Economy for the Common Good: An economic system that prioritizes people and the planet

2023 / 5 / 9 | Author: enw_editor

Last December, the book “Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie” (Economy for the Common Good), by Christian Felber, was published in Japanese (translation by Noriaki Ikeda, Komyakusha). Economy for the Common Good (ECG) is a movement that began in Austria in 2010 and has spread to Europe and South America. We interviewed Mr. Noriaki Ikeda, a forestry consultant based in Germany, who translated the book with the desire to bring awareness of the concept to Japanese companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).


 What is ECG?

ECG is an international social movement that sees participation from citizens, companies, organizations and local government. An economic system that puts people and the planet before profits, it involves drawing up Common Good Balance Sheets based on a Common Good Matrix, a tool that visually depicts a company’s commitment to the common good. The balance sheet quantifies these efforts, enabling people to view the extent of each company’s contributions, compare them to those of others and shift their purchasing and other actions according to their priorities. The possibility of using the sheets in a scoring system to provide incentives such as tax benefits and advantages in public procurement is also under consideration.

The Common Good Matrix 1.0 was developed in 2010 by about 15 SMEs participating in the social movement, Attac Austria. The movement then spread across Europe and South America, and the Matrix has continued to undergo bottom-up revisions based on input from citizens, companies, and researchers from each country. It is now up to version 5.0. Globally, the movement encompasses 35 countries, 171 regional groups, and some 4,500 members, including individuals and organizations. 3,000 of those organizations are companies.

Economy for the Common Good

For more information on ECG, see Change Everything: Creating an Economy for the Common Good.


(Image of the Japanese version)

Interviewee: Noriaki Ikeda

Mr. Ikeda was born in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, in 1972 and has lived in Germany for 26 years. He studied German studies at Iwate University and Forest and Environmental Sciences at the University of Freiburg. Since 2003, he has applied this knowledge in various capacities, including coordinating study tours in Europe, consulting, supporting projects between Japan and Germany and writing — all based on themes like forestry, agriculture, wooden architecture, renewable energy and regional revitalization. As a trainer for cross-cultural communication seminars, he has also facilitated successful collaboration between Japanese and German companies. Together with German foresters, he has provided practical support and consulting for forestry projects in Japan since 2010.

Interviewer: Keiko Kondo


Mr. Noriaki Ikeda (via online interview)

A new, future-oriented economic concept

I heard that small and medium-sized companies are integral to advancing this movement. How would you explain what ECG is to SMEs in Japan?

To put it simply, it is a new economic concept for the future. You could say it is a movement to redefine what the economy is from the bottom up.

What do you mean by “redefine the economy”?

In a sense, numbers seem to have disproportionate influence on our current economy. ECG is an idea that is neither capitalism nor communism. Why do we have an economy in the first place? How do we need to change our current social framework in order to implement ECG? The book provides ideas and specific prescriptions for each sector, including financial systems, education and democracy. And at the core of ECG is the principle of human dignity.

When I saw the Common Good Matrix and Common Good Balance Sheets, I had assumed that ECG is a management tool. But that is not the case?

Correct. Christian Felber, the founder of ECG, studied political science, psychology, sociology, and philology. He believes that it is necessary to examine a phenomenon from multiple disciplines. The word “economy” comes from the ancient Greek word “oikonomia”, which is composed of the words “oikos” (house) and “nomia” (rules). The moral code for the household, in other words, the household budget. And for what do we have a household budget? So that all members of the household can live happily. The economy was originally a framework that we create for the purpose of happiness. I believe that ECG is a holistic movement that draws from an array of fields to be based on for what the economy exists.

The Common Good Matrix 5.0

The Common Good Matrix 5.0.

Reference: Assessing the Economy for the Common Good Measurement Theory Ability to Integrate the SDGs into MSMEs – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. Available from: [accessed 8 May, 2023]

Discovery during a visit to a German company led to translating for a Japanese audience

How did you first learn about ECG?

