The Ecology of Commerce – Book Review

EcolofCommerceOriginally published in 1993 by entrepreneur and environmentalist Paul Hawken. Ray Anderson, the founder of billion-dollar modular carpet manufacturer Interface, credits the book for causing him to experience a “spear in the chest  moment” that transformed his perspectives on business and ecology. With help from Paul Hawken who became an advisor to Interface, Ray Anderson and his team embarked on a journey to reinvent the carpet business and become the world’s leading corporation in terms of  sustainability. He found that this was not only good for the environment but also good for business: “Profits are up not down, products are the best they have ever been, and the goodwill of the market place is amazing”. This edition of the book contains the Interface story and is dedicated to Ray Anderson who passed away in 2011 at age 77. Here is his TED talk where he describes how reading Paul Hawken’s “Ecology of Commerce” in the summer of 1994 allowed his reformation from plunderer of the earth to America’s greenest CEO:

For Paul Hawken, environmental degradation, climate change and resource depletion, erode the natural capital on which life depends and in turn the economy that nature can support. He provocatively says that: “Business contains our blessing. During all these years we may have been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking how to save the environment we should have asked how do we save business?”


Are we cutting the branch we are sitting on?

Paul Hawken believes that market forces can help restore habitats and ecosystems by reflecting “externalities” in the price of goods and services. This would not create any new costs but  properly reflect the costs of pollution and waste that are currently borne by society (the tragedy of the commons) to where they originate. Market forces will then reward the greenest businesses in a way that would benefit society and the economy. Ultimately businesses should operate in a way that is inspired by nature (bio-mimicry), move away from the industrial-age linear economic model (sometimes described as “cradle to grave”) and create a circular economy (“cradle to cradle”) to help restore natural capital and ensure the prosperity of current and future generations.

A must read for entrepreneurs and environmentalists alike.