Name of Intervention/ Program
Supporting an alternative economy

Background and Situation Analysis
To fight the extinction crisis, we need to build an economy that doesn’t rely on resource extraction and endless growth. The new system should be rooted in cooperation, democracy, social and racial justice, environmental sustainability and mutualism. In working towards this goal, we have conducted various research projects. First, in 2019 we conducted a design thinking ideation session where a group of stakeholders brainstormed problems and solutions. One participant mentioned capitalism as a problem and other ideas from the group could be aggregated with that theme. Later that year we conducted focus groups around the topic of sustainable consumption. Capitalism wasn’t a topic we sought to learn more about specifically but throughout the series of conversations it came up. The sentiment was that capitalism wasn’t the issue if it worked the way it should by creating products needed by individuals and markets supplied the demand. But participants believed that the manufacturers are now telling us or marketing to us what we need in a predatory way hence causing more of a consumeristic issue. Following that in 2022, our advocacy for reproductive rights and our interest in environmental justice highlighted the ways in which extraction and our fossil fuel-dependent economy harm the lives of the most vulnerable among us, which are summarized in our report “The Influence of Environmental Toxicity, Inequity and Capitalism on reproductive health”. This research exposed the need for a new approach to the economy that acknowledges necessary limits to growth and centers social and environmental justice. After joking internally about the need to change capitalism, based on what we were finding in our research, my supervisor finally said, “Go figure it out…what does an alternative to capitalism look like?”. There are multiple frameworks – steady state economy, donut economics, regenerative economy and solidarity economy. While our organization is not tied to any one framework, we are partnering with stakeholders throughout the solidarity economy field. Then in 2023 we conducted an online survey of the U.S. public to get a sense of their existing knowledge of alternative economy principles, their perceptions of the role corporations play in the economy, and their willingness to engage in community-level alternative economy actions. The survey revealed that three-fourths of Americans agree that our economic system needs to change but only one-third are comfortable using alternative economy language in conversation. It also found that the majority of those surveyed are familiar with alternative economy practices (i.e. co-ops, sharing, community supported agriculture, land trusts, mutual aid, community owned renewable energy, participatory budgeting, etc.) but financial resources and time significantly limit their ability to participate in them.

Priority Audiences(s)
We believe that a just and sustainable life, that is safe for humans and the environment alike, is not possible within a capitalist framework, and that it is essential for environmental organizations to discuss and implement community-led alternative economic solutions when tackling our environmental problems. As such, one audience is coalition members – a diverse group of stakeholders we are partnering with to implement different alternative economic projects. Another audience are those people within a particular community interested in participating in an alternative economic project.

Behavioral Objectives
As with our audience, our behavioral objectives are two-fold. 1) Coalition members will integrate alternative economy components (i.e. education, project implementation and/or policy) into their work portfolio over the next 5 years to increase the knowledge, perception, and performance of alternative economy examples. 2) Diverse community members will participate in alternative economy examples through locally run on-the-ground projects built over the next 5 years to support an individual’s financial health, build community resilience, and decrease the pressure on our environment. Our current work portfolio includes: Designing and executing a training about alternative economies specifically for an environmental audience; Incubating a co-operative reuse foodservice to-go container facility; Building two libraries-of-things; and Shifting gift giving and celebrations from things that drive profit to services that bring happiness and build an alternative economy.

