Solutions to Climate Change: A Review of Drawdown edited by Paul Hawken

Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reduce Global Warming, brilliantly edited by Paul Hawken, is just what we need. Its a straight forward narrative providing over 100 solutions to global warming. Simply reducing carbon emissions below an arbitrary percentage, from a randomly selected base year, is not enough to stem the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

Drawdown is the collective work of a qualified and diverse group of researchers from around the world. They were tasked to identify, research, and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.

The title of the book is derived from an atmospheric term. According to Paul Hawken, “drawdown is that point in time at which greenhouse gases peak and begin to decline on a year-to-year basis.” Hawken’s goal of the Drawdown project was to identify, measure, and model substantive solutions to determine how much we could accomplish within three decades.

Read more: Pedaling to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Bike to Work Day

Much of the systems, knowledge and technology we need to deploy to create a meaningful drawdown of GHG (greenhouse gases) already exists. Yet, a blueprint to get them to work in unison did not. Until now. Drawdown provides such a roadmap using systems thinking. Hawken sets forth in Drawdown that “we found a plan, a blueprint that already exists in the world in the form of humanity’s collective wisdom, made manifest in applied, hand-on practices and technologies that are commonly available, economically viable and scientifically valid.”

In fact-filled, one-to-three page vignettes, Drawdown offers and ranks its solutions – most feasible today – and projects the potential impact (in gigatons) of reduced CO2 as well as global implementation costs and potential financial savings. Solutions are organized into seven sectors – Buildings and Cities, Energy, Food, Land Use, Materials, Transport and Women and Girls. The solutions presented range from afforestation, electric vehicles and food waste reduction to recycled paper, regenerative agriculture and refrigeration management.

Drawdown is a must read for business, NGO and government leaders regardless of their organization’s sustainability efforts or positioning on climate change. Each solution is described in concise, superb prose that will inspire practical application for any organization interested in reducing its impact on climate change.

What Drawdown makes clear is that no government, NGO, international conglomerate or philanthropist can solve climate change alone. It is going to require an all-of-the-above strategy with worldwide collaboration. Using Drawdown as a playbook, we have an opportunity, as Hawken states, “…to see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius.”

I encourage you to buy a copy of Drawdown, read it and implement relevant suggested solutions. My hope is that, like me, you’ll come away with a sense of optimism and promise dispelling thoughts of doom that we can’t solve the climate crisis.

About Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken has written seven books published in over 50 countries in 29 languages including four national bestsellers, The Next Economy, Growing a Business, and The Ecology of Commerce, and Blessed Unrest. Natural Capitalism, co-authored with Amory Lovins, was read by several heads of state including Bill Clinton who called it one of the five most important books in the world. He has appeared on numerous media including the Today Show, Larry King, Talk of the Nation, Charlie Rose, and been profiled in articles including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Washington Post, Business Week, and Esquire.

His writings have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Resurgence, New Statesman, Inc, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones, Utne Reader, Orion, and other publications. He founded several companies including the first food company in the U.S. that relied solely on sustainable agricultural methods. He has served on the board of several environmental organizations including Point Foundation (publisher of the Whole Earth Catalogs), Center for Plant Conservation, Trust for Public Land, and National Audubon Society.

Want to Read More by Paul Hawken

  • The Next Economy (Ballantine 1983)
  • Growing a Business (Simon and Schuster 1987)
  • The Ecology of Commerce (HarperCollins 1993)
  • Blessed Unrest (Viking, 2007)
  • Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Little Brown, September 1999)
  • Carbon, The Business of Life, to be published by Penguin Random House in 2018.

Recent Posts

Now is the Time to Make Earth Day Everyday

In a recent blog post, Jason Clay of World Wildlife Fund made some interesting historical references to the conditions of our world dating back to the first Earth Day – April 22, 1970.   Since 1970 the human population doubled.   The non-human vertebrate species’ populations declined by an average of 58 percent.  The global average temperature increased by about one degree Celsius. In 1970, the US imported about $54 billion worth of goods and services.  That number rose to $2.7 trillion in 2016.

Manhattan skyline

Manhattan skyline in 1974, photographed by Alexander Hope for Documerica. Courtesy of the National Archives

By 1970 millions of Americans were fed-up with the state of the natural environment.  Civil society was ripe for activism and government solutions. They were ready for business and commerce to clean up their acts.

Senator Gaylord Nelson (WI (D)) understood this disgust along with the rising demands of citizens.  He proposed a national event to galvanize action – Earth Day.  “The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy,” Senator Nelson said, “and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda.”

NYT first Earth Day

A throng of thousands along New York City’s 5th Ave., as far as the eye could see, came out for Earth Day 1970 demonstrations receiving front page coverage the next day

Clearly, we’ve made great progress since the first Earth Day. But so much still needs to be done.  I’d venture to say, focusing on just one day falls short of the vision of the father of Earth Day.

