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The Ecology of Commerce

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A visionary new program that businesses can follow to help restore the planet.

272 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1993

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About the author

Paul Hawken

53 books251 followers
Paul Hawken is the co-founder of several businesses, and lives in Sausalito, California.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 152 reviews
April 2, 2019
A Failed Declaration?

So Far, I have read three books that cover the topic of sustainability (broadly speaking), with the intention of reading many more. The first, Endgame: The Problem of Civilisation, was written by Derrick Jensen , and came in two separate parts - the second I have not read yet - that essentially suggested a "Post Civilisation" world in which us miserable Sapiens will have to consider a complete revolutionary style takedown of our out-of-control system of rampant neoliberal capitalism, and bring about a complete reset on humanity.

I liked the book, but found Jensen rambled for far too long, and allowed his point to become diluted with over compensation into the realm of bitterness. I would still recommend this as a read though, as his extremities do bare a brutal hammer blow to the reader that should effectively shake the brains foundations.

The second book, Beyond Civilisation, by an author named Daniel Quinn, was a shorter read and suggested humanity simple move away from its current endeavours naturally. No need to make a fuss, just put down what we're doing and look for a better way of living. At least, that's what I gathered from the books slightly messy construction. My review speaks in more detail on the goodreads page that I wrote it on, but despite it's shorter length, I found Beyond Civilisation an even more confusing read than Jensens Endeavour.

What both books are missing - in my humble opinion - is a real clear look at our current system, and what detailed suggestions could be made to replace it. This is where Paul Hawken comes in.

The Ecology Of Commerce differs from the above mentioned in one majorly fundamental way. It's premise is that we need to modify and amend our current capitalistic structure from within, and embrace a nature inspired system of restorative economics. One that mimics nature in lack of waste and constant renewal. Not only this, but business should be incentivised to work harder toward treating the environment more positively (you know, such as not killing hundreds / thousands of species a year through forest clearance and what not) through taxes on waste and pollution, rewards for cleaner energy application and working toward creating jobs through new eco-friendly industries.

There's a lot more to cover, and I have to admit, I lost Hawken at times in the more economic side of things (when he does decide to go down that route of explanation), but for the most part this text was very readable, and was the best attempt I've seen yet at a genuine effort to lay out a better way of humanity handling itself.

Now for the downside.

This books over twenty. years. old.

Has much changed? No, not much at all. We could talk about the many smaller details that have arisen in terms of the rise of Veganism, eco-friendly companies and environmental awareness...

...or we could focus on the fact major corporations are more powerful than ever, and are still continuing to destroy our planet through war, resource consumption and greed.

SO many blaring alarm bells are laid out in this book that I had to remind myself that they were being delivered to the reader in 1993. A truly worrying analysis.

It would be best if you read this book. It's really quite important now more than ever. I'll leave you with a segment of the book that stood out to me:

"...Corporations are creating a second world, an environment of deadening commercial strip centers leading in and out of our towns and cities, garbage trains loaded with trash and toxins, and Bhopals where 200,000 people are sick or dead or dying. It is a world where fewer and fewer people benefit from the grosser and more swollen acts of commerce, a world in which the small things, the seemingly inconsequential forms of life, are extirpated with disdain, but to our ultimate peril..."
Profile Image for Mark Jones.
107 reviews2 followers
January 7, 2016
In this book, Mr. Hawken sets out to - as it says on the cover - demonstrate how business can save the world, and indeed, should. In order to accomplish this, he establishes a clear twelve-chapter plan in which he discusses the problems that we face, the nature of commerce and large businesses, and potential solutions, finally concluding in the magnificent crescendo that is the final chapter. This is a powerful, evocative book, engendering (and in my case, reinforcing) dark, cynical thoughts about the large corporations to which we wilfully assign so much power. It is precisely because of this that he argues they have a duty to recognise and account for what they have and continue to do; it is foolish to deny that they are the world's most powerful institutions, but their impunity must now end.

