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The Ecology of Commerce

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  2,139 ratings  ·  148 reviews
A visionary new program that businesses can follow to help restore the planet.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 3rd 1994 by HarperBusiness (first published 1993)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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 ·  2,139 ratings  ·  148 reviews

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Kaelan Ratcliffe ▪ كايِلان راتكِليف
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 neolibe
Mark Jones
Aug 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 abo ...more
Matt Slaven
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Chaitanya Sethi
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
Yaru Lin
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 mo
Gerald Prokop
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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 econom ...more
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 innovat ...more
Lianda Ludwig
Mar 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Joshua Frank
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 tha
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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!
Nov 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
The Capital Institute
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 ...more
Ed Arnold-berkovits
Apr 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 07, 2012 rated it liked it
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 sustaina ...more
Feb 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 t ...more
Julian Sauma
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership
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 i
Jan 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 environmenta ...more
Aug 21, 2009 rated it liked it
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 sinc ...more
Max Potthoff
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jul 31, 2012 marked it as books-i-couldn-t-finish
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 ...more
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was ok
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 mo ...more
May 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Curt Chaffin
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 mo
Elijah Garrison
Jul 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Fernando Mortara
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 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
Sep 01, 2014 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Zach Wood-Seems
Apr 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
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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Paul Hawken is the co-founder of several businesses, and lives in Sausalito, California.

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  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
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“if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.” 2 likes
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