Our reliance on fossil fuels and the inefficient use of most, if not all, energy continues to make the most significant impact on the environment. Energy is the life blood of our economy.  But extraction, refining, generation and transmission of most of our energy sources creates enormous amounts of waste, emissions of particulate air pollution and heat trapping greenhouse gases.  Yet, many of these externalities are not accounted for on the cost ledger of our businesses or personal budgets.

What does the American public think?  According to a March 2017 Gallup Poll, 59% of Americans believe the environment should be prioritized over energy production.   This is not an unreasonable expectation.  Just think about the amount of solar energy hitting the earth each day. If properly collected, stored and transmitted, solar energy could provide more than is needed to meet our daily energy needs.

LED bulbs avoid the use of significant amounts of energy.  They reduce maintenance costs and eliminate mercury associated with fluorescent bulbs.

Imagine if procurement officials from colleges and universities gave preference to recycled materials and low carbon commitments in setting selection criteria for goods and services?

Would energy efficiency and use of renewable energy increase significantly if fossil fuel energy use by industry and commerce were listed on the loss side of balance sheets?

Senator Nelson said, “The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity…that’s where all economic activity and jobs come from.”

This Earth Day, by all-means, plant a tree, organize a clean-up, recycle.  Better yet, organize efforts to make long-term commitments to reduce the impact of your organization.   What material impact does your company have as a result of the use of energy, water and waste generation across the entire supply chain?  Do you measure it?  Do you set expectations for your suppliers to reduce natural resource use? Can you meet and exceed the environmental expectations of your customers?

If not, I encourage you to set stretch, time-based goals. Work to make the change you want to see in your organization and the world.  Look for opportunities to embed sustainability measurements, goals and requirements across all functions of your organization and with all your suppliers and customers.

If you don’t do it.  Who will?Gaylord Nelson quote

Weekly Round-Up: Sustainability – A Journey, Not a Destination

Sustainability means different things to different organizations.  It could be environmental stewardship, health and wellness, fair trade, women’s empowerment or an “all of the above” approach. Sustainability is a journey not a destination. sustainability infographic

One of the frequently quoted definitions of sustainability is from Our Common Future (also known as the Brundtland Commission): “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations.”

Here’s a round-up of sustainability news, tips, happenings.

TOP GREEN COMPANIES IN THE U.S. 2016In partnership with Corporate KnightsHIP (Human Impact + Profit)  Investor Inc., and leading sustainability minds from nongovernmental organizations and the academic and accounting communities, Newsweek has ranked the world’s largest companies on corporate sustainability and environmental impact.

Why Companies Are Becoming B CorporationsBy Suntae Kim, Matthew J. Karlesky, Christopher G. Myers, Todd Schifeling – Certified B Corporations are social enterprises verified by B Lab, a nonprofit organization. B Lab certifies companies based on how they create value for non-shareholding stakeholders, such as their employees, the local community, and the environment. Once a firm crosses a certain performance threshold on these dimensions, it makes amendments to its corporate charter to incorporate the interests of all stakeholders into the fiduciary duties of directors and officers. The first generation of B Corporations was certified in 2007, and the number of firms earning certification has grown exponentially ever since. Today, there are more than 1,700 B Corporations in 50 countries. Although any company, regardless of its size, legal structure, or industry, can become a B Corporation, currently most B Corporations are privately-held small and medium-sized businesses.

A global view of corporate social responsibility (CSR)  – More businesses than ever are contributing to the greater good across the world, according to the most recent Grant Thornton International Business Report. The survey asked what companies are doing to make their operations more sustainable and why. Here are some of the top findings:

  • Cost management emerges as the key driver for CSR followed by customer demand and because it’s the ‘right thing to do’.
  • How a business is perceived to be operating is also important, especially in China.
  • Vast majority of businesses are involved with local charities, either through donating time, money or products/services.
  • Businesses are working to reduce their environmental impact, with increasing numbers calculating the carbon footprint of their operations.
  • More than half of businesses now view integrated reporting as best practice.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and 18 Others Commit $1 Billion To New Cleantech Fund, Breakthrough Energy VenturesBill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Vinod Khosla, Jack Ma, John Doerr and 15 other high-profile investors have formed a new venture firm. Breakthrough Energy Ventures will pour at least $1 billion into cleantech companies over the next 20 years. The firm’s goal, according to its own website, will be: “to provide everyone in the world with access to reliable, affordable power, food, goods, transportation, and services without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.” Breakthrough Energy Ventures will invest in tech ventures at any stage, from seed through commercialization. The deals will focus on electricity, manufacturing, agriculture, buildings and transportation. 

Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development –  On September 25th 2015, member countries of the United Nations adopted a set of 17 goals to end povertyprotect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.sustainable dev goals

The Weekly Round-Up: Focus on Food Waste

Food waste or food loss is food that is discarded or lost uneaten. The causes of food waste or loss are numerous, and occur at the stages of production, processing, retailing and consumption. Current estimates put global food loss and waste between one-third and one-half of all food produced.