In order to accomplish this, he proposes a 'restorative economy', in which the more damaging products are priced as they should be - to encompass (i.e. internalise) their costs to the environment as opposed to our present situation in which battery eggs are priced less than free range, and organic tomatoes are pricier than their pesticide-laced competitors. Herein lies a common misconception (which I held until reading this book) - that cost and price are the same thing. This is not the case. 'Price' refers to what we - the consumer - pay for the final end product. 'Cost', however, refers to what damage is incurred in the creation, use and disposal of this product. Is the terrible and irreversible cost of utter annihilation of our ancient woodlands reflected in the price of cheap clear-cut timber? No, it is not. In buying products indiscriminately, in making un-informed decisions, we are endorsing the terrible behaviour in which our businesses engage - as he states - the till is the polling station of our world, and to willingly purchase battery eggs marks you as uninformed, or a wicked, worthless piece of shit.

Through the central section of his work, Hawken gives some important lessons regarding the nature of economics and this commerce-dominated world which we have wrought, demonstrating the astonishing accomplishment that businesses truly are, being the most efficient form of human endeavour ever conceived, however terribly flawed they may be. He demonstrates that the instinct to engage in commerce is just as intrinsic to our nature as is the desire to protect and nurture. Corporations are incapable of engaging in the latter, not because they are specifically wrought as institutionalised evil (though this is what they sometimes become), but because their design is intended to generate a single outcome: profits. In such an environment, a large business cannot be expected to take into consideration externalities such as environmental damage, because such things are simply irrelevant to their stated goals. Businesses are creatures of the marketplace, created and fed by its fluctuations and demands. If customers demand the cheapest possible product, a business is required to pursue whatever path is necessary to achieve this. Even if it is environmental mutilation. If, however, the market demands ethically-sourced eggs, then business shall provide.

The problem, then, is not that business must be annihilated for us to continue, but that business must be fundamentally reorganised in order for us to continue. This entails us, the human beings of the world, thus far driven into a silent serfdom, taking command of the marketplace and the world of business through the instrument of government, and making just a few fundamental changes. The most significant of these is that we must ensure that customers pay the full cost of the products that they buy, which means environmental damage is incorporated into what we pay, thus giving business the incentive to reduce the damage that they cause in order to reduce costs - and thus, prices. The end result is that the least-destructive product will always cost - and be priced - the least - a profound contrast with our present situation.

Herein lies the core of Hawkin's philosophy - that we must not try to change our very nature, but that we must employ it in better ways. My feelings regarding large corporations when I started this book were that they must be utterly annihilated in order for humanity to restore the world that has created it. My belief was that corporations are intrinsically wicked, destructive entities, and the people who engage in their management and propagation are nothing more than despicable criminals. Paul Hawken has succeeded in showing that business is just as necessary to our lives as government, and we must understand the natures of both as well as we understand our own proclivities in order to create the utopian world of a restorative economy, which is not the far-off fantasy which marketing groups, executives and corporate lawyers would like you to think.
Profile Image for Matt Slaven.
4 reviews1 follower
June 29, 2018
An informative and well written analysis of capitalism and its future. It makes you realize the backward relationship our society has with our planet, our only source of resources. Instead of merely sounding the alarm, he also presents policy solutions that make so much sense I’m wishing they were in place already.
Profile Image for Amanda.
86 reviews8 followers
November 27, 2007
Paul Hawken states:

If capitalism has one pervasive untruth, it is the delusion that business is an open, linear system: that through resource extraction and technology, growth is always possible, given sufficient capital and will (p. 32).

If this book has one main purpose, it is to imagine and describe the ways business can act that are restorative to society and the environment. Restoration is not a business term. But then, neither is degradation (p. 58).

Mr. Hawken not only allows me to imagine the ways that business can act, but he has inspired me to become engaged in the process and to pursue a new career path: design. Why "manage" existing systems when they are broken? Let's create new ones that work. The Ecology of Commerce opened up a new way of thinking that was unavailable to me in my recently completed public health training; training that relied on learning about existing practices and partial solutions; examples include, current regulation (non)practices presented in the context environmental "health" sciences coursework, and the limits of community organizing as presented in books like "No Safe Place" (Patterson, 1998).