As a consultant, I had been coordinating industry visits to Germany for Japanese companies, particularly SMEs. When the Iwate Prefecture Association of Small Business Entrepreneurs came to Europe for one such visit in 2019, we visited Taifun-Tofu, a tofu manufacturer in Freiburg. Taifun has the largest market share of tofu in Germany, and its product is 100% certified organic. During a company lecture, I learned that they were involved with the ECG movement, and this piqued my interest.

And that’s when you read the original “Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie (= The Economy for the Common Good).”

That’s right. In 2020, during the outbreak of COVID-19, my work coordinating site visits became more challenging. Since I had time on my hands, I began preparing to write my book, Vielfalt (Diversity: A sustainable relationship between people and forests) (in Japanese). Among the many books I was reading, I started to read “Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie (= The Economy for the Common Good).”

The first chapter of the book poses the question, “What is happiness?” It discusses humanity’s shared values that contribute to happiness and prosperity and breaks down the problems with the capitalist market economic system in a straightforward manner. The second chapter on describes, comprehensively and in detail, an economic system designed to bring everyone happiness and prosperity. In other words, what the economy should be. I was so impressed with its in-depth, all-encompassing insight that I wanted to share this profound book with Japan. SMEs are at the heart of the ECG movement. I personally have always been a proponent of small business, so I hope that this movement can breathe new life into Japan.

If Japanese SMEs were to get involved

How could interested SMEs in Japan participate in ECG?

There are a number of ways to get involved. The regional and national associations of the Economy for the Common Good drive the movement currently has 4,500 members worldwide consisting of individuals and organizations, and about 3,000 of the latter are companies. Among them, about 1,000 have already created Common Good Balance Sheets and made them public.

Some companies probably get started with an interest in ECG’s idea and want to participate as a member to learn more. Eventually, some will make a move to implement the Common Good Balance Sheet. There are a lot of ways to engage.

When SMEs do get involved, the blessing of the top leadership is important, but isn’t employee buy-in also crucial? When you see the Common Good Matrix, it’s easy to treat it like some corporate management index, but it is necessary to understand the philosophy behind it.

I think that it takes time. Honestly speaking, just reading the book probably isn’t compelling enough on its own. I’ve read it many times over, learned more as I translated it, joined lectures… in the course of doing all this, it finally felt like it sunk in. In the act of creating a Common Good Balance Sheet, carrying it out and improving it, employees will learn more deeply about the concept and its philosophy.

It seems that there is merit to companies learning from each other as well. Does Germany have a network of companies participating in ECG?

There are many regional groups referred to as Energy Fields. In them, companies, citizens, scholars and others interested in this concept join to exchange ideas and hold study meetings.

A Japanese kind of ECG

How large are the areas that the regional groups cover?

I would say an area that can be reached by car or train in about an hour. Groups can now meet online, but for the lectures and social gatherings, I think that a distance that allows people to meet in person within the span of a day trip would be ideal. There are also support organizations in place for countries as well as local chapters, and they all aim to become Teal organizations and build the movement from the bottom up. I also belong to such an organization, and it is quite interesting with an open-minded, lively exchange of opinions.

That said, there is a language barrier for Japanese companies, right?

That’s true. Actually, I am currently taking speaker training. Once I complete the training and examination to become certified, I’ll be able to provide training on ECG as an official Japanese speaker.

I hope that from here on out, ECG regional groups and a national support structure will emerge in Japan, and that the movement will gain traction throughout this country as well. Even among Japanese companies, many likely practice some form of ECG management already. I hope that this book will spark many discussions, and that the ECG — and its pursuit of happiness for all — can evolve in a way that is unique to Japan. To that end, I would like to continue my dialogue with Japanese companies and expand my efforts even further.


What is the Economy for the Common Good?

Keiko Kondo (author), translation by Melody Poland