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Hawken had a Swedish grandmother and a Scottish grandfather with a farm. His father worked at UC Berkeley. As a teenager, he "roam[ed] the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, the dry eastern valleys that sprawl down to Mono Lake, and the White Mountain area above Owens Valley." He received no formal degrees but attended UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Hawken worked in the Civil Rights Movement. He currently lives in or near Sausalito, California, and is a neighbor of Stewart Brand.
Hawken has authored 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", but never developed or followed-up on the idea. That task went to Storm Cunningham, whose 2002 book, "The Restoration Economy" coined the phrase "restoration 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, which explored the challenges and pitfalls of starting and operating socially responsive companies, was shown on television in 115 countries.
Hawken took over a small retail store in Boston in 1966 called Erewhon (after Samuel Butler's utopian novel published anonymously in 1872) 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. In 2008, he co-founded Biomimicry Technologies with biologist Janine Benyus, the author of Biomimicry, Innovation Inspired by Nature, HarperCollins, 1997.
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.
Mr. Hawken has served on the board of public organizations including Point Foundation (publisher of the Whole Earth Catalogs), Center for Plant Conservation, Conservation International, Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Earth, and National Audubon Society. He was the founder of The Natural Step in the United States.
As of 2009 Paul Hawken had been awarded six honorary doctorates.
In 2002, Fortune called him “the original hippie entrepreneur, the merchant of Marin County who got turned on to business when others were still dropping out,” adding: “Today Hawken occupies a unique niche in the American landscape, combining bottom-line business credentials [he regularly addresses corporate audiences] with credibility among environmentalists and social critics. He once wrote, and stands by, the following sentence: ‘There is no polite way to say that business is destroying the world.’ Yet he also believes, passionately, that business―with its restless energy, imagination, and creativity―will one day get us out of the mess it has made. Says Hawken: ‘I believe business is on the verge of . . . a change brought on by social and biological forces that can no longer be ignored or put aside.’”
Paul Hawken was hired by Ben & Jerry's to perform a social audit.
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
- Hawken, Blessed Unrest, 41.
- 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
- "The Natural Step website". Naturalstep.org. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
- "biography". Paulhawken.com. Retrieved 2012-08-01.
- Official Paul Hawken website
- Natural Capital Institute NCI
- Wiser.org - World Index for Social and Environmental Responsibility
- Natural Capitalism - Website about the book of the same title
- Natural Capitalism - Mother Jones article that inspired the book of the same title
- Paul Hawken piece on Worldchanging
- Official book site for Blessed Unrest
- Paul Hawken interview from Democracy Now! program, May 23, 2007
- Hope: an interview with Paul Hawken by elephant journal