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OUR DOLLARS CAN SAVE THE EARTH


The interests of industry and ecology have always clashed as politicians debate which needs to be saved: jobs or the environment. Now, environmentalist Paul Hawken proposes a new way to structure our economy to boost employment and create a clean environment.

Paul Hawken has a vision. It may sound like eco-topia to some, but Hawken believes there's a new economy on the horizon that's centered not on industrialism, but on innovation and renewable energy, and modeled after than renowned architect, Mother Nature. Hawken - entrepreneur, environmentalist, visionary and philosopher - broke new ground in the environmental movement with his latest book, The Ecology of Commerce (HarperCollins).

Hawken founded Erewhon Natural Foods in 1966, a natural foods store and U.S. wholesaler with more than 50,000 contracted acres growing organic food. He also helped found Smith & Hawken, a $60 million catalog company known for its environmental initiatives. Hawken is also the author of The Next Economy (Holt Rinehart) and Growing a Business (Simon & Schuster).

"Quite simply, our business practices are destroying life on Earth," Hawken declares. "the degradation we see is systemically built in and imbedded into commerce. It's integral to the way we do business."

Hawken believes environmental problems stem from a poorly designed industry-based economy. "It seemed to me since it's a design problem, it's incumbent upon all of us to take on the mantle and responsibility of being the architects and designers of our future," he asserts.

Hawken's initial revelation that his and other's environmental approaches were wrong occurred during an awards ceremony where his catalog company was receiving the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Council on Economic Priorities. "I stood there in silence, suddenly realizing two things: first, that my company didn't deserve this award and second, that no one else did, either," he related in Ecology of Commerce. "What we had done was scratch the surface of the problem, taken a few risks, put a fair amount of money where our mouths were, but, in the end, the impact on the environment was only marginally different than if we had done nothing at all. The recycled toner cartridges, sustainably harvested woods, replanted trees, soy-based inks and monetary gifts to nonprofits were all well and good, but we were in the junk mail business, selling products by catalog. All the recycling in the world wouldn't change the fact that doing business in the latter part of the 20th century is an energy intensive endeavor that gulps down resources."

MYTHS OF INDUSTRY

"The important thing to understand is that we have been told over and over again that industry is the most efficient economic model we have," Hawken says. Statistics, though, prove otherwise:

- We make 4.1 billion pounds of pesticides and herbicides every year and put them on our land and food. Only 1 percent of the pesticides kill the predators or arthropods in question; the other 99 percent is wasted. - Close to 15 billion tons of hazardous waste are thrown away every year. - Every American consumes about 36 pounds of resources every week, while 2,000 pounds of waste are discarded to support that consumption.

- Since 1945, we've lost 108 million acres of productive agricultural land to degradation yearly (a total of 4.85 billion acres worldwide). "What I'm talking about is moving toward a truly economic and efficient system. Industry no longer creates jobs, it destroys jobs. It stopped creating jobs 20 to 30 years ago," Hawken maintains. "The problem is the way you win in industry is to get rid of people. We're getting rid of our people at a time when an avalanche of people is entering the workforce looking for meaning, jobs and livelihood. These are two trains heading for each other on the same track at night."

To Hawken, this is just one example of an upside down and backwards economic system. And, there are others:

- The organic farmer who builds up soil quality; who doesn't use pesticides or herbicides and doesn't pollute the groundwater; who uses less energy to produce his crop; who doesn't exploit migrant labor; who doesn't leave half- filled tins of organophosphate pesticides in unmarked dumpsites; and who maintains and furthers genetic diversity in her seed stock, can't come to market as cheaply as a factory farmer. Instead the nonorganic farmer sells his produce at artificially low prices thanks in part to subsidies and tax breaks. - Incinerator companies require long-term contracts obligating cities to pay for pre-established amounts of garbage. If those levels of trash aren't achieved because of recycling or other conservation measures, the cities still pay for the phantom garbage.

- The United States enjoys subsidized gasoline prices of $1 per gallon and the lowest fleet mileage of any country in the world, while the Europeans and Japanese pay $3 to $5 per gallon and dominate the high-mileage segment of our car industry. Americans are lulled into a false sense of "low-priced" gas.

To turn things right-side-up, Hawken says, "We should concentrate not on the productivity of humans - they're productive enough - but on the productivity of natural resources. Our energy, forests, water and soil are what we should focus on. As essayist and farmer Wendell Berry says, "There's no such thing as a culture that destroys nature and honors human nature."

