Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Sustainable Conservation


Ecotrust Canada

Ecotrust Australia

ShoreBank Pacific

Enterprise Cascadia

Sustainable Northwest

The Natural Step


Anderson, Ray C. Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model. The Peregrinzilla Press. Atlanta, GA. 1998.

Cowan, Stuart and Sim Van der Ryn. Ecological Design. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1996.

Durning, Alan Thein. This Place on Earth : Home and the Practice of Permanence. Sasquatch Books. Seattle, WA. 1997.

Ecotrust, Conservation International and Pacific GIS. The Rain Forests of Home Atlas. Ecotrust. Portland, OR. 1995.

Elkington, John. Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1998.

Frankel, Carl. In Earth's Company: Business, Environment, and the Challenge of Sustainability. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1998.

Nattrass, Brian and Mary Altomare. The Natural Step for Business: Wealth, Ecology, and the Evolutionary Corporation. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1999.

Schoonmaker, Peter K, Bettina von Hagen and Edward C. Wolf. The Rain Forests of Home: Profile of a North American Bioregion. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1996.

Reliable Prosperity


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


Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas





Compact Towns and Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services



Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

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