Mr. Hawken continues:

To restore is to make something well again. It is mending the world. People have to believe there will be a future in order to look forward. To live in that future, we require a design. To pay the bills from the past, we need a means. To act we need a way to serve. For those who say that times are tough, that we can ill afford sweeping changes because the existing system is already broke or hobbled, consider that the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. spent over $10 trillon on the Cold War, enough money to replace the entire infrastructure of the world, every school, every hospital, every roadway, every building, and farm. In other words, we bought and sold the whole world in order to defeat a political movement. To now assert that we don't have resources to build a restorative economy is ironic, since the threats that we face today are actually happening, whereas the threats of the post-war nuclear stand-off were about the possibility of destruction (p. 58). [I wonder what Mr. Hawken would say about our current war in Iraq?]

In my next professional endeavor I hope to marry restorative social and business practices and I thank Mr. Hawken for lighting the way.
Profile Image for Chaitanya Sethi.
307 reviews68 followers
August 13, 2020
What a brilliant book! Certainly one of my Top 10 reads of the year.

'The Ecology of Commerce' talks about the pressing need for business to answer to ecological sustainability. With evidence of current business practices harming people, environment, animals, and nature, it is no longer acceptable to deny responsibility. As much as they would like us to believe that if we recycle at home and buy paper cups instead of plastic cans we can control it, the fact is, without business intervention, this problem is not going to be solved.

Paul highlights how the current democratic capitalist system is flawed - it came out of industrialization at a time when population was low enough that environmental concerns were not on anyone's mind & natural resources seemed abundant. However, that is not the case now. The way free markets operate, they emphasize low prices but do not internalize environmental costs. The incentives encourage businesses to exploit the environment. Consumers are not made aware of the supply chain of the products they purchase. The growth story sold to the world is that of large businesses leading countries out of poverty. Ecology is seen as disruptive and a barrier to free trade and environmentalists are seen as hysterical critics. It doesn't have to be that way.

Although it was written in 1993, the ideas still hold merit. What I loved most about it was the clear, rational tone with which it was written. It did not paint anyone out as a villain but highlighted how we can all collaborate to deal with this problem. Paul's three suggestions - to redesign supply chains and product cycles on 'waste-equals-food', gradually switch from fossil fuels to alternative sources, and a feedback and accountability mechanism valuing restoration, are all excellent recommendations, made sounder by the fact that he gives examples of all of them being presently used as successful methods of running businesses, as seen in the world.

I can't believe this book isn't more popular. I annotated it to the extent of a textbook. I would encourage anyone with an interest in business and/or sustainability to pick it up. It's a slow read but it has a valuable pay-off.
Profile Image for Yaru Lin.
109 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2018
This book formalizes those nagging little voices in the back of our heads, that "the cash register is the daily voting booth in democratic capitalism", and that one of the greatest flaws of the modern marketplace is how efficiently it has externalized the cost and losses of destroying the earth to taxpayers, away from corporate profits.

Will we ever be able to remove the incentives to continue manufacturing waste as well as the conflict between being "economic" and being "sustainable"? Can we move on to biodegradable consumer products without antagonizing minority and lower-income groups by forcing them to make sacrifices in lifestyle and income? Can we create a "cyclical, restorative economy" in which designers account for the future utility of a product and avoidance of waste from its inception?

Not much has changed since the original publication of this book in 1993. It will take collective grass root up efforts to ensure that the next 15 years are different.

Profile Image for Gerald Prokop.
15 reviews2 followers
December 7, 2011
The fact that this book was written in 1992 and it's still not outdated secures my hopelessness for humanity. If it is possible to reconcile capitalism with ecology, this book offers a lot of insightful and well-reasoned ways to do it. I really appreciated how Hawken thinks within the languages of business and economics to describe ecological problems and propose solutions to the crisis our planet is in. My fear is that there is a built-in barrier at the very core of business, capital and economics--in which case bigger, tougher questions need to be asked. Then again, with so much at stake, doing nothing is the worst option. This book successfully shows that there are many options.

