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Hawken grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where his father worked at UC Berkeley in Library Sciences. He spent part of his childhood in the UC library and part of it on the farm belonging to his Swedish grandmother and Scottish grandfather, where he first learned about resourcefulness. He attended UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Hawken received no formal degrees, but has six honorary doctorates. Hawken's work includes founding successful, ecologically conscious businesses, writing about impacts of commerce on living systems, and consulting with heads of state and CEOs on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.
Hawken has authored articles, op-eds, and peer-reviewed papers, and has written seven books, including: The Next Economy (Ballantine 1983), Growing a Business (Simon and Schuster 1987), The Ecology of Commerce (HarperCollins 1993), and Blessed Unrest (Viking 2007).
The Ecology of Commerce was voted the #1 college text on business and the environment by professors in 67 business schools. 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.
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Little Brown, September 1999), co-authored with Amory Lovins, popularized the now standard idea of natural capital and direct accounting for ecosystem services. It has been read and referred to by several heads of state including President Bill Clinton who called it one of the five most important books in the world today, stating "Natural Capitalism basically proves beyond any argument that there are presently available technologies, and those just on the horizon, which will permit us to get richer by cleaning, not by spoiling, the environment." Natural Capitalism has been translated into 14 other languages. Together with The Ecology of Commerce these books have been described as being "among the first to point the way towards a sustainable global economy".
Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, published in May 2007, argues that a vast “movement with no name” is forming involving environmental, social justice, and indigenous rights organizations. He conceives of this "movement" as developing not by ideology but rather through the identification of what is and is not humane, and has compared it to humanity's collective immune system.
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 responsible companies, appeared on television in 115 countries and reached more than 100 million people.
Hawken is currently editing the book Drawdown in collaboration with Project Drawdown's research team. He is also authoring a book entitled Carbon, The Business of Life. Both books will be published by Penguin Random House.
Hawken's books have been published in more than 50 countries in 30 languages.
Hawken founded several companies, starting when he 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, and one of the first in the US that relied solely on sustainable agricultural methods. When he left the company in the 1970s, it had over 30,000 acres of organically grown food under contract. He co-founded the Smith & Hawken garden supply company in 1979, a retail and catalog business. In 1995, he helped start Datafusion, a knowledge synthesis software company. In 2009, Hawken founded OneSun, an energy company focused on ultra low-cost solar based on green chemistry and biomimicry.
From 1994 up until 1998 Hawken founded and headed up The Natural Step USA. From 1996 to 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.
In 1998, Hawken created the Natural Capital Institute (NCI) located in Sausalito, California. Its main focus was wiser.org, an open-source database of activists and civil society organizations focused on environmental and social justice.
Hawken is currently the Executive Director of Project Drawdown.
Hawken has served on the board of the Point Foundation (publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog), the Center for Plant Conservation, Conservation International, The Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Earth, the Garrison Institute, and the National Audubon Society.
In 1965, Hawken worked with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s staff in Selma, Alabama prior to the historic March on Montgomery. As press coordinator, he registered members of the press, issued credentials, gave dozens of updates and interviews on national radio, and acted as marshal for the final march. That same year, he worked in New Orleans as a staff photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, focusing on voter registration drives in Bogalusa, Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida, and photographing the Klan in Meridian Mississippi after three civil rights workers were tortured and killed. In Meridian, he was assaulted and seized by Ku Klux Klan members, but escaped due to FBI surveillance and intervention.
Hawken has spoken, conducted research, and traveled extensively throughout the world, undertaking journeys into insurgent-held territories of Burma to research tropical teak deforestation, as well as a 1999 humanitarian/photojournalistic trek to war-torn Kosovo.
Paul Hawken has been awarded six honorary doctorates, and has received the following awards and recognitions:
- 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
- Metropolitan Magazine Editorial Award for the 100 best people, products and ideas that shape our lives
- Esquire Magazine award for the best 100 People of a Generation (1984)
- Named one of the three Pioneers of Sustainability along with Professors Peter Senge and Michael Porter in 2014
As a speaker, Hawken has given several hundred talks, including keynote addresses to the following:
- American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
- American Bookseller's Association
- American Institute of Architects
- American Institute of Graphic Arts
- American Society of Landscape Architects
- American Solar Energy Association
- Australian Business Council
- Cleveland City Club Conference Board
- Commonwealth Club
- Cornell University
- Environment Canada
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- France's Ministry of Agriculture
- Harvard University
- Herman Miller
- The King of Sweden at his inaugural Environmental Seminar
- The Liberal Party of Canada
- National Wildlife Federation
- Ontario Hydro
- Prime Minister of New Zealand's Conference on Natural Capitalism
- Prince of Wales Conference on Business and the Environment--Cambridge University
- SRI International
- Stanford University
- State of Washington
- University of California, Berkeley Commencement
- Urban Land Institute
- U.S. Department of Commerce
- U.S. Forest Service
- The Wharton School
- World Business Council for Sustainable Development
- Yale University and Yale University Commencement
PBS named his 2009 commencement speech at the University of Portland the best commencement speech of the year.
- Project Drawdown http://www.drawdown.org/paul-hawken. Retrieved 15 June 2016. Missing or empty
- Makower, Joel (11 July 2013). "Why Paul Hawken is teaching MBAs". GreenBiz. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- Hawken, Paul (2007). Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. New York, NY: Viking. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-670-03852-7.
- "Paul Hawken". EcoWatch. 2016. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Project Drawdown". Project Drawdown. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Paul Hawken Part II: Cultivating Progress". Sea Change. 11 November 2014. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Paul Hawken". Sustainable Brands. 2016. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Solutions Summit Event". Retrieved 10 December 2015.
- Vitello, Paul (August 10, 2011). "Ray Anderson, Businessman Turned Environmentalist, Dies at 77". The New York Times.
- Hawken, Paul (1997). Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Little Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-35300-7.
- Gunther, Marc (22 October 2014). "First look: environmental entrepreneur Paul Hawken's long-awaited new book". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- Hawken, Paul (2007). Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. New York: Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-03852-7.
- "Paul Hawken" (Transition to a Low-Carbon World). University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Heritage of Health Foods: Erewhon History". Attune Foods. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- Welte, Jim (9 July 2009). "Smith & Hawken to close; going-out-of-business sales started Thursday". The Mercury News. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- . University of Portland http://www.up.edu/commencement/default.aspx?cid=8305&. Missing or empty
- Gunther, Marc (11 February 2010). "Paul Hawken's Winning Investment Strategy". GreenBiz. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Bio Paul Hawken" (PDF). The Rocky Mountain Institute.
- "The Natural Step About Us". The Natural Step. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- Grover, Sami (21 June 2007). "WISER Earth: User Created Directory of 'the Largest Movement on Earth'". Treehugger. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Our Team". Project Drawdown. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- Stephens, James C. Climate Change: An Encyclopedia of Science and History (Volume 1 ed.). p. 849.
- "Biography". Paul Hawken. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
- "Global Green USA Millennium Awards". Global Green. Retrieved 1 October 2015.
- "biography". Paulhawken.com. Retrieved 2012-08-01.