Natural Capitalism - The Next Industrial Revolution

CC-by-sa & literature

Natural Capitalism - The Next Industrial Revolution

Paul Hawken, Amory B Lovins, L.Hunter Lovins
Earthscan, London, 1999
ISBN: 1853834610


"The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them."

Why I chose this book?

espite being lengthy, dense and heavily documented, Natural Capitalism is clearly organized, well written and thrusted with lively anecdotes that made it hard to put down. There are many interesting events and discussions which spring to light, but primary remains the concept of Natural Capitalism. It takes just a few key strokes to discern the meaning of the title, presto I'll do the same. In terms of Ecological Economics, natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital (manufactured means of production) to environmental goods and services. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future. For example, a stock of trees or fish provides a flow of new trees or fish, a flow which can be sustainable indefinetely. Paul Hawken (one of the three authors) just added -ism to this concept, contrary to the belief that his book is a doctrine of 21st century capitalism.
The idea of such a eutopian world was stimulating and thus became an obvious choice, not to forget the glorious Harvard Business Review attention it received!

I have divided the blog post into sections instead of the traditional summary. I want more and more people to read about Natural Capitalism. So to avoid tedious, huge blocks of text, I managed a concise, topic wise synopsis.

Which values did the authors have in mind?  

More brains but less money and less resources is the key mantra for whole of the book. The authors emphasize, time and again, that cautious consumption of resources, keeping in mind sustainable development, should be regularly excercised. The book tries to pave a path for the continuation of the industrial activities in an efficient and sustainable manner which is not only acceptable to the industries but also to the conventional environmentalists. "Reinventing The Wheels" portrays the same and suggestions on greener options for cars are made.
Truly Prudent.


The authors motivate the readers to strive for service and value. That is, instead of just selling goods one should deliver durables which are long lasting and upgradeable. It'd also make the manufacturer responsible for the waste instead of passing it down to the consumer. Green buildings, like the high-rise Amsterdam bank described by the authors, use 92% less energy and create greater worker  productivity and satisfaction by use of proper placement and orientation, passive heating and cooling principles, and full insulation.
Working for greater Goodness.


"The world consumes five times more paper now than in 1950”; we live in "a culture inwhich paper is universally available, priced at perhaps a penny a sheet and rarely paid for or thought about by its users." The authors vividly discuss the ignorance of mankind towards the resources that nature provides. These services that natural systems offer us account for trillions of dollarsannually but we get them for free. Satisfaction comes with wit which is widely discussed in  "Capital Gains".  
Beeming for Satisfaction.

And then there are a few other Ethify Values  which I can't explicitly comment on, but they are discussed in the book sparsely.

Paul Hawken's Four Principles on Natural Capitalism

These four principles always manage to catch the readers' attention. They have been hugely critiqued by some authors but this part remains to be the cynosure of the text:

1) Radical Resource Productivity which is the most talked about and is mos timportant principle of natural capitalism focuses on making more from less through better technologies. This idea also existed in the first industrial revolution but to a much smaller level.

2) Biomimicry is the second principle of the natural capitalism that focuses on designing systems around nature and that by learning from nature. Humans have historically learnt from nature and modeled the processes, products and services but there is still much to learn. Nature does not produce waste and waste of one becomes a commodity for the other. It works in closed loops and this is the second principle that Hawken believes if industries concentrate on can help bring the new industrial revolution.

3) Service and Flow Economy the third principle that means switching from selling goods to delivering a continuous flow of service and value. It focuses on avoiding and minimizing the sale of the product and in spite of it stresses on becoming a deliverer of a service with profound and long lasting effects.  It would give a boost to the leasing processes and introducing incentives which provide a safeguard to the product use.

4) The Fourth Principle of Natural Capitalism as given by Paul Hawken is “Investing in natural capital”. It would restore and enhance nature’s fecundity, boosting ecosystem ability to provide even more food, fiber and free ecological services and hence to enhance life for all beings.

Natural Capitalism comes as an eye opener to most readers. I appreciate the effort of the authors in keeping the book filled with images, bar graphs, comparisons and simple examples. Combining natural resources with finance makes the book simple yet informative. Water, climate and soil are the major concerns in the book and various related phenmenon like degradation and conservation through the use of technology (pros and cons of technology) are thoroughly discussed.

In my opinion

These aforementioned principles more or less make the reader imagine a mankind that should be ecologically responsible; obliging the nature and our future generations with greener and eutopian environment. This book focuses on a very broad spectrum of an Elysian world; where people across the globe, their governments and institutions are ready to take up responsibility and endeavour to strive for a balance. Though I find this practically impossible, because of lack of awareness amongst people who always are in want of more and more or governments who fight with each other in terms of nuclear powers et al, there is optimism and hope that through rigorous and zestful motivation at least a fraction of the mankind will realise the importance of Natural Capitalism and the essence it carries.

As Hawken says and I'd quote, 
"All is connected, no one thing can change by itself."

I sign off.

Prachi Mishra