Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution

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Earthscan, 1999 - Capitalism - 396 pages
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The first Industrial Revolution inaugurated 200 years of unparalleled material development for humankind. But the costs and the consequences are now everywhere evermore apparent: the living systems on which we depend are in retreat. Forests, topsoil, grasslands, wetlands, oceans, coral reefs, the atmosphere, aquifers, tundra and biodiversity are limiting factrs - the natural capital on which all economic activity depends. And they are all in decline. Add to that a doubling of the world's population and a halving of available per capita resources in the first 50 years of the 21st century and the inevitability of change is clear.This work offers forms of industry and commerce that can not only enhance enormously the wellbeing of the world's growing population, but will reverse the destruction and pollution of nature and restore the natural processes so vital to the future.The book introduces four central and interrelated strategies necessary to perpetuate abundance, avert scarcity and deliver a solid basis for social development. The first of these is: Radical Resource Productivity - getting two, four, or even ten times as much from the same quantities of materials and energy. A revolution in efficiency that provides the most immediate opportunities for businesses to grow and prosper.The second strategy is: Ecological Redesign - eliminating the very idea of waste by designing industrial systems on the model of ecological ones. Instead, for example, of digging merals out of the ground only to return them to landfill at the end of the product cycle, industrial processes will be designed to reuse materials constantly, in closed circles.The third strategy involves creating: A Service and Flow Economy - shifting from an economy of goods and purchases to one of service and flow, and redefining the relationship between producer and consumer. Affluence will no longer be measured by acquisition and quantity, but by the continuous receipt of quality, utility and performance.The final strategy is: Investing in Natural capital - reversing the worldwide ecosystem destruction to restore and expand the stocks of natural capital. If industrial systems are to supply an increasing flow of services in the future, the vital flow of services from living systems will have to be maintained or increased as well.

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Natural Capitalism

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This is an excellent book in which I found many useful facts. For those interested in green or sustainability practices this book provides a wealth of information and background on the subjects. Read full review

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I read this book about ten years ago when I was working on a total immersion class on Ecological Design organized by the Ecosa Intstitute. Ecosa was established by Prescott AZ based green architect Toni Brown. His course included a major focus on the book and ideas put forward in the book Natural Capitalism. The book is very inspirational in its tone which I appreciate. Its also goes into depth about the key elements in which capitalism would have to be modified to become natural capitalism.
A major force of Natural Capitalism is what co-author Amory Lovins calls a cost barrier breakthrough. Lovins discovered in his research if you approach a system in a holistic and comprehensive enough way in addressing its inefficiencies and facilitating a rethink of existing engineering practices, the resulting gains will be synergistic and compelling. This synergy in the design of energy management systems then leads to breaking through the cost barrier that often inhibits the implementation of serious and deep sustainability endeavors.
One question is that if this concept of breaking through the cost barrier is so compelling, then why has it not hit consumers lives more directly in the development of sustainable habitat creation and net zero design principles over the last ten years since this book has been published? Part of the possible explanation for this may be that people are still not seeing the need to make investments in more sustainable technologies and so that has limited market introductions of broad scale changes. The changes we have seen over the last ten years have been focused on the greening of Walmart and GE rather than in the proliferation of greener cars and houses so it has occurred under the radar of most Americans.
One criticism put forward by Paolo Soleri of Arcosanti fame (I live at Arcosanti) is that Natural Capitalism is not addressing the core problem of unsustainability - low density development and its companion over-consumption. In Soleri's view, trying to create more green technologies without reformulating and fundamentally altering the land use and development patterns, leads to false solutions. This breed to cynicism as efforts to green the economy in fact gain us little more than a "better kind of wrongness." He says that such thinking is not going to get us to a point where we can reduce the ecological impact of our economy to where it is not eating away at the principle of the our planetary resources.
To be sustainable, we have to design built environments and means of producing things so that we see that nature is not an infinite resource. Complementary to this is the idea of valuing nature and natural resources not just as commodities but as intrinsic values that are valuable all by themselves as they are the support systems that sustain life on earth (and not just human life).
With modern technology we have the illusion of suddenly having access to limitless resources. In reality with the advent of highly and sophisticated, advanced technologies, it is like we have just found a jar of money in the closet and we have gone on a spending spree with the new found money/wealth. Yet the problem is that we are now living off the principle of the planetary life support systems rather than the interest.
Thus that goes back to the very name of this book Natural Capitalism. To be sustainable the capital that drives our economy must be invested in innovative value creation structures that are not only remedial but also restorative of the vitality of natural systems. Central to this is what is termed biomimickry; the mimicking of biological synergistic tendencies through the development of appropriate technologies. The green movement for it to succeed in some form under the natural capitalistic model outlined by Lovins, Lovins and Hawken, must move societies towards efficient systems of production that lead to more value being created for more people per unit of consumption of resources. That is Natural Capitalism in a nutshell.

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About the author (1999)

Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, educator and best-selling author. He is known worldwide as on of the leading architects and proponents of corporate reform with respect to ecological practices. He is founder of several companies and author of numerous articles and scientific papers and of six books (published in over 50 countries, in 27 languages) including The Next Economy, Growing a Business and The Ecology of Commerce (voted in 1998 the number one college text on business and the environment by professors in 67 American business schools). He has served on the board of numerous organizations including Conservation International, Friends of the Earth and the National Audubon Society. He is the recipient of several honorary doctorates and the 1999 Green Cross Millennium Award for International Environmental Leadership from President Mikhail Gorbachev.Amory B Lovins and L Hunter Lovins are co-Chief Executive Officers of Rocky Mountain Institute which they co-founded in 182 in Colorado, USA. Physicist Amory Lovins is a MacArthur Fellow and the recipient of the Onassis Prize, the Heinz Award and six honorary doctorates, having been perhaps the youngest Oxford don in recent centuries. Hunter Lovins is a sociologist, political scientitst and barrister. The Lovinses have held visiting academic chairs and have been joint recipients of the Mitchell Prize, the Right Livelihood Award (the 'alternative Nobel Prize'), the Lindbergh Award and the Nissan Prize. Their pioneering technical, economic and policy work has been enormously influential in the energy, construction and car manufacturing industries. Consultants to scores of companies worldwide, they are co-authors of the best-selling Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use (with Ernst von Weizsacker) and of 25 previous books.

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