Swans Commentary » swans.com November 5, 2012  



Paul Hawken's Spiritual Business


by Michael Barker



(Swans - November 5, 2012)   According to his Web site, best-selling author Paul Hawken "has written six books" -- many of which outline in considerable detail how corporations should promote a green or environmentally sustainable form of capitalism. Yet considering that his most recent book is titled Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming (Viking, 2007), it is ironic that Paul Hawken has his own significant blind spot; as his otherwise comprehensive resume (which is thirty pages long) has only recently been updated to mention the fact that he has actually published seven, not six, books, although the title of his first book still fails to make it onto his resume.

At first glance it would seem strange that someone could forget the publication of their first book: a book that Paul traveled half-way across the world to write, but arguably there might be a very good reason why he has expunged any mention of The Magic of Findhorn (Souvenir Press, 1975) from his past. No doubt this is because this book provides an uncritical celebration of New Age spirituality that glorifies intuitive thinking; supporting ideas that do not mesh well with his subsequent, ostensibly secular, efforts to reform the corporate world. Yet, as this article will demonstrate, despite his decision to underplay his more irrational literary endeavors there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Paul continues to work closely with the New Age community in his futile efforts to create a more loving, spiritually-enlightened, capitalism.

One can begin by pointing to Paul's membership on the advisory council of the Garrison Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting the kind of positive thinking -- very much in vogue at Findhorn -- which "applies the transformative power of contemplation to today's pressing social and environmental concerns..." Although the Institute has a separate board of spiritual advisors, other individuals who sit on their normal advisory board with Paul include New York Times bestseller Daniel Goleman; Mary Evelyn Tucker, who is the co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University; and Michael Lerner, who is a founding member of the Integral Institute -- a business-minded organization whose mission "is to awaken humanity to full self-awareness."

The Integral Institute's Michael Lerner likewise serves alongside Paul and Daniel Goleman on the advisory council of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, a center whose long-serving executive director, Mirabai Bush, is co-author, with Ram Dass of the New Age book Compassion in Action: Setting Out on the Path of Service (Random House, 1991). Arthur Zajonc, the secretary of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, is similarly positioned in the heart of the US New Age community, as he is the former general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America (1994-2002) and president (since 1997) of the Lindisfarne Association.

Founded in 1972, Lindisfarne, whose work is closely related to that of Findhorn, refers to itself as "an association of scientists, artists, scholars, and contemplatives devoted to the study and realization of a new planetary culture." Elite power-brokers have been involved in Lindisfarne from its not so humble beginnings, with their founding advisory board including the then-editor of The New York Times (Harrison Salisbury); while when Lindisfarne moved to Colorado (in 1979) it was Canadian businessman Maurice Strong who stepped up to the mark to help finance the move.

Here it is important to introduce Nancy Wilson Ross, a woman whose keen interest in Asian spirituality and art led her to write numerous books that played a critical role in introducing Buddhism to Western readers, her two earliest contributions being The World of Zen: An East-West Anthology (Random House, 1960) and Three Ways of Asian Wisdom (Simon & Schuster, 1966). Ross was a bona fide member of the ruling class and served as a founding board member of John D. Rockefeller III's world-famous Asia Society (a position she maintained from 1956 until 1985). Moreover, it was through her connections to the Rockefeller clan that she initially brought the writings of Lindisfarne founder William Irwin Thompson to the attention of Laurance Rockefeller -- who then proceeded to help Thompson launch Lindisfarne on its merry way to global fame. Ross, who was a member of the Zen Center in San Francisco, also ensured that the Zen Center worked in close association with Lindisfarne, a Zen Center that counts Paul Hawken among its long-serving members and major benefactors.

It seems that Paul has always worked hard to prove that spiritual and environmental interests are compatible with capitalism. For example, in 1966 he founded the United States' first natural food company (Erewhon Trading Company), and in 1979 was the founder of Smith & Hawken -- which was the first company to participate in a debt-for-nature swap in partnership with the free-market environmental outfit Conservation International (of which Paul has served as a board member). More recently, in 2002, Paul created the Natural Capital Institute (now known as WiserEarth); in 2005, he co-founded the Highwater Global Fund, a leading environmental and social global public equity fund; and a few years ago (in 2009) he co-founded a solar research and development venture called OneSun Solar.

Alongside Paul, the other co-founder of OneSun Solar is biologist Janine Benyus, who is a board member of Natural Capitalism Solutions, a group whose stated "mission is to educate senior decision-makers in business, government and civil society about the principles of sustainability." Founded by Hunter Lovins, this latter organization is based on the principles presented in a book she co-wrote with Paul and her husband Amory Lovins entitled Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Little Brown and Company, 1999).

In keeping with their longstanding commitment to green capitalism, in 1982 Paul's coauthors Hunter and Amory Lovins founded the green think-tank and consultancy Rocky Mountain Institute, which has worked with all manner of large and small companies including Royal Dutch Shell and Walmart, and with governmental clients such as the Pentagon. Standout trustees of the Rocky Mountain Institute include Suzanne Farver (who is the treasurer of the Spiritual Paths Foundation) (1) and lead trustee, Suzanne Woolsey (who is married to the former head of the CIA, James Woolsey); while a significant emeritus trustee is David Orr, who is a board member of Natural Capitalism Solutions. David Orr was a 2008 fellow at the Lindisfarne Association, and is a board member of numerous deep-green organizations such as the Center for Ecoliteracy and the David Brower Center, and he formerly served alongside Paul on the advisory board of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. (2)

A particularly notable member of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics is the winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, John Todd. (3) Todd is a fellow of both the Findhorn Foundation and Lindisfarne Association, (4) and is the author of two natural wastewater treatment patents with Findhorn Foundation chairman Michael Shaw. Todd likewise resides with Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins (among others) on the advisory board of an entrepreneurial non-profit organization known as Sustainable Settings. One of the two emeritus directors of Sustainable Settings is Ben Walton, who is a board member of the right-wing Walton Family Foundation.

They none-too-mysterious connections keep piling up, and Paul is counted as a member of the international advisory board of the Women's Earth Alliance, which is a project of the late David Brower's Earth Island Institute. Here Paul is accompanied by deep-green eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, who is a patron of the Findhorn-connected WYSE International and serves on the council of sages of the California Institute of Integral Studies; (5) and they are joined by controversial environmental activist Vandana Shiva, who is an associate of the Gaia Foundation -- a group that was co-founded by Findhorn Foundation trustee Edward Posey OBE and Findhorn Foundation fellow Liz Hosken.

Likewise, Paul maintains ties to other deep-ecology activists through his presence on the advisory board of the Green World Campaign, which promotes "holistic ways to work for the health of our shared biosphere and the harmony of our global village." The most significant fellow advisor to the Green World Campaign is philanthropist, Peter Buckley, who is the former CEO of Esprit-Europe, board member of Doug Tompkins's Conservation Land Trust, co-founder of the Center for Ecoliteracy, and founder of the David Brower Center.

Finally, Paul serves on the advisory board of the Center for a New American Dream, which aims to help Americans "to reduce and shift their consumption to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and promote social justice." Other spiritually-interesting members of their advisory board include Hunter Lovins, Joanna Macy, and Norman Myers, who is a former member of the Auroville Foundation's international advisory board (for critical comment, see footnote #5).

This article has traced out some of the ties between Paul Hawken's greening of corporate power and the diverse circle of New Age environmental activists closely associated with the magical Findhorn community, which as observed at the start of this winding article was the topic of celebration in Paul's first book. However, from a critical perspective it is obvious that neither magical thinking, nor its equally irrational counterpart, green capitalism, are going to provide any useful solutions to the serious problems facing human civilization. By outlining the overlapping nature of some of the groups that Paul presently works with that inevitably help mystify the true extent of capitalism's inherent destructiveness, it is hoped that more concerned individuals will begin to explore the necessity of adopting truly radical solutions that address the root causes of our societies problems. The primary problem being capitalism, and with one prominent alternative being socialism. (6)


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1.  The Spiritual Paths Foundation boasts of providing "a unique and holistic approach to the entire genre of inter-religious activity in our day," and the foundation's three institutional advisors being Thomas Colburn (the former president of Chogyam Trungpa's Naropa University), Robert McDermott (the former president of the California Institute of Integral Studies), and Judy Wit (the dean of Fielding Graduate University). One especially interesting foundation board member is John Bennett, who is a former vice president of the Aspen Institute, is a senior advisor to the Garrison Institute, vice president of Naropa University, and amongst other duties serves on the advisory circle of the Seva Foundation (which was founded by Google's Larry Brilliant). (Two members of the Seva Foundation advisory circle who are mentioned in this article are Mirabai Bush and Peter Buckley; while the Seva Foundation's former executive director, James O'Dea, recently served as the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, and in 2008 was a founding member of Deepak Chopra and Diane Williams's Evolutionary Leaders Forum.)  (back)

2.  The Gund Institute is headed by Taylor Ricketts, who formerly led the World Wildlife Fund's conservation science program for nine years, and is a cofounder of the Natural Capital Project, which is joint project of Stanford University, WWF, and the Nature Conservancy. In 2010 the Natural Capital Project was funded to the tune of $2 million by Google Inc.  (back)

3.  In 2009 John Todd subsequently served on the board of jurors of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge where he sat alongside capitalist spiritualist types like Bill Browning (an individual who founded Green Development Services at the Rocky Mountain Institute, serves alongside Paul Hawken on the advisory board of Sustainable Settings, and is a member of the US Department of Defense's Defense Science Board), and Helena Norberg-Hodge (who is a board member of Doug Tompkin's International Forum on Globalization and is a cofounder the Findhorn-inspired Global Ecovillage Network).  (back)

4.  Among the fifty-one fellows who accompanied John Todd at the Lindisfarne Association in 2011 notable ones included Richard Falk, James Lovelock, Amory Lovins, David Orr, Maurice Strong, and Arthur Zajonc. Notably, Todd, Lovins, Orr and Zajonc all serve on the advisory board of another new age group, the E. F. Schumacher Society.  (back)

5.  Originally formed in 1951, the three co-founders of the California Institute of Integral Studies (which was initially known as the American Academy of Asian Studies) were Frederic Spiegelberg, Alan Watts, and Haridas Chaudhuri, a dedicated exponent of Integral Yoga in the tradition of Sri Aurobindo. The influence of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo on the Institute is important; furthermore one should recognize that in 1968 Sri Aurobindo founded Auroville in India, a experimental spiritual center governed by the Auroville Foundation, whose international advisory board currently includes Asia Society president Vishakha Desai (whose husband is Rockefeller Brothers Fund trustee, Robert Oxnam), and former advisors include the likes of Esalen Institute founder Michael Murphy, and elite power-broker Maurice Strong. Notably, Maurice's friend, the late Laurance Rockefeller, was an honorary trustee and generous benefactor of the California Institute of Integral Studies, and it is fitting that recent Institute chairwomen and current trustee, Elizabeth McCormack, serves as an advisor to Rockefeller Family and Associates.  (back)

6.  For a useful discussion of green variants of socialism, see David Pepper, Ecosocialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (Routledge, 1993).  (back)


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Published November 5, 2012