"The most amazing thing happens when you shift the incentive away from human productivity and toward natural capital productivity. Employment goes up, Hawken says. Cases in point: It takes two to four times the employment to create renewable energy (i.e., solar) as it does for nonrenewable sources (i.e., coal). It takes four times the amount of people for sustainable logging than it does for clearcutting with automated machinery. It takes twice the amount of labor to farm organically than it does for agribusiness.

HOW TO REDESIGN THE ECONOMY

A restorative economy with respect to employment and the Earth has four main criteria or standards, Hawken says. "First, we in the industrialized nations have to reduce our throughput of energy, raw materials and natural resources by 80 percent in the next 40 years. We're leading a lifestyle that's materially corrupt," he declares. "We've proffered to the rest of the world NAFTA and GATT - two free-trade treaties that invite or seduce the rest of the world to grab the same bootstrap we've grabbed, pull it and lift themselves up to the level of materialism we've achieved. If the rest of the world does this, it does so at great peril to itself and to ourselves as well."

World population is projected to reach 8.5 billion people in the next 30 to 40 years, according to Hawken. "If the rest of the world industrializes to the same extent that we have - we'll have to replicate the industrial capacity of the world by a factor of 20," he warns. "So, take every chemical plant, factory, refinery, Wal-Mart, multiply it by 20, and you'll have the world in 2040 as envisioned by the architects of NAFTA and GATT."

Hawken maintains the quality of our lives and the services we receive will be improved and increased by a restorative economy, not decreases. "Our lives are lessened by our consumption, they're not enhanced," he adds.

The second standard is to increase the number, quality and meaningfulness of the work and livelihood of people worldwide. "Anyone who doesn't talk about jobs isn't serious about the environment. There are 2.5 billion people who want to work. Only tow-thirds of them have jobs and make enough money to support themselves. The other third are either unemployed or make so little money they can't support themselves much less a family," Hawken claims. "That's 750 million people who need work today. If we add to that 1.7 billion people coming into the work force in the next 20 years, we have a demographic time bomb that no one is addressing or discussing."

The third standard is restoration over sustainability. "We can't sustain the Earth the way its is. It's already been assaulted too severely by industrialism and human beings," he contends. "What we have to talk about is how to restore what we've lost. An economy of restoration is not just about restoring natural places but also our people, health, schools, communities, sense of self, families, regions and nations."

Finally, a restorative economy has to be self-actuating, Hawken says. "It has to be more desirable than what we have today. You can't persuade people to be hermetic monks and save the world; it won't happen," he cautions. "We're not talking about a world of cold showers, warm beer and calluses. What we're talking about is a world that works much better than the world we inhabit today. That seems to me modest criteria for the next economy."

NATURE AS MODEL

"I began to look at how we could assemble this. Is this possible? the answer is overwhelmingly, yes," Hawken exclaims. "Industry as an idiom is over simply because it's exhausting itself and us, and it doesn't work. It doesn't model, honor or mimic natural systems."

Hawken draws attention to industry's emergence at a time when conditions on Earth were entirely different from today. There was a relative scarcity of people and a superabundance of resources.

Now, he says, there's a superabundance of people and a scarcity of resources. "Therefore, the paradigms and idioms of industry are completely useless. Industry is based on the idea that we have an infinite amount of resources, that we can transform into goods and services and that metabolic waste can be put into an infinite number of sinks and watersheds and will therefore disappear and go away," Hawken notes. "They won't. Some of the persistent bioaccumulative chemicals we make today last 10,000 years. Some of them have a longer half- life than certain radioactive materials.

"We know that these industrial theories aren't true any longer. Their question is: What can they be replaced by?" Hawken asks. "The model, mentor, pattern, design idiom for the next economy, the age of restoration, the new industrial paradigm is nature itself. The absolutely most efficient productive unit in the whole world is the green plant cell (where energy is used to produce only what's needed to grow, and waste is used by other systems). We need a transition to an economy that begins to mimic what we see in such natural cyclical systems." Hawken points to Germany and Michael Braungart, Ph.D., innovator of a system that's the key to a restorative economy. The Intelligent Products System (IPS) is a product typology that calls for manufacturers, companies and businesses to make products that mimic natural cycles. It's based on three simple principles of living systems.

  1. There's no waste in nature that isn't food for other systems. There's no waste in the way we conceive of waste as something that's useless, damaging and so toxic that it can't be incorporated into living systems in some way at some point.