Description of Strategy/Intervention
Our three-tiered strategy that can lead to an alternative economy begins with a shift in knowledge, values, attitudes, and behaviors towards an economic system that prioritizes social and environmental sustainability, cooperation, and equity. This shift is necessary to lay the foundation for broader statutory and structural changes and can be achieved through a combination of individual and collective actions, as well as policy changes at the local, national, and international levels. At the individual level, the coalition is helping people voluntarily engage in conscious consumption practices, such as buying from local producers, supporting cooperatives and social enterprises, and reducing their consumption of goods and services with negative social or environmental impacts. They can also participate in community-based initiatives, such as community gardens, tool-sharing programs, and bartering. These individual actions help drive a cultural shift away from capitalist values and toward a more equitable, community-based economic perspective. At the collective level, the coalition works together to promote and strengthen alternative economy practices and institutions. This can involve building ecosystems that support the development of cooperative enterprises, community finance mechanisms, and alternative economic models that prioritize social and environmental goals. This is a critical step in making changes to consumption patterns more widely accepted and accessible. Finally, policy changes can also play a critical role in advancing the alternative economy. Governments can mandate supportive legal frameworks and public policies that facilitate the development and scaling of alternative economy initiatives. This can include removing barriers to alternative economy practices, ending policies that effectively mandate or prop up overproduction and overconsumption, providing financial support, legal recognition, and institutional support to alternative economy organizations and enterprises. The coalition will be working on policy in future years.

Our recommendations to overcome the barriers noted within our research include creating resources for the public and policymakers to support scaling alternative economy actions and advocating for increased corporate transparency and accountability. In working towards the first recommendation (because policy change will be tackled in the future) we are implementing four projects. 1) Design and execute a training (product) about alternative economies specifically for an environmental audience – This fall we will provide a free (price) virtual (place) training to educate an environmental audience about this framework. The training will provide new pathways for environmentalists to approach and organize their work, as well as build cross-movement solidarity with groups and businesses that do care about the environment but perhaps do not have it as their primary or singular focus. The training will be advertised through coalition member organizations (promotion). 2) Build two libraries-of-things – We are building two libraries-of-things (product) in Florida scheduled to open in 2025. These are a community space for the free (price) social practice of borrowing and sharing to take place. They hold true to the traditional mechanics of a library (place) while pushing borrowing material to a new edge. Instruments, gardening tools, camping gear, sporting equipment, and more are up for grabs to be borrowed throughout the community. This work makes this culture-change movement accessible for every community of resilience. The Jacksonville library of things will be at the University of North Florida and will be advertised to students living on campus (promotion). The Orlando library of things will be coordinated by a central Florida mutual aid group and promoted through their communication channels. 3) Incubate a co-operative reuse foodservice to-go container facility – Disposable food service ware, including carryout containers, is one of the biggest sources of single-use products. An effective way to decrease plastic pollution, the fossil fuel extraction associated with plastic production and the overconsumption of unnecessary disposable products is to create cooperatively owned washing facilities (product), acting as 3rd party sanitizers for return and reuse systems, using non-plastic materials such as stainless steel and glass. This year we are fundraising to facilitate the first-of-its-kind in the US, reuse cooperative washing facility in New England (place) for returnable deposit-based (free) to-go containers that could provide a variety of social and environmental benefits while supporting an alternative economy. 4) Shift gift giving and celebrations from things that drive profit to things and services that bring happiness and build an alternative economy – In 2023, we began recommending, through a long-standing online (place) waste reduction campaign (product), alternative economy gifts (price) such as: Sign a loved one up for a community supported agriculture subscription or make and give a favorite recipe; Gift someone a piece of vintage clothing from a secondhand shop or organize a holiday clothes swap with friends; Help a family member get their library card or shop for books from a little free library or local thrift store; Repair something broken, gift a secondhand electronic device or share your computer skills with others. We garner lots of earned media for this campaign around the winter holidays (promotion).

Evaluation Methods and Results
Our work is currently in the implementation phase and systems change will happen slowly, so we do not have results to share. However, our evaluation methods will include coalition member feedback, pre and post surveys, quantity of new economic projects started, number of resources used, etc. Through alternative economy initiatives communities can help to preserve and restore wildlife habitat while promoting economic resilience, social equity and environmental sustainability. Changing the economy will take time, but every step we take toward a just transition pushes back against the status quo of exploiting people and the planet.

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Entry Letter: O