n. an economic theory or practice which assigns a financial
cost to the use, maintenance, abuse, or depletion of natural resources
and ecosystems. Natural capitalism recognizes the critical interdependence
between the production and use of human-made capital and the maintenance
and supply of natural capital; natural capital being made up of resources,
living systems, and ecosystem services.
Natural capitalism as an alternative to traditional capitalism applies
a mind-set of “responsible abundance” to economic production. Although
natural capital is the limiting factor to future economic development,
particularly life supporting systems for which there are no substitutes,
responsible and sustainable practices create significant advantage.
The fundamental assumptions of natural capitalism are:
- The environment is not a minor factor of production, rather, it
is an envelope containing, provisioning and sustaining the entire
- The limiting factor to future economic development is the availability
and functionality of natural capital, in particular, life-supporting
services that have no substitutes and have no market value in today’s
- Misconceived and badly designed business systems, population growth,
and wasteful patterns of consumption are the primary causes of the
loss of natural capital, all of which must be addressed to achieve
a sustainable economy.
- Future economic progress can best take place in democratic, market-based
systems of production and distribution in which all forms of capital
(human, manufactured, and natural) are fully valued.
- A central key to the most beneficial employment of people, money
and the environment is a radical increase in resource productivity.
- Human welfare is best served by improving quality and flow of the
desired services, rather than merely increasing the total flow of
- Economic and environmental sustainability has a cause and effect
relationship with global income and material well-being
The four central strategies of natural capitalism include:
- Radical Resource Productivity. This is the cornerstone
of natural capitalism because using resources more responsibly and
effectively has a number of significant benefits:
a. It slows resource depletion at one end of the value chain
b. It extends the lifetime of resources to ensure longer utility and
c. It lowers pollution
d. Reduces wasteful expenditure and inefficient production
- Biomimicry.Reducing the wasteful throughput of
materials, resources and energy can be accomplished by redesigning
industrial systems on biological lines that will change the nature
of industrial processes and materials, enabling constant reuse of
materials in continuous closed cycles, often eliminating toxicity.
- Service and Flow Economy. This calls for a fundamental
change in the relationship between producer and consumer, a shift
from an economy of goods and purchases to one of service and flow.
This entails a new perception of value, a shift from the acquisition
of goods as a measure of affluence to an economy where the continuous
receipt of quality, utility, and performance promotes general well-being.
- Investing in Natural Capital. This works toward
reversing world-wide planetary destruction through reinvestments in
sustaining, restoring, and expanding stocks of natural capital, so
that the biosphere can produce more abundant ecosystem services and
Historically, performance in the extractive sector has largely been
zero-sum in term of natural capital. Resource use inefficiency is masked
because growth and progress are measured in money, and money does not
give us information about ecological systems, it only gives information
about financial systems.
Through the influence that we are able to exert in our work early
in the project lifecycle (the creation phase) PPM is ideally positioned
to shift the paradigm and to effect changes which will achieve win-win
outcomes for both the client and the environment.
The Commencement Address
by Paul Hawken to the Class of 2009, University of Portland, May 3,