Paul Hawken The Ecology Of Commerce Pdf

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About Paul Hawken The Ecology Of Commerce Pdf

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. 

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.

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.

About The Ecology of Commerce Author

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