We can learn our way out of the crisis of environmental sustainability and climate change. What follows is an edited excerpt from my new book, Environmentally Sustainable Growth: A Pragmatic Approach. That book is the culmination of decades of learning about environmental policy. It discusses the nature of our environmental crisis: its causes and solutions. The transition to environmental sustainability has already begun. Large organizations in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors are integrating environmental concerns into their management systems. I am optimistic that we can grow our economy while preserving the planet.

It is clear to any objective observer that our planet’s resources and eco-logical well-being are under assault by the actions of the nearly eight billion people living here on Earth. Those of us in the developed world have a far greater environmental impact than people in the developing world, but there is great political pressure in the developing world to increase material wealth. And that political pressure will lead to increased environmental impacts. Our political stability and security depend on the maintenance of material wealth where it exists and economic growth where people are poor. But to achieve those goals, we must learn how to construct a high-throughput economy that does not destroy our planet’s ecosystems. How do we realistically get from the current economic paradigm to one that permits economic growth while protecting the planet’s ecosystems?

My focus is mainly on the United States—not because this can be achieved without the rest of the world, but without our model and leadership, it is unlikely that this transition can happen without a catastrophe taking place first. This transition has already begun. Moreover, we have already demonstrated that we can utilize advances in organizational management and technology to grow economically while protecting the environment. We need to recognize what we know how to do and utilize our experience and brainpower to end poverty while protecting the planet.

To achieve the complete transition to environmental sustainability, we must undertake the following five actions:

  1. Research, measure, and understand the current state of environmental degradation.
  2. Understand the causes of environmental degradation.
  3. Develop and implement a strategy for reducing pollution and growing a renewable resource–based economy.
  4. Build public-sector infrastructure to support environmental sustainability.
  5. Change the politics, advocacy, and communication of environmental sustainability.

Read the full article about environmental sustainability by Steven Cohen at Stanford Social Innovation Review.