Natural Capitalism

ISBN: 0316353000
ISBN 13: 9780316353007
By: Paul Hawken L. Hunter Lovins Amory B. Lovins

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Business Ecology Economics Environment Green Non Fiction Nonfiction Politics Sustainability To Read

About this book

This groundbreaking book reveals how today's global businesses can be both environmentally responsible and highly profitable.

Reader's Thoughts


I really want to give this book 5 stars because it is incredibly important. The vision it sets forth is revolutionary. I mean that in the personal sense, creating a change in the readers mind which effects their own consciousness as well as that of all. Critically important concept, to value people and the planet's natural resources for what they contribute to the web of life itself rather than just the abstract financial and physical capital they are currently valued as. I gave it four stars because, while it relates some truly amazing cases, at times it is not as concise as I would like. I would love to hear what others think about it too. I was particularly moved by the chapter on the Brazilian city Curitiba, at the very end. Amazing.

Rob Walter

I abandoned this book after a few chapters due to the fact that it didn't make much sense. Initially it promises to describe how, without any effort, the whole economy can - and in fact will - change to become sustainable. In fact, a sustainable economy is actually more efficient and more profitable than the one we have now, it promises.Already there is a significant problem with this promise. If it's more profitable, and we can put our faith in the market, why isn't it already happening? This is especially pertinent given that this book was written over ten years ago and none of the predictions I read have come to pass. The book says that it will explain how the market will provide all of these solutions but the two chapters that follow don't explain it at all. Instead they abandon economics altogether in favour of propagating half-truths about engineering and science that seem to contradict the thesis of the book.At that point I gave up.


Paints a pretty compelling picture of a possible future where capitalism and ecological stewardship are not only compatible but function symbiotically - the picture is compelling not just because it's nice to image there being a non-eschatological future, but because they use existing, real-world examples of systems and processes that need only be extended in order for that future to come about.The book is pretty personally important to me, enough that I can imagine bringing at least a part of the vision into reality as something I work at for the rest of my life.


I learned so much from this book that it is impossible to record in one review. To some extent I already knew or knew of many theories and approaches outlined in Natural Capitalism, however, finding it all in one coherent and interesting presentation was refreshing. It has clearly refreshed and renewed my desire to study further system engineering approaches to civic problems. More review details at:


I'm still in the middle of this one and although it's become a little dated (it was written in the mid 1990's), it's still a great way to help readers get the big picture of how capitalism needs to change in order to support sustainability efforts. I am a firm believer in capitalism as a way for us to get out of this mess - innovation and customer demand being two of its strong points. Some think it is too positive - utopian even - but I appreciate the positivity given the increasingly dire nature of the news about the planet's decline these days.


A generally uplifting book giving hope through economic principles in our capitalistic society to our most pressing environmental (climate change, solid waste, toxic waste) and energy (security, reliability, and cost) problems. Helps to break the opinion "barrier" that environmental quality must come at a price to a reduced quality of life and cost to our economy. Instead, the premise of the book offers bridges what is considered high quality environmental care from core ecological principles with the principles of efficiency and profit that keep today's market system humming.Has a slight tendency to be a little too "economic" and loses some relavancy given the political/cultural/social realities that also encompass the systems that drive our positive and negative impacts on our environment.

Amaury Sautour

If you are already advanced in the process of looking for information about what's going on with the environment and what kind of solutions can and/or should be put in place - or should I say: if you already are a more open-minded, wiser and better person who cares about the outside world? - there is no need to read this book. It will likely state the obvious to you. Rather, with some of its passages demonstrating how good can be accomplished in the world, I wish there were an english version of 80 Hommes pour changer le monde Entreprendre pour la planète (lit. 80 men to change the world), a French book that presents amazing initiatives that help, little at a time, to make things better, around the world. On the other hand, if you are at the beginning of the path that leads to environmental knowledge (what's going on, what are the solutions, who is involved, and so on), then you should read this book. It will give you a clean picture of the situation, as of 1999, and incentives to read further on the subjects, or even better to start introspective reflexion about your actions as a human being part of an ecosystem and their consequences.I'd then recommend Ray Anderson's Mid-Course Correction Toward a Sustainable Enterprise The Interface Model as a more hands-on application of the principles presented in the book.


Originally published in '99, I read this book 4 years ago, but had to reread it because of its unparalleled ability to provoke thought. This isn't just a book on economics or a book about saving the environment, this book represents the next evolution in economic thought. It posits that environmentalists and capitalists are not at odds in any way, in fact, they want the exact same things, namely to save resources and build a resilient (eco)system. I truly cannot say enough good things about this book; if you love money or the planet earth, then you owe it to future generations to read this book.


