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The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  1,934 ratings  ·  127 reviews
A visionary new program that businesses can follow to help restore the planet.
Paperback, 250 pages
Published December 28th 2002 by HarperBusiness (first published 1993)
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4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,934 ratings  ·  127 reviews

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Rebecca McNutt
The idea of a truly sustainable international business in every sense of the word is something I don't think we'll be seeing anytime soon, simply because it isn't profitable and makes no real sense (other than a PR scheme) for a large corporate business to be concerned with. That being said, this book is more important than ever before, and makes some very good points. The way I see it, there's no such thing as leaving no carbon footprint if you're a business or even a single consumer, but there ...more
Kaelan Ratcliffe▪Κάϊλαν Ράτκλιφ▪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 neolibera
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 ...more
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Disparlure Nagle
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
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
A book most people should read. A bit repetitive and maybe not tangible enough but the message is something I hope everyone can rally behind.
Po Émond
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Scary, but hopeful
Dec 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Don't remember details from it, but I remember it being important.
Yan Kai Kee
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
really good
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
still relevant 25 years after publication
Preston Kutney
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
"The Inestimable gift of a future"

The Ecology of Commerce is a sprawling, optimistic, and innovative work, that sows the seeds for a lot of the business sustainability ideas that have been popularized and adapted in recent years. It is almost 20 years old, but most of the ideas are still visionary, which says as much about the pace of progress as it does about Paul Hawken's intellect. 

The ideas presented for business as society fall into one of three buckets:
1. Obey the "waste equals food" princ
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Paul Hawken is the co-founder of several businesses, and lives in Sausalito, California.
“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.” 1 likes
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