When it comes to the economy there are many ways that we can categorize different approaches . One of the ways we can do this is through color-coding these different economic approaches. Here is a brief description of ten colors that can be used to describe different areas of economic focus: Brown, green, blue, golden, purple, white, silver, red, gray, and black economies. Some of these color-coded economic systems have dual meanings so in several cases asterisks and brief footnotes have been added to briefly define alternate meanings.
1. The brown economy
A brown economy is focused on economic growth that is largely dependent on environmentally destructive forms of activity, especially the extraction and burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas. One of the byproducts of this form of economy is massive levels of climate change-causing greenhouse gas (GHG). The brown economy also generates water pollution and air pollution (particulate matter).
The brown economy is harmful to biodiversity, it overtaxes finite resources and is the driving force behind a wide range of global crises. The brown economy employs people in industries like fossil fuels, cement, iron smelting, quarrying, and mining.
In one way or another, the impacts of the brown economy adversely impact all 17 SDGs, however, some have argued that cheap energy has benefited GOAL 1: No Poverty, GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, and GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. Today we know that the brown economy has a large number of well-documented destructive impacts. This includes GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 4: Quality Education, GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality, GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, GOAL 13: Climate Action, GOAL 14: Life Below Water, GOAL 15: Life on Land, GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions, and GOAL 17: Partnerships to Achieve the Goal.
2. The green economy
The green economy is geared to undo the damage caused by the brown economy. The green economy seeks to sustain and advance economic, environmental, and social well-being, increase GDP, and contribute to poverty reduction. The UN succinctly defines the green economy as one that, “carries the promise of a new economic growth paradigm that is friendly to the earth’s ecosystems and can also contribute to poverty alleviation.” This economy contains many diverse approaches to enhance efficiency, eliminate pollution and recycle waste.
As indicated in a United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report on the green economy (page 16) diverse strategies for economic growth and environmental stewardship can complement one another. UNEP defines a green economy as, “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” This definition is in line with the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, social, and environmental).
The green economy is premised on economic production which minimizes pollution and reduces resource consumption. It is focused on recycling waste to lower environmental costs. This model of economic development merges economic, environmental, and social issues to improve life on earth In a green economy sustainable and environment-friendly economic impact on all human activities. It is also reliant on cleantech, and innovative technologies that optimize the use of the earth’s finite resources.
Collaboration and the adoption of an integrated approach to solving systemic issues are key aspects of this type of economy. Millions of people are employed by the green economy in areas like renewable energy and green sector jobs are expected to continue experiencing exponential growth.
All 17 SDGs benefit from the green economy. GOAL 1: No Poverty. GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 4: Quality Education, GOAL 5: Gender Equality, GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality, GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, GOAL 13: Climate Action, GOAL 14: Life Below Water, GOAL 15: Life on Land, GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions, GOAL 17: Partnerships to Achieve the Goal
3. The blue economy
The blue economy (marine economy) is crucial to our financial, biological, cultural, planetary, and spiritual well-being. It refers to efforts to preserve the finite resources in our oceans and waterways. Biotechnology, fisheries, and aquaculture are all part of this economy. The blue economy seeks to manage marine resources through the adoption of sustainable harvests, and regeneration (restoration) where necessary and possible. This economy strives to eradicate pollution and recycle waste in the marine environment.
The blue economy supports clean and healthy oceans, as well as coastal, and other aquatic ecosystems. The seas are critical to global well-being because they cover more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface and they contain a wide diversity of marine life that are important sources of food and minerals. The blue economy is being threatened by pollution, warming, and acidification. In this economy, people earn their livings through sustainable commercial fisheries, tourism, and recreation. Increasingly this also includes offshore renewable energy development. Wealth in the context of this economy is about far more than financial riches, it is about the health of marine ecosystems.
While many SDGs benefit indirectly, the blue economy directly serves GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, GOAL 14: Life Below Water, GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions, and GOAL 17: Partnerships to Achieve the Goal
4. The golden economy*
The golden economy (also known as the sunshine economy) addresses the energy issue. It specifically addresses the destructive impacts of the brown economy by replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy (wind energy, solar energy, hydroelectricity, geothermal, tidal power, etc.).
Along with the green and blue economies, the golden economy effectively addresses the social and environmental challenges we face. While the golden economy indirectly benefits many SDGs it primarily benefits GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, and GOAL 13: Climate Action.
5. The purple economy
The purple economy is a multidisciplinary approach to economics that encompasses a diverse array of key social issues that improve everyone’s quality of life. This includes care activities and services, such as education, healthcare, and women’s empowerment, It champions the interests of vulnerable groups like children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
This type of economy pays heed to cultural realities through its support of human capital The purple economy is an approach to sustainable development that emphasizes diversity and cultural good. It focuses on rights like maternity leave, life balance, flexible work arrangements, fair pay, and the gender pay gap. It also supports moving away from traditional measures of wealth like growth and GDP in favor of measures like livelihood.
