M A R C H 2 0 0 5
I dont have a birthdate for Paul Hawken, but Im writing about him because he is at the center of the sustainable small business movement. This is an urgent need nowcombining business and sustainability. Paul is both a teacher and an example of what is possible. His books are considered classics. The most recent book is Natural Capitalism, written with Amory Lovins, another practical visionary.
Ive been hearing about Paul for perhaps 30 years, through his lectures, books, businesses, and other environmental associations. For me he has had this aura of a practical futurista businessman who cares about the earth and is driven to serve as an example of better possibilities of harmoniously combining living with sound ecological principles. Ive greatly appreciated his contributions over the years.
He has, in fact, written many books, published in 50 countries and 27 languages. His work has transformed the consciousness of business cultures. He is a very industrious person, and his activities would fill many paragraphs, including advising businesses, nations, and colleges, as well as founding many ecological companies. He is currently writing a book entitled We Interrupt this Empire, about the growing worldwide movement resisting neoliberal economic policies and corporatization of the commons.
A website of quotes has this selection from Paul, "As a small business person, you have no greater leverage than the truth." He is our kind of guy!
Although I have never met him, Paul Hawken lives in my community. I was very gratified to read an interview of him, by Keith Thompson, in our local progressive weekly (which I have been reading and enjoying for 45 years! And for which feisty Barbara Boxer, now Senator, was once a star reporter), the Pacific Sun, published in Mill Valley, CA. The January 26-February 1 issue featured Paul.
Paul had two formative experiences early in life which threw him into the twin ideas of social justice, and of the effects of diet on health. In his 20s he educated himself on many thingshealth, farming, commerce, government, energy systems. And then he started an ecological business. He was committed to making real changes in the real world of people, places, and relationships.
In 1966 Paul started one of the first natural food businesses in the U.S. which relied solely on sustainable agriculture. This was Erewhon Trading Company in Boston. Smith and Hawken, the well-known garden retailer, is another of Pauls early businesses. (They are located in Mill Valley, right next to the Pacific Sun officeswe still have small towns here.)
In his food store experience, Paul investigated the sources of all his food, and found that many food products called "natural" were not really natural. To enhance transparency, on all their products they featured the name of the farmer, the name of the farm, the name of the agricultural practices used, and the type of soil. Later they devised the first organic certification in the United States, starting in Caifornia.
Paul learned, from his uncle whose olive business had gone bankrupt, that business has the power to destroy. But later he realized that it has the power to restore. "It can be of service to farmers, to the land, to consumers, or it can be something that takes advantage of the land, of the environment, the consumers. Generally speaking, in my experience, the bigger the company the less likely it is to serve humankind."
(Here is my aside. The major reason that companies merge, and become big, is to show an immediate "profit" to the shareholders. Yes, there are immediateperhaps not long-termsavings in moneybut the cost in peoples lives is horrendous. Greed, rather then the general welfare, becomes the driving motive.)
I love Pauls description of recently being asked to speak a group about sustainability. But, said one of the sponsors, there needed to be somebody to present the other side. Paul
"At first I was nonplussed, but then I got pretty excited about it. I would love to hear the other side. What is the business case for being the last generation on Earth? What is the business case for an economic system that tells us its cheaper to destroy the earth than to take care of it in real time? Whats the business case for double-glazing the planet with fuels from the Carboniferous period? I constantly marvel that we created an economic system that tells us it is cheaper to destroy the earth than take care of it in real time. Why do our deepest aspirations for goodness, inclusion, and generosity not cumulate into a peaceful and equitable society? We do things cumulatively that we wouldnt do as individuals."
Paul is not only a teacher, but a wise man, and his comments are valuable and insightful. For instance,
"Our grief over the loss of American lives on 9/ll is being manipulated to justify war. Our love of nature is being manipulated by corporations to continue their war on people and the environment.
"The people who are arguing vociferously against globalization are not protesting trade, but the corporatization of the commons. The very companies that today tout their environmental records are the ones who dominated the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and obstructed all meaningful resolutions pertaining to poverty, water, energy and climate change.
"The commons that are being corporatized include the human genome, seed, food, airwaves, media, and much more. (My note: water is another one, which is moving full bore ahead worldwide.)
"The commons includes stories, music, and culture as well. It includes place and self-determination and democracy. It includes the ability for people to decide what is and what isnt acceptable. It includes tradition."
Keith Thompson asks Paul to make his case that world opinion is shaping a broadly-based civil culture as a force for progressive change. Paul responds,
"There is another superpower on earth, different, bigger and more unique than anything we have ever seen. It flies under the radar of the media. (My note: all important movements do just that throughout history.) It is nonviolent and grassroots. It has no cluster bombs, armies, or helicopters. It has no central ideology. A male vertebrate is not in charge. This unnamed movement is the most diverse the world has ever seen. The very word movement is too small to describe it. No one started its world-view, no one is in charge of it, there is no orthodoxy. It is global, classless, unquenchable, and tireless. I think it is the worlds largest movement."
Paul goes on to talk about its composition and the issues which it addresses, and concludes, " This is a human rights movement, a democracy movement. It is the coming world." (Ed. Note: I agree.)
Paul says a great deal that is relevant in this interview. I will quote only a bit:
"If current events teach us anything, it is that we are in this together. We cannot say to one part of the world, 'We are sorry your end of the lifeboat is sinking.' A tribal leader in Nigeria said, 'If you dont share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you.'
"Theres a big sign somewhere in the heavens saying, 'You are brilliant. The earth is hiring.' The task before us is complex and extraordinary; increase the quality of life for all people while dramatically reducing the amount of resources employed. We are on the cusp of a discontinuity as vast and confusing and exciting as was the passage from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Revolution. In the next 50 years we must reduce by 90% what we take from the environment in industrialized nations, and produce a far better life for all.
"We must reimagine the relationship between the two most complex systems on earth, human society and living systems. This will not only improve our lives, but make available the resources needed for the majority world, the three billion who live on less than one or two dollars a day as well as the billions more who will join us. We are doing this, and the rate of innovation is breathtaking. At the same time we are saddled with corrupt political regimes that set very low expectations and consistently fail to meet them. And this is blocking progress everywhere in the world."
Well, there we have it, from someone very knowledgeable and very experienced in combining natural systems and human systems.
When told he was a dreamer, Paul said, "Somebody has got to dream in America. Dreams of a livable future are not coming from George Bush, Merrill Lynch,, or Dick Cheney. It is our right to dream. It is something we owe our childrens children. A dream is a gift to the future, and the future is begging us to imagine."
Turn to Crystals column for help with powerful dreaming.
Neptune now in Aquarius, and Uranus traveling through Pisces are each great for dreaming and re-imagining. Together they are Possibilities Unlimited. We can tap into their inspiration, as we hold the light high for a Better World!