The thing that stuck the most with me was the concept of externalizing costs. A main point of Hawken's is that companies should be responsible for the real costs of their activities. For instance, a company that decimates an area, ruining it for future generations (for business use or otherwise) they are handing those costs down to others while their profits remain unaffected. Businesses have no incentive to protect ecology or long-term sustainability since it is of no cost to them.

While this is a good way to think about the relationship between ecology and business, the inherently interdependent nature of ecology leaves a lot of questions that are too big to wrap your mind around. How much should it cost to dump a chemical down the drain when we have no idea what the effect might be to complex ecosystems across unknowable spans of time and space? At the same time, if our species is smart enough to do the amount of damage we have in mere thousands of years, aren't we smart enough to do better?
Profile Image for Tabs.
41 reviews
July 27, 2020
Pretty good. I got really excited around page 15 when the core idea of the book was put forward the first time: structure the economy in a way that is inherently restorative of the environment and the resources we use to do business. This is a novel idea now, let alone when it was originally written in 1993. Unlike many environmentalists I've heard from (not loads I'll admit), Hawken actually encourages some kind of a synergy between ecology and business. He's relatively optimistic about innovation, technology and "ecopreneurs".

In terms of the book itself, given how clued up everyone is on the climate crisis, there's simply too many pages on how much destruction laissez-faire capitalism can and has caused. There are also no headings but the title of each chapter. This doesn't help to seperate and digest the different arguments being made.

Bottom line, I think the core concept is still applicable today but a book summary would do.
Profile Image for Lianda Ludwig.
69 reviews6 followers
March 22, 2008
Here's a short synopsis of a very meaty book:

This was probably the most influential books that informed my basic understanding of what is wrong with the way we do business with capitalism. Hawken draws a comparison between the natural world: where everything that dies become food for something smaller; and the way of business, where materials are created in a linear fashion and end up clogging our landfills. This book is real eye opener - but a blueprint for why organic food SHOULD cost less than pesticide laced foods. He also goes into social implications of bad business practices. Well written and researched. Paul Hawken is a visionary. I have real respect for this man, and have seen him on the stage with the Dalai Lama. I have purchased multiple copies of this book in the past and given it as a gift. A MUST read!
35 reviews
January 16, 2021
The foundational principles for a new future in which our species development restore our ecosystems. Paul Hawken is, without a doubt, one of the most important thinkers of our times. The ideas proposed in this book are not an option but a necessity.

Please, please, please... read now!
112 reviews1 follower
November 28, 2012
It's a sad comment on our society that twenty years later Hawkin's dreams have not come to fruition and this book is not hopelessly outdated. Written shortly after my birth this book describes technology which existed at the time and still sounds incredibly futuristic to me. He describes ways to use all industrial byproducts as fresh materials for other industries and explains why in any case where this isn't possible we must find an alternative. Throwing away trash, indeed the entire concept of trash, is suicidal. We are using up our dear planet when we should - and profitably could! - be building him up.

