By Paul Hawken,
Amory Lovins, and
L. Hunter Lovins
Little, Brown & Co.
396 pp., $26.95
The notion of "natural capitalism," particularly if you take "natural" as pertaining to the environment, would seem to be an oxymoron. Whether it focuses on smokestacks, water pollution, or urban sprawl, the political and social fight pitting nature against economic growth seems to have gone on since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
But that has been changing in recent years as more and more companies and their executives have begun to look for ways to promote "sustainability" in their businesses.
"Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution" is both a call to arms and a revelation. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins not only show how today's industrialists and economists can change to work in harmony with the environment, they reveal how many of them already are doing so - and improving profitability in the process.
The authors' provocative opening question is this: "What if our economy were organized not around the lifeless abstractions of neoclassical economics and accountancy but around the biological realities of nature?"
The problem, as they see it, is that "natural capital" - resources, living systems, and ecosystem services (such as water purification by wetlands) - are not factored into the typical bottom line. Nowhere in the profit-and-loss sheets does it show that the world has lost one-fourth of its topsoil and a third of its forest cover in the past 50 years.
The authors argue that "while there may be no 'right' way to value a forest, a river, or a child, the wrong way is to give it no value at all." Easier to gauge, they add, are such things as the "nearly $200 billion a year in energy costs ... wasted because [Americans] do not employ the same efficiency practices as Japan in businesses and homes."
"Natural Capitalism" is filled with detailed suggestions about how environment-friendly efficiencies can be designed into industrial and marketing practices. One chapter dwells on "hypercars," ultralight hybrid-drive autos that are gas-sippers while being safe and high-performing.
Not only are such cars possible, the authors assert, they can be achieved with today's proven technologies. Likewise, buildings that are more comfortable and far more energy efficient can (and are) being built.
"The next business frontier is rethinking everything we consume: what it does, where it comes from, where it goes, and how we can keep on getting its service from a net flow of very nearly nothing at all - but ideas," write the authors of this challenging book.
This is radical stuff. But in an age when 6 billion people - likely to grow to 9 billion in a lifetime - are using up resources at accelerating rates, it's also the only way to grow an economy without depleting the natural capital on which it's based.
*Brad Knickerbocker writes for the Monitor from
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society