BOOK REVIEW: "Natural Capitalism" by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

Natural Capitalism throws out the business rulebook and introduces a new way of looking at the global economic system. Authors Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins propose that we are facing a new industrial revolution where commercial, environmental, and social interests intertwine and can be mutually beneficial. Their new model integrates the sustainable utilization of “natural capital,” such as renewable resources and ecosystem services, to create an improved economic system and a more harmonious planet. Where we have previously ignored the limitations that exist to resource extraction, Natural Capitalism provides guidelines for efficient and innovative use of our resources and technologies, and promotes a new mindset that holds the potential to bring multilateral prosperity.

Natural Capitalism is based on the four principles of resource productivity, redesigning industry based on biological models, the provision of services instead of goods, and reinvesting in natural capital. By using our resources more productively we can decrease resource depletion, reduce pollution, and create more jobs. We can base our industrial designs after models in nature such as closed-loop cycles, reusing materials to the point of virtually eliminating waste. A change from producing material goods to providing services could create a shift in how affluence is currently measured in possession of goods. Finally, emphasis should be placed on investing in the protection of natural capital to maintain the balance of our fragile eco-system. The book offers numerous case studies across different industries demonstrating how businesses that have already utilized these principles have achieved environmental and financial success.

Natural Capitalism provides a contemporary model for reexamining our current economic system and the opportunities that exist to make business and environmental sustainability work together. True, some of the book’s information is out-dated as the days of cheap oil no longer exist and many projects that had just gotten off the ground in 1999 have now become the norm. Nonetheless, the concepts and examples provided by Natural Capitalism are powerful for those in the business world who are considering going green but still need proof that those who embrace sustainability, gain a competitive advantage.

This book review comes from Ida Arabshahi, one of SSC’s 2008 summer interns.