Much like a would be dieter our corporations are choosing short term profits over long term sustainable gain. I'm afraid telling them it's for their own good will not work. They would love to sell us gas masks after they pollute the air past breathability. It's up to us, the small business owners, to design our businesses in sustainable fashions and to educate all of our friends and customers about the human cost of cheaper chocolates and cottons. It's up to all of us, as inhabitants of this Earth to write a dozen letters, to buy sustainably made and locally grown. I personally intend to study electrical engineering so that I can help find new ways to make things people need. Ways that are totally safe for people and the planet.
Profile Image for The Capital Institute.
25 reviews8 followers
August 3, 2011
Paul Hawken, co-founder of Smith & Hawken, is an active environmentalist, entrepreneur and writer. In The Ecology of Commerce, Hawken proposes that businesses in the developed world reduce their consumption of energy and resources by 80 percent in the next 50 years. Hawken also says that business goals should include criteria such as whether or not the work is “aesthetically pleasing” or whether the employees are enjoying their work time. Hawken includes large corporations and small business in his proposal. The culture of business being promoted in this book is one in which the environment is also allowed to flourish and grow.
Reviewers suggest that while “Wall Street may not be ready” for what is a “provocative” summary of ideas, the book makes compelling arguments and introduces fresh ideas. Hawken’s rhetoric sounds overly pessimistic at times, according to reviews by Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal, and some of his suggestions assume harsher standards, that make it more difficult to “go green.” However that is what these times call for and physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra called the book the first “extensive, truly ecological analysis of business,” and an “essential” read.
13 reviews3 followers
April 1, 2009
An outstanding book that is still very relevant today. Unfortunately, as in it's been 15 years and we're more or less in the same place ecologically. It was written in 1993-1994 after/during (I'm not sure exactly) the last big recession. So how about that, people need jobs and there's a chance for environmentally-sound ones that also will be economically sound. It's always about choices and making them with actual knowledge of the real costs.

The problem is, then-current and now-current business still have the same philosopy - make money at all costs. Then, society (the taxpayers as well as the non-taxpayers) end up bearing the brunt of the REAL costs to society and the environment.

Hawkin lays out a semi-theoretical framework for ecologically restorative businesses that at the time had a few examples in the real world. His call is for ALL businesses to follow that framework where the money is made through restoring the environment and through that society, respectful work and being true to our true natures, rather than destroying them because we haven't calculated what modern business and products are really costing us.
Profile Image for Mike.
80 reviews1 follower
December 8, 2012
The beauty of this book is that I'm reading it towards the close of 2012 -- two decades after its original publishing -- and it's still relevant. That's also the sadness: the issues that Hawken describes are still issues today. In twenty years, our society still has not brought into symbiosis the divergent needs of ecology and commerce. Hawken's proposed solutions, along the lines of replacing negative economic incentives (taxes on income, profit, savings) with Pigouvian taxes and other sustainability fees, seem both mathematically and politically plausible. That is, of course, if you ignore the popular mores of our society; it's much easier to capture the average American's attention with an NFL game or an episode of Jersey Shore than with the idealized concept of an America with high petrol costs but no income tax.

I only give it 3/5 because, as a contemporary read, I think readers can do better. If this were 1995, it would get a 5! Check out Charles Eisenstein's "Sacred Economics" -- the prose and proposed solutions are better, if it's overall a bit New Age-y. For those more interested in the econ side, read Daly & Cobb's "For the Common Good".
Profile Image for Charles.
9 reviews
February 4, 2011
I read the 2010 revised edition. This is a staple of the environmental movement and a must read for those interested in climate change and environmental issues (who isn't?). A lot of it will be a review for those familiar with climate change issues, but I found it more than worthwhile because Hawken has such a compelling voice and is an eloquent writer. Hawken envisions a world where being "sustainable" is as easy as falling off a log. Our government, societal and economic systems are designed to add value, rather than take it away. Hawken reviews some basic tenants of ecological economics, including green taxes such as carbon taxes that are revenue neutral because they are offset by reductions in other taxes like income taxes (the principle of tax what we don't want (carbon, pollution) and don't tax what we do want (work, income, etc). Hawken's vision is compelling in that it is feasible - we have the tools to pull it off - however, it will take creative and innovative methods of restructuring our economy and society that will seem radical to most of America.
Profile Image for Julian Sauma.
1 review1 follower
December 11, 2015
I read this long, long ago, when I was still a green youth in high school. I didn't know much about the world back then, but I knew things were not all right. This book clarified a lot for me and set me on an eco-minded path that I've never really deviated from. I remember reading this in the break room of my very first horrible wage job, locked in rapture, filled with hope; it's only a matter of time, I thought, until the lessons imparted here spread throughout the society, and the world. I was very wrong on that count, but the hope is still there, somewhere, and the ideas remain cogent.