  2. We have to run on current solar income. When you use current flow of sunshine, you use energy much more efficiently. The new amorphous silicon photovoltaics (batteries) being used to create electricity from sunlight pay for their energy use in four weeks. A nuclear power plant takes 14 years to repay the energy that's gone into its construction. They make enough energy to create the next generation of power plants for this world. There's no net energy whatsoever, another industry shortfall.

  3. The last principle is diversity - biodiversity and cultural diversity. In order to be efficient in the incorporation and utilization of nutrients and energy, the system has to be highly differentiated, and it produces diversity in return.

Braungart developed three categories of products to match these principles. Any product introduced into the marketplace has to be one of these three categories, preferably the first two.

Consumables:

When the end user is done with the product, he or she should be able to place it on the ground, and it should break down into food for living systems with no persistent or bioaccumulative effects whatsoever.

No heavy metals, halogenated compounds or organochlorines can be contained in said product - nothing that would be detrimental to life.

If you can't make things that are consumable by a living organism then they must be:

PRODUCTS OF SERVICE: If you make a car, television, VCR or microwave, when the user is done with it, you (the manufacturer) own it. It's always yours. It belongs to GE, General Motors, Volkswagen. Manufacturers can never really sell the item, they only lease it.

"The Germans say: 'You make them, you eat them.' There are no landfills under this program. You can't export waste. You must design your product in such a way that it becomes food for an industrial system." Hawken explains. "You have to think of what you make as technical nutrients, and if you want your technical nutrients coming back with highly toxic lead stabilizers in your thermal plastic resins, good luck melting them down and reusing them because you won't have a happy time of it."

In Germany, car and electric companies are going back to their manufacturers and suppliers and asking what's in their products. They're requesting reformulation and redesign, Hawken says. The BMW car company in Germany has built a pilot disassembly plant to recycle its older cars. Newer models are designed with disassembly in mind with parts bar-coded to identify the type of materials and instructions on reuse.

The last classification in IPS is:

UNSALEABLES: You're free to make lead, chromium, cadmium, radioactive materials and highly toxic pesticides and herbicides, but there's one caveat. You own these forever, and you have to molecularly mark your toxins. You can lease them and rent them. Under this proposal, unsaleables will eventually be phased out and replaced. Until then, they're stored in "parking lots" (underground storage facilities) owned by the state and rented to the polluter.

At the heart of this German proposal is responsibility, which is the burden of the producer. "In today's noncyclical, linear system, responsibility is blurred or in some cases, nonexistent," Hawken says. "By placing both the responsibility and the cost of mitigation with the originator of the problem, vast and compelling incentives are created for companies to redesign, even reimagine their businesses." The proposal, coined the "take-back principle," is being taken up by the German legislature.

GREEN FEES AND TRUE COSTS

Another step toward a restorative economy is the enforcement of green fees or Pigovian taxes, says Hawken. Named after Nicolas Pigou, and English economist in the early 1900s, Pigovian taxes integrate external costs into price. This cost/price integration is the inclusion of external costs of production into the price including whatever pollution, sickness or environmental damage is caused. For example, the peeling paint on a house near a coal-fired mill is an external cost that should be paid by the polluter. The owner of a chemical plant spilling effluent that poisons fish downstream and causes loss of income to fishermen and sickness to those who eat the fish would also be responsible for these costs.

Pigou's theory is: When producers are forced to bear full costs, they have incentives to reduce negative impact, thus lowering those costs. Hawken is attracted to this theory because he sees it not as a "toll road for polluters but a pathway to innovation."

Instead of consumers paying higher health costs, higher insurance premiums, mitigation costs for toxic waste clean-up and environmental degradation, the polluter absorbs the costs. "Integrating cost with price doesn't raise the overall expenditures of consumers but rather places them where they belong, so that the consumer and producer can respond intelligently," Hawken writes.

Hawken is confident we can change the direction of business and transform our economy and ecology. "It means doing something now. It means trying things that may fail. It means shaking up city hall. It means electing people who actually want to make things work, who can imagine a better world. It means writing to companies and telling them what you think. It means never forgetting that the cash register is the daily voting booth in democratic capitalism. We don't have to buy products that destroy or from companies that are unresponsive.

"Let's assume the responsibility of being the designers of this new economy," Hawken proposes. "This is about our life, and it's up to us not simply to oppose what's wrong - we must always do that - but to design what's right."

(Reprint, DELICIOUS!, April, 1995 - Article by Kathleen Finn)

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

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