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Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution,  by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins. Little Brown & Co., 1999

Reviewed by Patrick McVay

In the global economy we view human capital and natural resources differently than the last industrial revolution when people were scarce and natural resources appeared boundless.  Today, we face a different pattern: abundant people and labor-saving machines, but diminishing natural resources and damaged ecological systems. The authors define natural capital as the earth’s natural resources, such as energy, materials, water, fiber, and topsoil, and the ecological systems that provide vital life-support services to society and all living things. The life-support services of nature are literally priceless, since they have no known substitutes, such as watersheds, topsoil, riverine systems, pollinators or tropospheres. Yet, many business practices typically fail to take into account the value of these assets—which is rising with their scarcity. As a result, natural capital is being degraded and liquidated by wasteful business practices that destroy business and ourselves in the long term. Look no further than BP for recklessness and disregard of natural capital.

Although the book was written in the late 1990s, it is still relevant because it provides a theoretical framework to appropriately respond in the era of resource scarcity and global warming.  Although rapid innovation produces upheaval in older businesses, more importantly it creates opportunities for  more sustainable businesses. Natural capitalism is a business model that enables farsighted people to fully realize these opportunities through four major shifts in business practices, all vitally interlinked and rapidly developing:

  1. •   Radically increase the productivity of natural resources. Fundamental changes in both production design and technology, make natural resources—energy, minerals, water, forests—stretch 5, 10, even 100 times further than before.

  2.   •   Shift to biologically inspired production models and materials (biomimicry) that eliminate waste. In closed-loop   production systems modeled on nature’s designs, every output either is returned harmlessly to the ecosystem as a nutrient, like compost, or becomes an input for another manufacturing process. Industrial processes that emulate the benign chemistry of nature reduce dependence on nonrenewable inputs, produces more efficiently, and results in elegantly simple products.

  3. Move to a “service-and-flow” business model. The traditional business model of manufacturing rests on the sale of goods. In the new model value is instead delivered as a continuous flow of services—such as providing current news     through smart phones and i-Pads rather than selling newspapers.

  4. Reinvest in natural capital. Capital begets more capital; a company that depletes its own capital is eroding the basis         of its future prosperity. Pressures on business to recycle, restore, sustain, and expand natural capital are mounting as global human needs expand, the costs of deteriorating ecosystems rise, and the environmental awareness of consumers increases.

Companies that learn to profit and gain competitive advantage from these four principles will be the rapid innovators and leaders in new businesses that displace less efficient competitors.

Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, was the framework of the last industrial revolution. Natural Capitalism is the framework for the global industrial revolution. I highly recommend this book as required reading for entrepreneurs and innovators who want to develop new sustainable, efficient products or services for a rapidly growing global market.

To know more about Natural Capitalism, go to this website.



By Sherri Koones     Forward by Robert Redford

Reviewed by Rosalie McVay

For most of us our home is our most costly personal item. In addition to the dollars we spend personally building, maintaining and running the utilities, nationwide our houses represent about 20% of the US energy use. In this book Sherri Koones illustrates 25 different approaches to building beautiful, functional houses that are both easy on the environment and pocketbook.

PrefabEach of the 25 featured houses was built using modular panels or sections that are built in a factory. This method generates virtually no waste as all cuts are recycled into other components saving both $ and environmental costs (raw materials and landfill).

SustainableThe house “envelop” is built exceptionally tight and well insulated. Windows are gas-filled, multi-paned and coated for different climates and conditions. Water conservation systems are included in structure and yard. Passive systems for heating/cooling, lighting and airflow are built-in. The sum of the components complimenting efficiencies cut utility and maintenance cost for the life of the home.

FabulousThe 25 featured homes are each unique and beautiful. Each was built considering site conditions. The author provides lots of pictures, floor plans and information about each home.  Also provided throughout the book is an explanation of systems, materials, and other relevant details.

PREFABULOUS + SUSTAINABLE offers comprehensive information and illustration of how to live both comfortably and sustain ably. I was both informed and inspired by this book.