The basic premise is that we don't have to completely abandon everything we've built, that we can reorganize our society, our manufacturing processes, our corporate practices, in ways that are beneficial for all and sustainable to the biosphere. This is well within our grasp, materially speaking. What we require is the will to act.

Is it going to happen? Who knows. Probably not, but my fingers are crossed.
January 4, 2011
One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.

The Ecology of Commerce, written in an easy-to-read style with plenty of facts and examples, asks the basic question: Can we create profitable, expandable companies that do not destroy, directly or indirectly, the world around them?

Hawken is a firm believer in market principles, but argues that our current system is too skewed towards private-sector interests in terms of taxation, division of power and money, and access to power and money. This creates inequality for individuals as income disparity increases, but also within the business community, where small business are at the mercy of the power of large businesses.
Profile Image for Kris.
6 reviews
February 15, 2009
The ideas in this book seem like common sense, yet the government, businesses, and consumers continue to ignore these ideas and give in to greed and materialism rather than doing what's right for the world. The true cost of products (that includes the resulting damage done to people and the environment) should be reflected in the price consumers pay and the taxes the businesses pay. It's hopeful that the knowledge and technology exists to enable businesses to operate in socially and environmentally beneficial ways, but tragic that the economy is not structured to push businesses to do so. This book is optimistic that the economy can be transformed to work for the well-being of all living things and gives some examples of how this can be done.
Profile Image for Taryn.
29 reviews
October 8, 2009
Although this book was written in the early 1990s, many of the ideas that he addresses are still applicable in today's society. Hawken is incredibly smart and addresses many of the problems in today's capitalist society that are degrading the environment. He also discusses many ways in which we could lessen our huge impact on the environment, which basically focus on corporations (and not citizen taxpayer dollars)being responsible for cleaning up their own environmental mess. Inspiring, yet since it was written in 1993 and not much change has been made, it has obviously not inspired enough people!
This book is somewhat tough to get through, as Hawken's sentence structure is fairly complex. It is slow and intense reading, but a good read if you are interested in environmental issues.
Profile Image for Max Potthoff.
75 reviews9 followers
September 10, 2016
Hawken provides a more than compelling argument against the destructive "business as usual" culture that we participate in, and calls for an overhaul of value and means of measuring "efficiency" in the economy. I don't know whether it was Hawken that coined the term or not, but all of his anecdotes and facts make the case for an imperative in practicing "restorative economics." More than two decades past its original publication, unfortunately, not much has changed. This, from the vantage point of 2014, with even more evidence that our notions of democracy and participation are skewed to favor large, multinational corporations. Good read for anybody interested in sustainability (which really, as Hawken argues, is everyone).
Profile Image for Jamie.
173 reviews4 followers
Shelved as 'books-i-couldn-t-finish'
December 21, 2012
Ugh. I didn't get very far into this book. It falls under the Kunstler "Long Emergency" model where the author has only one point to make, but since being concise in making that point wouldn't result in a full length book, the author has to keep hammering the same point over and over again until it's at least 150 pages and can therefore make him some money. As a result, the book is preachy and annoying at best, and written for the dumbest among us at worst. These books annoy me because they make democrats, liberals, conservationists, environmentalists, etc out to be preachy and self-righteous, which does a disservice to us all.
Profile Image for Sonali.
4 reviews1 follower
September 21, 2020
I thoroughly appreciate Paul Hawken for being one of few environmentalists to recognize that economics and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive nor should they be separated if we want to effect real change. That being said, the economic argument is a big simplistic and repetitive; I would've liked to see more ideas about what we need to do to achieve the ecological commerce system he advocates, i.e. going more in-depth on how to prompt innovation. At the end of the day, you could learn most of this by reading am environmental economics textbook, but this is much more fun of a read.
Profile Image for Bas.
226 reviews2 followers
August 19, 2014
Instead of asking "how to save the environment", the book asks "how to save business". Interesting concept. The author suggests:
1) Eliminate industrial waste and trend to a cyclical as opposed to linear economy;
2) Change from carbon to solar (and its derivatives) energy
3) Internalise negative externalities (eg via the imposition of Pigouvian taxes) and change tax systems to remove incentives for cost externalisation and improve incentives for sustainable industry.
Profile Image for Curt Chaffin.
10 reviews
May 23, 2019
The book has been a classic in environmental policy and environmentalism for many years; it continues to stay relevant with recent proposed legislation attempting to adopt many of its recommendations.

Hawken does a wonderful job interspersing data and figures, economic theory, and thought-provoking anecdotes. His survey of environmental degradation--including climate change, water pollution, and waste storage--is a good starter for folks newer to environmentalism or in need of a refresher. The most compelling parts of the book are his discussions of "traditional" businesses and market places that are rewarded for externalizing costs and equating efficiency to ecological harm. A major topic is the concept of a green tax (or Pigouvian tax). Hawken connects policy solutions--the most notable being green taxes and incentive devices--with the previously discussed market failures.

Overall, the book was revolutionary for introducing the concept of restorative businesses and a restorative economy--rather than harmful ones. That principle, along with the accompanying policy recommendations, have long been "polarizing" and "controversial." With that being said, the book becomes less and less radical as the years go on. What was once a progressive pipe dream is now a deeply supported approach to environmental policy; it is fair to say that much of that progress is attributable to Hawken and EoC.
9 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2020
Though some of the technological and lifestyle reference are of course dated today, Hawken’s overarching message and analysis are more relevant than ever. Strong reminder than the blind race toward consumption, extractive production and accumulation of wealth are ultimately degrading our culture, natural “resources” and habitat for all who share this planet with us.

Particularly prescient at this crossroads we face with the pandemic, racial tensions, and the breakdown of the political, regulatory and judicial processes that are meant to keep everything in “balance.”

The “unmasking” of America shows the reality that our economic system is driving wealth into the hands of the few and causing suffering for many people, creatures and ecosystems. Hawken shows a nice blueprint for how to turn things around, lets hope we seize the moment!
March 8, 2017
This book provide a broad view on what commerce means for the current economy and how it is over consuming Earth's resources in a much higher speed than the Planet can regenerate itself. The author gives clear examples from several industries that focuses only on exploring the resources to make more money, regardless of the impact its business have on the balance of the environment.
However, it is not only alarming information, which would make it a good read already. It has several ideas on how the companies and government can act to change people's mindset on consumption and to reverse the degradation we promoted so far.
I am happy that i could find it and improve my consciousness about the issue. But sad that it took too long.
Profile Image for Julia.
42 reviews1 follower
December 15, 2020
The ideas presented in this book for the future of commerce are simultaneously so radical that its difficult to imagine a world (a US in particular) where these would be adopted, and yet they are sensible and honestly seem like common sense.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was having a better understanding of what could be done to improve the climate situation and preserve “the economy.” It taught me the language I was missing to respond to concerns that environmental regulations are damaging to commerce.

I highly recommend this for anyone who has concerns about climate change, the economy and how they relate.
Profile Image for Abhishek Choudhary.
59 reviews4 followers
December 17, 2021
Despite seeming repetitive at some places, esp. first few chapters, this book has some really unique ideas to fundamentally change how businesses operate. We are now in ever greater need to change our ways if life on earth has to continue, humans and any other species. But at the end of the day, we all know nothing is going to happen. The proposals, though realistic and mostly practical, are never going to be implemented (or will be when it's too late), because greed is the king and short term benefits trumps all. Case in point, this book has barely 2k reviews, and did not achieve the fame it so clearly deserves.
Profile Image for Disparlure.
26 reviews
September 29, 2014
Too often I read environmentalist literature which simply catalogs the various problems which plague modern society and offers no alternate suggestion. The authors describe in detail everything that is wrong, being done wrong, and will have a catastrophic result in our near and distant future. These books, rather than being about environmental solutions are only about environmental problems. Their purpose seems more to instill fear and resignation than to point to possible solutions. The first chapters of The Ecology of Commerce led me to fear it belonged to that class of books. However unlike those books, solutions are provided in the later chapters that mitigate the doom found earlier in the book. After establishing the ills of our current economic system run amok, Hawken proposes fairly reasonable solutions to counteract current processes.

