What about people? Unconditional basic income

In this monthly series, Marion Richter, founder of Lytz, will take us on a journey towards a more sustainable packaging industry – with a focus on people. Besides technology and innovation, we need people to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable industry. Beyond sustainable packaging, how do we create a sustainable working and living environment for our employees to excel in?

Unconditional basic income

Unconditional basic income

What if we – society – come to think of people as ends, not means? What if we provide them with a basic income? For example, one thousand euros, no conditions, every month. It gives people the freedom to participate in society. It creates a sustainable life. And therefore, sustainable work and sustainable packaging, too.

The name Götz Werner probably doesn’t mean much to you. He was the founder of the German drugstore chain dm-drogerie markt. Was, because Werner died in early February 2022. He was known for his unusual way of doing business in post-war Germany: socially committed and with little hierarchy. In addition to that, until he died, he was a great advocate of unconditional basic income. A great source of inspiration for me.

I’ve mentioned before in this series that I don’t believe in the separation of work time and free time. This idea dates back to the industrial era, where you had to clock in for your shift in the morning and clock out again at the end of the day. Then, you got to go home to recharge for your next day of work. Is that a meaningful existence? Is that freedom?

Life time

Werner strongly believed that first, people need an income. Only then can they engage in the working community and determine where and how they can contribute to the best of their abilities and beliefs. Do you notice the order of those? It’s the order of freedom.

Götz Werner

Like myself, Werner thought, in addition to that, the division between working time and free time to be wrong. Because both are life time, he said, and you can’t separate yourself from your life time. “It is only out of my freedom and determination that I can devote my lifetime to others”, said Werner. “Freedom is the very nature of human existence.”

The notion that only by working and earning money one contributes to society is fundamentally wrong. If we provide people with unconditional basic income, we create a lever to give people their freedom back. Freedom to engage in social activities. Freedom to take care of others without needing something (i.e. money to sustain oneself) in return.

A basic income provides us with the means to meet our daily basic needs. According to the American scientist Abraham Maslow (well-known for his pyramid of needs), those needs are food, water, warmth, rest, security and safety. They are the basic necessities for survival. When someone has unmet needs, this motivates them to fulfil what they are denied. In other words, people who are struggling to make ends meet in order to provide for basic needs will not participate in society to the best of their abilities. They’re in survival mode.

The purpose of the people

Providing people with a basic income places an even greater pressure on companies to create the most sustainable working environment possible. Although, creating such environments should be on top of every company’s list, especially considering the current labour market conditions, but that’s a whole other discussion. By creating freedom for potential employees, they are able to say no to a bad work environment and yes to a good one, said Werner. People don’t want underpaid, bad or pointless work. They prefer to say yes to something that makes sense, that aligns with their purpose. Even if the pay isn’t high (or not paid for at all). How can we expect people to think about sustainable packaging when they aren’t in a sustainable situation themselves?

As I mentioned in my previous column, sustainable work is all about facilitating mastery, autonomy and purpose. A concept by Daniel Pink, best known for his book Drive. If you’d like to read more on that, you can find episode 2 of ‘What about people?’ here.

Regardless of installing unconditional basic income, society should embrace people as ends. In their work environment, people spend their life time. They develop skills and unfold their lives. That is what the company is there for, said Werner. “People are not a means to the purpose of the company, but the company is a means to the purpose of the people.”


Do you have a suggestion for this column, a question, or would you like to know more about sustainable life, sustainable work, sustainable packaging? Send an email to marion@lytz.nl.