The purple economy seeks to expand social services, particularly in times of crisis (eg the Covid-19 pandemic) this supports GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being. The focus on a higher standard of gender equality and equal opportunities are aligned with SDG GOAL 5: Gender Equality and GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality. The emphasis on better working conditions and better pay is in line with GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. The focus on building resilience in the face of disaster is tied to GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Other SDGs that benefit from a purple economy are GOAL 4: Quality Education, GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions, GOAL 17: Partnerships to Achieve the Goal.
6. The white economy**
The white economy refers to the health industry. There are many facets to this type of economy. It includes hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, the medical supply sector as well as providers of medical equipment, both diagnostic and biomedical. This involves workers with varying degrees of specialization. In the clinical context, this includes doctors, nurses, interns, and other medical workers. It also involves the people who provide personal care assistance as well as other workers in health services and personal care sectors. Sick people are also included in this group as are people with disabilities, and the elderly. This is a broad and inclusive category as it applies to everyone as everyone avails themselves of some kind of health-related service at some point in their lives. This type of economy is primarily concerned with SDG GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being.
7. The silver economy
According to the Oxford Institute of Population Aging, the EU defines the silver economy as the sum of the economic activities of people over the age of 50. This includes the products and services they purchase and the economic activity this spending generates. This economy contributes to a wide range of industries including health and nutrition; leisure and well-being; finance and transport; housing; education; and employment. The silver economy is also concerned with services related to wellbeing, health monitoring, health sports, health tourism, and green care. The silver economy supports SDGs like GOAL 1: No Poverty. GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 4: Quality Education, GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.
8. The red economy***
The red economy is about mass production and mass consumption, it is derived from Fordism, which was named after Henry Ford who operated as though environmental resources were unlimited. This economic model is focused on reducing production costs by employing a linear business model of extracting resources and producing waste. It is hostile to both social and environmental concerns making it an unsustainable economic system. The red economy squeezes workers and commoditization drives down margins and profits.
Although there are those who argue that the red economy has the potential to benefit GOAL 1: No Poverty, GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, and GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, a close examination reveals that this has not been born out in practice. The red economy has dire implications for GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure, GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, GOAL 13: Climate Action, GOAL 14: Life Below Water, and GOAL 15: Life on Land
9. The grey economy
The grey economy, (aka the informal or underground economy), refers to a diverse array of economic activities that may be legal, but which evade taxes. It can include everyone from street vendors and unregistered factory workers to larger off the books transactions. This type of economy is present when governments are unaware of a particular activity or accept such tax-free unregulated activity. Many different types of workers are employed in the gray economy and such workers are afforded little state protection and are therefore subject to exploitation and abuse. Because these activities are not monitored by the state they are not included in assessments of the gross domestic product (GDP) of a country.
The grey economy can adversely impact GOAL 1: No Poverty and GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 5: Gender Equality, GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality, and GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. While the grey economy touches on numerous social issues it has clearly harmful implications for GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions. and GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
10. The black economy
The black economy refers to illegal or unauthorized economic activities, including human trafficking, and smuggling of weapons. It can apply to any product that is prohibited by the laws of a given country. In addition to avoiding taxation, the black economy operates in flagrant violation of the law and this includes the lethal illicit drug trade and violating sanctions against rogue regimes.
Even more harmful than the grey economy, the black economy adversely impacts the same wide range of SDGs GOAL 1: No Poverty and GOAL 2: Zero Hunger, GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being, GOAL 5: Gender Equality, GOAL 8: Decent Work, GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality, and GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, Economic Growth, GOAL 14: Life Below Water, GOAL 15: Life on Land, and GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions.
A multicolored economy
The economic solutions to the challenges we face will likely involve a wide range of different approaches that are tailored to regional requirements. All the color-coded economies presented above have implications for the sustainable development goals, The four economic colors that offer the most promise to realizing the SDGs are the blue, green, golden, and purple economies, as well as the white economy. While an appropriate economic response to salient global issues may include reworked elements of the red economy, the gray, black, and brown economies are antithetical to the realization of the SDGs. The gray and black economies can be transformed by providing incentives that enable people to earn a living wage within the system. However, the brown economy is fundamentally incompatible with efforts to address our social and environmental ills.
*The term “Sunshine Economy” is sometimes used to describe Florida’s economy. Mzansi Golden Economy (MGE) refers to the strategy to reposition the cultural industries in South Africa.
**The white economy has also been used to describe the digital economy, this definition is attributed to Professor Douglas McWilliams, a British economist who wrote a 2015 book by the same name.
***The red economy sometimes refers to the communist-leaning economies where the state takes hold of production and distribution.
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