Heroes of Sustainability: Paul Hawken

Only One Bus:  The Story of Paul Hawken

The list of what Paul Hawken hasn’t done is probably shorter than the list of what he has.

Book author? Check. He’s got six of them. Magazine writer? Yep — his credits include the Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and Mother Jones. He’s also been on the Today show, Larry King Live, and Talk of the Nation, and he’s been presented with seven honorary degrees. Oh, and business owner? He’s got several under his belt.

A Lifelong Commitment

Since age 20, Hawken has had one overarching focus: sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment. His long résumé includes founding ecological businesses, educating others about the impact of commerce on living systems, and consulting with governments and corporations on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.

Part of what makes Hawken stand out is that he doesn’t play it safe. He’s traveled throughout insurgent-held territories of Burma to study tropical teak deforestation, and he took a trip in 1999 to war-torn Kosovo and Macedonia. Back at home, he worked with Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, leading up to the historic march to Montgomery. That same year, Hawken was in New Orleans as a staff photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, focusing on voter registration drives in Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida, and photographing the Ku Klux Klan in Meridian, Mississippi, after three civil rights workers were tortured and killed. These pursuits, of course, weren’t without risks — Hawken was seized by KKK members, but was able to escape with the help of the FBI.

Will Social Justice Meet Environmental Justice?

This social justice work is intertwined with his environmental goals. “What is most harmful resides within us, the accumulated wounds of the past, the sorrow, shame, deceit, and ignominy shared by every culture, passed down to every person, as surely as DNA, a history of violence, and greed,” Hawken writes in his 2007 book Blessed Unrest. “There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But it is the other way around; the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus.”

Respect and Achievements

Hawken’s research and views are respected by world leaders far and wide. Case in point: During the Battle in Seattle in 1999, President Bill Clinton called Hawken for advice, and has said his book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution is one of the five most important books in the world today.

On the business front, Hawken has founded several companies that rely solely on sustainable agricultural methods. His 1987 book Growing a Business became the basis of a widely viewed 17-part PBS series he hosted and produced that explored the challenges of starting and operating socially responsible companies. Today, he’s head of OneSun LLC, an energy company focused on low-cost solar power, and Highwater Global, an equity fund that invests in companies providing solutions to environmental and social challenges.

His many activities are a lot to fit in a day, but Hawken wouldn’t have it any other way. “My hopefulness about the resilience of human nature is matched by the gravity of our environmental and social condition,” he writes.

To learn more about Hawken, visit his website at www.paulhawken.com.

Share