Cover Page

Going Past Limits to Growth

A Report to the Club of Rome EU-Chapter

Patrick Corsi


Why We Should Grow Beyond Economic Growth

Our society owes a lot to economic growth. Growth was – and still is – a dominant driver for the increasing wealth of the nations and many people. Yet, it is more and more being questioned in the face of environmental and social pressures threatening humankind’s very survival.

Forty-five years ago The Club of Rome, founded by visionary entrepreneurs and scientists in 1968, hit world headlines by publishing the report “The Limits to Growth”. It was based on a new science of dynamic systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologies (MIT). Its mathematical model contained the interdependent parameters of population, environmental degradation, depletion of non-renewable resources, food production, industrial pollution.

The report evidenced dreadful trends for humanity if economic growth as then understood was to continue. Needless to say that the concept of limits to growth was unpopular in the euphoric years of rapid material progress, especially after World War II.

Today, the widespread ecological, social, economic and financial imbalances create a climate of anxiety and uncertainty in an ever more complex world. Such a climate calls for new thinking and concepts, leaving the paths of obsolete economic models.

The Club of Rome was deliberately created to obtain a better understanding of the “world problématique”, to contribute to new insights based on scientific grounds and to influence policies.

The Club of Rome EU-Chapter (CoR-EU) aims particularly at building bridges with the EU institutions, delivering lectures on a wide range of subjects and organizing special events as a platform for discussion. Among the crucial issues the concept of economic growth was identified as one of the root causes of the overall planetary problems. On 8 March 2017 the CoR-EU organized a debate at the European Parliament with the title A Different Kind of Growth: Europe taking the lead?

In the wake of this event several other initiatives, such as working groups on science & policy and on the sustainable development goals (SDG’s), were taken. We were fortunate to find among our members a distinguished practitioner in innovation willing to produce a report to the CoR-EU. Patrick Corsi produced a design-based approach for regenerating wealth under the appropriate title of Going Past Limits To Growth. We are much indebted towards him, as well as to his publishers ISTE.

Ex officio Member of the Club of Rome
President and Executive Director of The Club of Rome EU-Chapter


Grenoble, Fall 1976. The multicolored valleys surrounding the city were embracing a myriad of yellowish to reddish shades. A treasure chest from Nature. Backpacking as a student in the mountain chains was like listening to its symphony of colors, seeing its mild windy tunes, smelling the harmonic tastes of freshness.

It was my last year at the then very young ENSIMAG engineering school, the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Informatique et Mathématique Appliquées de Grenoble, the latest creation of the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble. A place to be that I knew nothing about when applying from… almost nowhere. I had done a lot of math before through a Master’s in applied mathematics. And I was still going to do a lot of math here.

Enter a young assistant professor for a one or so weekly hour of course that had no observable program, the content of which was arrows and bubbles written manually on the blackboard. I was listening silently… and telling myself, “what a strange course; everything seems so easy and so incomprehensible at the same time; so away from differential equations and complicated integrals.” How surreal this class was, different from all the others. So I enjoyed it even though I was not taking it very seriously. An aggravating factor is that this assistant teacher was speaking (eloquently) over and over again about the Club of Rome, its orientation, its famous 1973 recent book, the need to limit growth and the necessity to see things… systemically. Well, enough for an outer space ride, the semester passed and with it, the arrows and the bubbles.

His name is François Rechenmann – still a professor there – and he was the one who infused me with systemics, by sensing it, by writing it. Well, I should confess that it took me exactly 30 years to see that I had really learned something through his presence… when I began to get interested in complex sciences. Then, his words began to rise back to my consciousness. Gradually, I saw the piece and the pieces much like a Greek drama: planet Earth and Humanity entering in collision. The meteorite was us! Thank you Pr. Rechenman, you did well in alerting us with your fresh baked out-of-space course. This book is a grown up reaction, sprung from your vivid teachings.

To the founding professors of C-K theory at the Centre de Gestion Scientifique of Mines ParisTech – MM, Armand Hatchuel, Benoît Weil and Pascal Le Masson, my sincere thanks for having accepted my recurring questions and myself as a field practitioner applying your deep research every day.

Anna Federighi and your deep inspirational metaphysical orientation helped me deconstruct one mental wall after the other, patiently, which led me to approaches contrasting with traditional academic instruction. The initial model of the “three”, as well as many others, originates from you and many of your own sources. But it took me a good 10 years to understand most of these surprising, totally unexpected yet most basic models that apply every day in human life.

I would also like to pay a special tribute to the person who gave me that special inner confidence to embark into this book. Eleonora Barbieri Masini was right there at the forefront of the initial discussions with Aurelio Peccei, the core founder of the Club of Rome.

It happens I had heard of her several times over the years as she was also a member – long-standing in her case – of the World Futures Studies Federation. I thus took the opportunity to modestly send her a brief 20 pages or so draft that expressed my initial ideas about the 1972 report. It contained a few sketches of another approach, possibly more suited to our post-modern times made of high complexity and ambient uncertainty everywhere and for everybody.

As I could visit her in Rome during fall 2016 to discuss a few future issues, to my great surprise, she had already taken what was not even a rough outline quite seriously, and had already annotated it with her delicate calligraphy. She then scrutinized it and made further comments.

It’s that sort of encounter with people carrying some original vibration that transports you and your mind into another camp: to go ahead whatever the cost at the personal level. Thank you, Gentilissima Eleonora, please receive my full gratitude for your mentoring support.

To each of you this book is dedicated, for it took me meeting each and every one of you to begin to grasp parts of our today’s complex world.

And I wish to express my gratitude to my publisher and the admirable team of book producers, for the sustained trust in listening to project ideas and the exact professionalism in bringing these to real books in the market.

There isn’t a thing we do separately, isolated – that’s so plain an evidence. They’re only things that are made by linking up our different, distinct energies. We are unique, yet united. This makes a motto, and makes a world. It doesn’t mean being united in a unique thinking way. It means being unique within the rich diversity of one another. It expresses the quality that emanates from each of us.

List of Abbreviations

B2B Business to Business
C-K Concept–Knowledge theory
DKCP Design–Knowledge–Concepts–Propositions
ERP Enterprise Resource Planning
GDP Gross Domestic Product
ICT Information and Communication Technologies
KIA Knowledge Intensive Activities
KIS Knowledge Intensive Services
NACE Statistical Classification of Economic Activities
NPDI New Product Development & Introduction
OECD Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
P2P Peer to Peer
PLC Product Life Cycle
PPS Purchasing Power Standard
R&D Research and Development
SCM Supply Chain Management
SCS Supply Chain Simulator
SITC Standard International Trade Classification
TIR Third Industrial Revolution
WWRE World Wide Retail Exchange
WWW World Wide Web

A Present-Day Imperative