When I read Natural Capitalism I was quite enamored of it. However, since reading other material I have less enthusiasm for this book and the approach they generally describe (I've seen a documentary with the authors and read a number of news articles both by and about them). In order to work, many of their "solutions" require top down command and control economic framework which generally has a very poor record for using resources wisely. Additionally, many of their predictions and/or time lines for the viability of new environmentally friendly technology have been flat out wrong or way off. I suspect that this is because they, too often don't take into account all economic costs. So for example when describing a new way of making a much more environmentally friendly car, they only look at some of the factors involved in making it and have no idea how their end goals affect all the hundreds or thousands of related industries will be effected. In fact however, the only way all costs can be accounted for is in open markets where prices are not set or manipulated by government intervention - something the authors often fail to realize. To quote one of their obvious errors they state "Markets know everything about prices and nothing about costs." This makes no sense. Prices ARE costs! The price I set is the cost you pay - it all depends on the vantage point. So to translate their quote into the real world they're saying, "Markets know everything about prices and nothing about [other people's:] prices." Now doesn't that sound a bit weird?So while they're on the right track with the basic idea that waste is bad for business and bad for the environment (and bring up lots of fun examples to show how some companies have revolutionized their way of doing business) this fundamental lack of economic understanding really brings this book down in my view. Many economists and even journalists and active environmentalists have criticized their work for just this reason.

Michael Braithwaite

This book is decidedly dated in many ways. Written in 1998, Hawken tries his best to present viable options for a Utopian natural capitalist model. With all the doom and gloom surrounding corporate unwillingness to become environmentally sustainable, this book is definitely uplifting. Unfortunately, it's lacking statistics and other numbers that would make it seem like more than an environmentalist's pipe dream. Additionally, some of the ideas, such as the hydrogen fuel cell revolution, have since been pretty well debunked. I'm anxious to see how the rest of the book goes. There are a lot of really solid, attainable goals despite the almost naive optimism.


I am officially giving up on this book. I've had it checked out from the library for 6 weeks, and cannot bring myself to trudge through it anymore. Not that it's bad! But it does have a few strikes against it: a) It's heavy, which makes for a lousy commute; b) the print is tiny, which makes it seem insurmountable; c) I know next to nothing about economics or business, which means that much of that tiny print goes right over my head; and d) it was written 10 years ago, which means I have no idea how up-to-date any of the ideas/claims are. For example, the authors seem wild about the idea of hydrogen cell cars, but hasn't that largely been discredited by now? Their logic supporting it seems sound though, so I don't know what to think.It did have some intriguing ideas, but about halfway through I felt I had gotten the gist and didn't need to read any more. If you want to read about stuff like this, read Cradle to Cradle--it cites many of the same stories and people, is written with the common layperson in mind, and is much shorter (and printed on recyclable plastic).


Hawken's work enlightens the reader about the depth of obvious contemporary issues regarding industry and modern life vs. the environment while suggesting possible solutions based on studies and approaches already executed by industry leaders and visionaries throughout the world. The writing style and overall narrative of the book may be a little too technical and academic at times, since it goes into painstaking detail (from statistics to lengthy study references) of the environmental impact of certain practices (such as irrigation for mass agriculture and the production of aluminum cans for sodas) as well as the details of innovative environmentally-conscious practices. In the end, this is a work aimed to persuade people within their respective industries more than a reading intended for anyone interested in the environment.


The Lovins' from the Rocky Mountain Institute and Paul Hawken (author of The Ecology of Commerce) team up for a fantastic and hopeful read on how capitalism can be harnessed and directed to restore our planet and our communities. Far from a utopian vision of the future, the book teems with anecdotes and scalable solutions which are practical and require no further advance in technology. The Lovins' engineering and technical expertise coupled with what is undoubtedly Hawken's prose make for a great non-fiction read.


This book changed my life and set me on my current path, which I hope will be a career in corporate sustainability. Basically, this is a primer for the next industrial revolution which we are currently entering and seeks to change the paradigm which says sustainability and a good bottom line for countries/corporations are mutually exclusive. In fact, it is now emerging to be just the opposite. The Lovines and Hawkin were prophetic in their predictioins, as we are now seeing what they spelled out in their book.

Mason Wiebe

Written in 1999, this book maps out a plan for greatly increasing the efficiency and economic opportunities of our current capitalistic system, all while taking environmental harm, waste and degradation out of the picture. The authors argue that the knowledge and technology are there to achieve a waste-free, non-polluting, money and job generating society. This book is meticulously researched and written to appeal to more business minded people than myself, which is a good thing, as most environmental activism is usually preaching to the choir and lacking in economic ideology. All sectors of the economy, from transportation to industry to water to energy to construction to agriculture to government are discussed. Each sector is examined for inefficiencies and waste also ground-breaking revolutions are brought to light. Most are simple and just involve a different way of thinking. Although this is definitely not a light, fun read, I would still recommend it to those interested in efficiency, “green” issues or economics/business practices. It reads almost like a textbook, only more interesting and a bit more light-hearted at times. It is interesting to me to read it now with $4 gas prices, knowing that when it was written (’99), gas was about ¼ that and the technologies and changes mentioned were even profitable back then. It really makes me wonder what has happened that we have not moved forward as much as this book suggests we can (or could have).Look into it.“If a company knew that nothing that came into its factory could be thrown away, and that everything it produced would eventually return, how would it design its components and products? The question is more than a theoretical construct, because the Earth works under precisely these strictures.”

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