Framework and Case Studies

Case studies around a common framework take a clear-eyed look at new ways of doing business.

Welcome to the case studies page of the Future Economy Initiative. Here you’ll find six in-depth studies of economic innovations that we think have the potential to change the way we work and do business. The case studies are organized around a common analytical framework, which you’ll also find here.

We hope that you enjoy and learn from these case studies. We hope that they pique your curiosity and inspire you to seek out the seeds and green shoots of the future economy in your own community.

Analytical Framework

This common set of questions, established by the Future Economy steering committee, provides a consistent scope for the studies sponsored by the Initiative. The framework asks researchers to describe the structure of innovative economic models; assess their impacts on livelihoods, equity, and the environment; explain the context of their development; and assess whether the innovation being studied can be scaled differently or replicated elsewhere. Together, this framework of critical questions allows researchers to consider precisely how the subjects of their individual case studies are meeting their objectives and how their experiences can inform the creation of a more just and resilient future economy.

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Synthesis and Lessons Learned

This “synthesis” article will comment on: (1) important things to be learned from each initiative, (2) lessons to be drawn from all six case studies about future economy initiatives in general, (3) what proved to be more and less useful in our methodological framework, and finally, (4) what future research needs to be done to better understand progressive attempts to transcend business-as-usual economics.

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Verde and Living Cully: A Venture in Placemaking

By Noah Enelow, Ph.D. and Taylor Hesselgrave

Verde is an innovative nonprofit organization based in the highly diverse, low-income Cully neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Its mission is to pursue environmental wealth through social enterprise, outreach, and advocacy. Verde operates three social enterprises, develops Living Cully, a neighborhood-wide coalition to fight displacement of low-income residents and residents of color, and advocates for preferential hiring and contracting policies for low-income people and people of color across public and private sectors. We explore the impact of Verde and Living Cully’s initiatives, and examine the organization’s relationships with other nonprofits, community associations, schools, municipal and state agencies, foundations, universities, and private firms.

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Online Platforms for Exchanging and Sharing Goods

By Anders Fremstad

This case study evaluates the economic, social, and environmental effects of Craigslist, Couchsurfing, and NeighborGoods, three online platforms for exchanging and sharing goods. Craigslist and Couchsurfing have generated significant value for their users, and other such platforms could save Americans significant amounts of money, especially if they can facilitate widespread ride-sharing and car-sharing. Online platforms may particularly improve the livelihoods of poor Americans. The peer-to-peer transactions facilitated by online platforms  also appear to build and strengthen social connections, and there are clear environmental benefits to the sharing and reuse of goods in the community. As such, online platforms such as Craigslist, Couchsurfing, and NeighborGoods are promising future economy initiatives.

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Growing in Place: Building a Local Food Economy in Vermont

By Kathryn A. Olson

The local food movement has been gaining momentum in the United States, yet relatively little research has been undertaken to measure the precise impacts of local food on community wellbeing. Through interviews with farmers, local business owners, and analysis of United States Census data, this project assessed the broader community impact of a thriving local food economy in and around Hardwick, Vermont. Interviews illuminated how farmers and institutions in the area have forged new relationships, connecting farmers to new markets and increasing access to local food in the community. Analysis of census data revealed that between 2000 and 2012, the unemployment rate in Hardwick decreased by .5%, 285 new jobs were created, the mean household income increased by 18%, and the percentage of the population in the lowest income level decreased by 12.3%.

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Community Supported Agriculture: A Model For the Farmer and the Community?

By Mark Paul

CSA represents an innovative way to organize production and distribution on the farm by altering the farmer-consumer relationship. This study provides an overview of the CSA and the resulting economic, social, and environmental outcomes. It found significant variation in CSA farm structure, resulting in mixed outcomes across the Future Economy Initiative indicators. Farms generally failed to provide adequate income to farmers and workers; however the notion of “livelihoods” considers more than simple economic measures. Results also suggested CSA greatly reduces the barriers to entry for young and new farmers by improving access to land, and improving farm viability on limited acreage. Many challenges remain for CSA farms to improve performance across the Future Economy framework. Ensuring fair compensation for farmers, coupled with improving access to food for low-income customers are the central challenges facing CSA moving forward.

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Innovative Approaches to Low-Carbon Urban Systems: A Case Study of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility

By Marc Lee and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Researcher Marc Lee assesses the economic and social impact of the City of Vancouver, British Columbia’s Neighborhood Energy Utility (NEU), located in the Southeast False Creek area of the city. The district energy system was built in conjunction with a new, high-density residential neighborhood—development catalyzed by the 2010 Winter Olympics. By capturing heat from the sewer system, the NEU substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with space and water heating. The NEU has also developed a viable utility business model, with competitive and more stable rates. This “district energy 2.0” system provides a model that is already being adapted in other parts of the Metro Vancouver region, and could be replicated in cities across North America.

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Development in Cleveland through the Multi-Anchor Model

By Julia Poznik, Jonathan Ramse, and Ruchira Sen

Researcher Julia Poznik and her team analyze the Greater University Circle Initiative in Cleveland, a multi-anchor community development model that connects underserved neighborhoods to nearby anchor institutions through networks of philanthropy, public sector and local community organizations. The study evaluates the success of this model in meeting its goals, such as re-localizing the economy and creating livelihoods through the fostering of new businesses (including the Evergreen Cooperatives).

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