From the beginning, Hawken seems prone to a style of writing that focuses on creating series of extremely quotable one-liners with sufficient connective prose to allow some ease of reading. This style is perhaps an adaptation to the current media landscape, with its focus on terse, easily-repeatable sound-bites, however it prevents the author from dealing too deeply with any topic. Language aside, Hawken's assessment is quite correct, and he provides copious notes and supporting references.

The book turned a corner for me when I reached chapter 5. Rather than simply listing problems, Hawken began actually proposing some workable solutions including some novel takes on the concept of green taxes as well as the creation of utilities to manage common resources. Still, I found some of his concepts difficult to accept. In chapter 7 Hawken describes the concept of “Guardian” and “Commercial” behaviors (Jacobs, Jane, 1993). Hawken proposes that governments should be limited to acting as protectors of the common good and leave all commercial activity, and its associated innovation, to business. I would agree with this argument only partially. The presence of commercial activities within the government does indeed corrupt its purpose and prevent it from fulfilling its “guardian” role. However I do not feel that the corresponding argument is true of business. Rather I believe that businesses, in addition to their consumer role, must take on some of the guardian role as well. That business has typically failed in guardianship roles thus far is more a result of poorly structured businesses not truly recognizing what is in their best interest over the long term. It is not an intrinsic characteristic of business in general. As a counterexample to Hawken's argument I would offer the sites that we are scheduled to visit during this course. These organizations seem to have succeeded in both the “guardian” and “commercial” roles.

Much of the argument put forth in this book, particularly those put forth in chapter 7 When an Ethic is not an Ethic, suggest the need for new ethics rather than simply new controls on business. In its role as protector government can certainly legislate new controls to allow markets to operate more fairly, but can they go so far as to develop a new ethic within business? Hawken writes, “Companies must re-envision and [re-imagine] themselves as cyclical corporations whose products either literally disappear into harmless components or are so specific and targeted to a specific function that there is no spillover effect”. This does not seem like something that can be legislated. Green taxes can be instituted to bring prices in line with their actual cost, but unless the overall way of doing business is changed and monetary profit remains central, it will only be a matter of time until someone discovers a way to exploit the new system and circumvent government controls. Although Hawken's recommendations provide a broad menu of controls from which a protective government could select, there seems to be little discussion about changing how we think about money and material goods. It leads me to question whether any of these measures are merely treating symptoms or the actual disease.

One idea I found particularly fascinating was intelligent-products/products-of-service. It is suggested that companies be responsible for the durable goods that they produce throughout the lifetime of the product. A consumer would purchase the device, use it for a period, and then return it to an “un-shopping” center. There the original manufacturer would be responsible for recovering the materials from the device and re-using them. I imagine that industrial and consumer product design would need to change dramatically if producers were required to account not only for how a product would be used, but how it would be disassembled and re-used. Certainly this would affect the current design-trends in consumer electronics. Currently, new devices are being made which are completely non-serviceable. Their batteries cannot even be removed and replaced when they reach their end of life. Would this design still make sense if the companies themselves had to disassemble and re-use the components themselves? Would designed obsolescence still be a principle practiced by the major device manufacturers?

Overall, while I found the bombastic language of the first several chapters frustrating. I found the problems of the current economy well stated and many novel solutions presented. While I believe that some of Hawken's solutions do not go far enough toward addressing the root issues of the economy, they are nevertheless a very good start.

April 2, 2021
Interesting read about the effects of our current economy on ecological systems. I really enjoyed Paul’s perspective on the possibilities of reimagining a different economy. His philosophy made me rethink current economic practices; a generation where we eliminate waste from all products/services, change the economy from a carbon based economy to using natural systems to fuel our resources/energy, and focusing on local production to strengthen our restorative behaviours.
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