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Hawken had a Swedish grandmother and a Scottish grandfather with a farm. His father worked at UC Berkeley. He attended UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University, but received no formal degrees. Hawken worked in the Civil Rights Movement. He currently lives in or near Sausalito, California.
Hawken has written seven books. His 1975 The Magic of Findhorn popularized the community of Findhorn, an ecological spiritual center in Scotland. Most of his subsequent books cover business, activism, and sustainable practices. These include The Next Economy (1983), Growing a Business, and The Ecology of Commerce (1993), in which he coined the term "restorative economy".
The businessman and environmentalist Ray Anderson of Interface, Inc. credited The Ecology of Commerce with his environmental awakening. He described reading it as a “spear in the chest experience”, after which Anderson started crisscrossing the country with a near-evangelical fervor, telling fellow executives about the need to reduce waste and carbon emissions.
Hawken's book, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (1999), coauthored with Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins, popularized the now-standard idea of natural capital and direct accounting for ecosystem services. Natural Capitalism has been translated into 26 other languages.
Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, published by Viking Press (New York) in May 2007, argues that a vast world-changing “movement with no name” is now forming, which Hawken believes will prevail. He conceives of this "movement" as developing not by ideology but rather through the identification of what is and is not humane, like an immune system. The following passage gives an idea of his conception of the movement:
It is axiomatic that we are at a threshold in human existence, a fundamental change in understanding about our relationship to nature and each other. We are moving from a world created by privilege to a world created by community. The current thrust of history is too supple to be labeled, but global themes are emerging in response to cascading ecological crises and human suffering. These ideas include the need for radical social change, the reinvention of market-based economics, the empowerment of women, activism on all levels, and the need for localized economic control. There are insistent calls for autonomy, appeals for a new resource ethic based on the tradition of the commons, demands for the reinstatement of cultural primacy over corporate hegemony, and a rising demand for radical transparency in politics and corporate decision making. It has been said that environmentalism failed as a movement, or worse yet, died. It is the other way around. Everyone on earth will be an environmentalist in the not too distant future, driven there by necessity and experience.
Hawken's books have been published in over 50 countries in 27 languages. Growing a Business became the basis of a 17-part PBS series, which Hawken hosted and produced. The program was shown on television in 115 countries.
Hawken took over a small retail store in Boston in 1966 called Erewhon (after Samuel Butler's 1872 utopian novel) and turned it into the Erewhon Trading Company, a natural-foods wholesaler. With Dave Smith, he co-founded the Smith & Hawken garden supply company in 1979, a retail and catalog business. He heads PaxFan, which uses geometries found in nature to increase the efficiency of industrial fans, turbines, and electronic thermal management. From 1994 up and till 1998 Paul was founder and chairman of The Natural Step USA. In 2008, he co-founded Biomimicry Technologies with biologist Janine Benyus, the author of Biomimicry, Innovation Inspired by Nature, HarperCollins, 1997.
The Natural Step
The United States’ Natural Step organization began in June 1994 when Peter Senge invited Dr. Robèrt and Hawken to address the Organizational Learning Center at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Hawken’s subsequent role was to create a steering committee, raise the necessary funding, incorporate as a 501I(3) educational foundation, secure offices and staff, develop curriculum, begin training and developing workshops, and enlist US corporations. TNS US organized a Scientific Consensus Meeting in April 1997, under the auspices of Wingspread and the sponsorship of the EPA. Hawken organized the first annual TNS US three-day workshops in Santa Fe, Chicago, Boston, and Portland; the latter attended by 600 people. He worked with World Resource Institute and CERES to organize the first NGO Summit on Corporate Sustainability in Washington DC.
In 1995 Hawken was hired by Interface, Inc. as part of a twelve-member group of outside consultants responsible to help make Interface the world’s leading company in industrial ecology within the next ten years. The team as a whole helped move the company to a closed-loop manufacturing process so that product and waste is returned and remanufactured into new product. He conceived, wrote and co- designed the Interface Sustainability Report, which has won numerous awards and praise throughout the world.
From 1996 till 1998 Hawken was Co-Chairman of The Natural Step International. The Natural Step was founded in 1989 by Swedish scientist and medical doctor, Karl- Henrik Robèrt in order to create shared frameworks for understanding sustainable development. Its purpose is to teach and support environmental systems thinking in corporations, cities, governments, unions and academic institutions through a dialogue process rooted in basic science. The Natural Step teachings are sequenced scientific principles that provide a comprehensive basis for understanding the requirements for life on earth, and in particular, how individuals, organizations and companies can act so that those requisites are maintained and enhanced. The curriculum of the Natural Step was attained by engaging a wide spectrum of scientists of varying disciplines to work together to create a consensus description of the living systems that drive our economy and culture. Rather than focusing on details where there is disagreement, the Natural Step describes first principles that guide cause and effect relationships in nature. Hawken’s duties as Co- Chair were to act as an ambassador, helping establish new country organizations and working across international lines with companies seeking change.
Hawken founded and directs the Natural Capital Institute (NCI) located in Sausalito, California. Its main focus is Wiser.org, an open source database of activists and civil society organizations focused on environmental and social justice. Hawken has served on the board the Point Foundation (publisher of the Whole Earth Catalogs), the Center for Plant Conservation, Conservation International, the Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Earth, and the National Audubon Society.
As of 2009 Paul Hawken had been awarded six honorary doctorates.
Other recognition and awards received listed on his website biography are:
- Green Cross Millennium Award for Individual Environmental Leadership presented by Mikhail Gorbachev in 2003
- World Council for Corporate Governance in 2002
- Design Futures Council Senior Fellow
- Small Business Administration Entrepreneur of the Year in 1990
- Utne One Hundred Visionaries who could Change our Lives in 1995
- Western Publications Association Maggie award for Natural Capitalism as the best Signed Editorial/Essay in 1997
- Creative Visionary Award by the International Society of Industrial Design
- Design in Business Award for environmental responsibility by the American Center for Design
- Council on Economic Priorities’ 1990 Corporate Conscience Award
- American Horticultural Society Award for commitment to excellence in commercial horticulture
- Metropolitan Home Design 100 Editorial Award for the 100 best people, products and ideas that shape our lives
- The Cine Golden Eagle award in video for the PBS program Marketing from Growing a Business
- California Institute of Integral Studies Award For Ongoing Humanitarian Contributions to the Bay Area Communities
- Esquire Magazine award for the best 100 People of a Generation (1984)
- Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming (New York: Viking, 2007), 181. ISBN 978-0-670-03852-7
- Next Economy. Ballantine, 1983. ISBN 978-0-345-31392-8
- Growing a Business. Simon & Schuster, 1987. ISBN 978-0-671-67164-8
- The Ecology of Commerce. Harper Collins, 1993. ISBN 978-0-88730-704-1
- Vitello, Paul (August 10, 2011). "Ray Anderson, Businessman Turned Environmentalist, Dies at 77". The New York Times.
- Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Little Brown, 1997. ISBN 978-0-316-35300-7
- Hawken, Blessed Unrest, 194.
- Biomimicry, Innovation Inspired by Nature. HarperCollins, 1997. ISBN 978-0-06-053322-9
- Hawken, Paul. "CV". Paul Hawken Official website. Retrieved 2013-12-23.
- "biography". Paulhawken.com. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
- Official Paul Hawken website
- Natural Capital Institute NCI
- Wiser.org - World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility