If you saw her walking down the street, you might mistake her for an oil tycoon. Always adorned in a broad-shouldered black suit, cowboy boots and hat, with a swagger and twang when she tips her hat at you and says “howdy” (not to mention having a name like Hunter), if you didn’t know who she was, you probably wouldn’t assume Hunter Lovins to be one of the most influential veterans in the green movement.
But she is: Over the past 30 years the green business pioneer has founded Natural Capital Solutions, co-founded the California Conservation Project and the Rocky Mountain Institute, advised the U.S., Afghanistan, and Australian governments, and been named Time magazine’s “Hero of the Planet.” Not to mention, she literally wrote the book on sustainability and economic development. With the enthusiasm of a young renegade and the no-bullshit mentality of an old Western cowboy, Lovins educates businesses, government, and us common-folk on how being green isn’t just a way to save the environment–it’s a way to prosper as a society. By reconciling the seemingly contradictory worlds of capitalism and environmentalism, Lovins even convinced Wal-Mart to adopt major sustainable business practices, setting a groundbreaking example that big business can go green.
Green Girls’ contributing editor Jenna Scatena recently caught up with Lovins (donning her signature outfit) on Obama, green jobs, and our next big resource. Here’s what she had to say:
JS: Has your notion of “natural capitalism” changed as our economy and government takes on new challenges?
HL: It has. It's become clear to me that if this transformation to the clean energy economy is going to happen, it needs to be implemented by more than ideas—the ideas have to be put into practice.
I re-framed Natural Capitalism’s principals as: Use our resources more productively and more efficiently; Re-design how we make and deliver everything; And manage all institutions to be restorative of human and natural capital, which are in short supply. So it has shifted over time, and this is to some extent illustrative of how ideas grow and build upon each other, which is what we need to do more of.
JS: If most companies in the US followed this business model do you think it would have the potential to lift us out of the recession?
HL: Absolutely. The UN concluded investing in green jobs has the potential to create millions of new jobs worldwide, and other national studies show the same thing. For example, Florida’s Republican governor commissioned a Republican task force because he was interested in finding out what it would cost to put into place measures that could prevent climate change catastrophes. He was quite surprised when the results came back–not at the cost of the measures, but at the net profit of $28 billion and several hundred thousand jobs it would creat in Florida alone. In California a similar UC Berkeley study showed $78 billion could be added to the state economy by 2025 and 400,000 new jobs.
This simply is no longer an issue anybody ought to be arguing about, we just ought to be implementing it. We've got the proof academically, we've got it empirically, on the ground in communities which are pursuing it. This is simply better economics and a better route to prosperity—whether you're the globe, a nation, a region, a state or a county.
J: So why aren’t we?
H: That's a hell of a good question. Fear? But at the point the world runs out of oil, or it hits 100 bucks again, you're going to see interest in somewhat more prescriptive measures. What is our society going to look like without affordable energy? Unless we get about this transition pretty goddamn fast, we'll find out. There's nothing about the way we do business now that is sustainable. And essentially nothing that can get by without oil with our current structure.
J: There's a lot of hype around what will be the silver bullet of renewable energy. What’s going to be the next most important resource to invest in?
H: Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. What we've done is poured a lot of our tax dollars into subsidizing unsustainably grown corn, which requires a lot of chemicals and fertilizers so that you get less energy out than you put in, then distill it in 150-year-old technology, then pour it into inefficient cars. This is daft.
It’s critical that we source biofuel sustainably, or we're only problem switching, not problem solving. We have every technology we need to solve our problems, it's just a question of political will.
JS: How do you feel about Obama's energy policies?
HL: [With a groan] Frustrated. Now, fair enough, he walked into a buzzsaw of intransigent Republican opposition, though at least he finally grew a backbone and passed health care. But he ought to be telling the truth to the country about what's possible and what will lift us out of the recession. There is no scientific doubt that we’re in a climate crisis, and there’s no economic doubt that the best way out of the recession is to invest in exactly the same solutions to the climate crisis. From where I sit, it looks like we're not doing a lot that we could be.
J: So if you could give one piece of advice to Obama, what would it be?
H: Tell the truth. Go out to the American people and really start telling the truth about the economic situation. He pulled together young people in almost unprecedented numbers on a campaign of “hope,” of “yes we can,” of “we are going to build the future.” And to the best I can tell, he has governed just like a Clinton. Fair enough–he has a few things on his plate. But I'd run a new campaign: Let's co-design the future that we want. Let's envision it and let's portray it. Let's get some of the biggest companies, or if the big companies are bereft of vision, get companies that are willing to invest in creating a much more desirable future.
JS: What are our biggest roadblocks to the green economy?
HL: Lack of imagination and the hassle factor. If any of us look at our lives and say what could I do? We think, oh but I have a meeting Monday, I've gotta pick the kids up, I've gotta pay the bills—the daily got-to-dos overwhelm great thinking.
JS: So what are some things that the average person can do?
HL: In every one of our homes or offices there are small measures we can do to save money, energy, and materials. Sometimes it costs a little more to buy from companies that have made a commitment to be sustainable, so eliminate something that you don’t need anyway and use that money to buy from responsible companies. Make a commitment, just try one a week or one a month. And when you run out of things you can think of, there are thousands of Websites, books, and organizations that will give you the next act. Like the old comic character Pogo once said: “We're surrounded by insurmountable opportunities.”