When I registered for the Paul Hawken talk here in Vancouver a couple weeks ago, I didn’t really know much about him. But for some reason I was compelled to go. I’m glad I did. Turns out he was the Hawken half of Smith and Hawken, the famed chain of high quality mail order and retail garden stores, now closed, although the brand is still available at Target.
Hawken is billed as an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author. He focuses on the intersection of business and the environment. You can read more about him on his web site, including descriptions of his cool projects and a list of great books. I plan to read the Ecology of Commerce. Shocking, given that economics has never been my thing.
Talks by environmentalists, sustainability experts and change leaders happen here a lot. So you really have to pick and choose. I don’t even go to many any more because for the most part, you don’t hear anything new. That was not the case with Hawken. He gave unexpected answers. Framed topics in new ways. Here are a few of the comments that surprised me.
He defines sustainability as “creating conditions conducive to life.” Then he asked a rhetorical question, what if everything that’s happening now – the collapse of the global economy, the wars, the environmental degradation, (pick your thing) – is happening for our benefit? Happening so that we can achieve sustainability and become who we really are in the process.
He also echoed Derrick Jensen’s whole give up hope, it’s useless philosophy – based on the Buddhist belief that hope and fear chase each other’s tails and keep you from living in the present. I’m a big Jensen fan, so this also resonated, even as it baffled moderator David Beers, editor of the Tyee, popular on-line magazine. Beers did a bang up and often humorous job of weaving the evening together.
During the audience question period, when someone tried to blame capitalism for all our problems, Hawken said he didn’t think the system we currently had could even be called capitalism. More on his argument in an interview with Yes Magazine. He co-wrote a book called Natural Capitalism by the way and popularized the term natural capital, which was originally coined by E. F. Schumacher.
After Hawken’s talk, three engaging panelists gave brief presentations about their work: Louise Schwartz of Recycling Alternative, Am Johal, community engagement coordinator at SFU Woodwards, and chef Mark Brand who has breathed new life into the beloved Save-On Meats store. While all the panelists were impressive, I would like to have seen at least one from beyond the eastside.
Naturally the Occupy movement came up. Hawken believes that we won’t heal the rifts and get the world we want through violent means. He said effort should be made to teach non-violent approaches. He warned against making this an “us and them” fight, that we need to do this for the 100 percent. An articulate young woman from the Occupy Vancouver movement used the human microphone to pose her question rather than the energy dependent one provided. I don’t remember the question exactly, but it was something about how to keep people engaged or interested, but as Hawken said, she had answered it herself. She brought the house down.
The event, sponsored by Vancity Credit Union in celebration of their 65th anniversary, was titled: An Evening of Inspiration with Paul Hawken. It was all that and more.