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July 31, 2009

Market-Powered Change

Catherine New
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In the last post, we blogged on the growing study of social enterprise at Columbia Business School. One of the most enduring questions for the field is how to couple social objectives with the role of markets. Bruce Usher, adjunct professor in finance and economics and CEO of EcoSecurities, spoke about that question at an international social enterprise conference last March (complete video coverage of his lecture above).

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“Market mechanisms can and will help social problems,” he said. In his presentation, he discussed several examples of successful ventures in the environmental sector, including Title 4 of the Clean Air Act, which reduced carbon emissions by 40% between 1990-2001. Usher also discussed the success of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the role of microfinance and socially responsible investing.

“Markets force participants to internalize social costs and it becomes part of the daily way of doing things,” Usher said. “As a result participants change their behavior and they do things differently.”

Cover photo credit: Russell Smith