This week our Round-Up focuses on news and information on this important topic. 

Gleaning is all about feeding the hungry – One major area of food waste in America is in farmers’ fields, where crops that don’t meet top-grade quality are left to rot or be plowed under.  The Biblical concept of gleaning is reemerging as a method, not only for feeding the hungry, but also reducing food waste. According to the Society of Saint Andrews, a group that coordinates thousands of volunteer groups participating in gleaning events. Each year, 35,000 – 40,000 volunteers glean over 20 million pounds of fresh, nutritious produce from farmers’ fields and orchards after the harvest for their hungry neighbors.

Volunteer Participating in a Gleaning Event 

The Institute of Culinary Education and The New School Announce Zero Waste Food Conference — Industry leaders, including acclaimed chef Massimo Bottura, will inspire creative solutions to create more sustainable food networks — The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and The New School announce the launch of the Zero Waste Food conference, an exploration of sustainable methods for producing, distributing, consuming and disposing of food in the environments where we cook and where we eat. The conference will take place on April 28 and 29, 2017 at locations on The New School and ICE campuses. Bridging the gap between research and practice, academics, activists, chefs and business leaders and producers will participate in panel discussions, and provide culinary demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes, that uncover innovative techniques for creating delicious meals from food waste.

Congresswoman renews campaign to take on food waste Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree is renewing her efforts to reduce food waste with federal legislation. Pingree, a Democrat, is an advocate for making food donation easier and cutting down on the amount of food that gets thrown out. She is a co-sponsor of The Food Donation Act of 2017, which was introduced on Feb. 7. The bill seeks to modernize food donation rules by expanding liability protections for food donors. Pingree also plans to reintroduce a pair of other food waste bills in the coming weeks. One would address food waste using tools like tax credits, research and a public awareness campaign. The other would standardize date labeling on food by distinguishing between quality and safety date labels.

The global food waste scandalby Megan Tatum –  The world binned or burned the equivalent of £2.9 trillion of food last year. A fetid pile of 1.3 billion tonnes – a third of all the food the world produced – went ‘off’ in fields, factories and family homes, says the FAO, belching out more noxious carbon than any country in the world, with the exception of China and the US.  Stuffed into this squalid mountain of discarded food lie 45% of the world’s fruit and veg, more than a third of its fresh fish and seafood, 30% of its grains and cereals and a fifth of its nutrient-rich dairy and meat – enough food to feed all Africa’s hungry.

Here in the West, our weekly shopping habits, obsession with perfect produce and scrupulous quality controls mean a third of waste happens in the final stages of the supply chain. Whereas in the developing world, as little as 5% of food is wasted by consumers and only 20% during processing, with the overwhelming majority lost in the very early stages of production.  “One of the major reasons is storage and the ability to protect the product from the farm through the supply chain to the customer [versus] a lack of storage facilities, poor distribution networks, and poor transportation,” says Liz Goodwin, former Wrap CEO and now director of food loss and waste at WRI.

The Wisdom of Garbageby JESSICA LEIGH HESTERResearchers are digging into heaps of discarded food to uncover clues about why we throw so much of it away—and how cities can cut the waste. Belinda Li, a project engineer at Tetra Tech, has been dispatched by the Natural Resources Defense Council to excavate hundreds of samples of trash in Nashville, Denver, and New York City—three cities where the NRDC has rooting or established relationships with local organizations. The bin digs are a quest to exhume data from detritus—and from there, to glean information about consumer behavior and food waste.  Trashed food exacts an enormous environmental and economic toll: By some estimates, each American family spends some $1,600 each year on uneaten eats.  

Science is great and gross! Researchers sort through bags of garbage collected in Manhattan(Jessica Leigh Hester/CityLab)

Nationally, there’s a larger push to collect and crunch data about wasted food, and then make those stats publicly available with an eye toward shaping policy. Back in January, the Rockefeller Foundation—which is in the midst of a seven-year, $130 million food waste-reduction initiative called YieldWise—threw its support behind a portal designed by a coalition including the USDA and EPA. The Further With Food website allows users to zero in on the data that’s most relevant to them, sorting by audiences (such as students, restaurant workers, hunger relief groups, and lawmakers), sources (like academic, business, and NGO), and topics (including policy, meal planning, and food rescue).  By the end of June the NRDC intends to spin this new data into a toolkit including sample protocols, case studies, and suggestions for scaling up solutions that have proved successful.

Trade groups push to expire confusing food date labels – Consumers are confronted with more than 10 different date labels on packages. The food industry is working to simplify labels on perishable food. Date stamps like “best by,” “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” can be confusing for shoppers.  Those multiple notifications could soon be reaching their expiration date. The trade groups are moving to reduce those “expiration” labels to just two: “use by” and “best if used by.” They say it’ll not only reduce consumer confusion, but also keep people from wasting perfectly good food, reports CBS news correspondent Jamie Yuccas. The new label guidelines are voluntary, but giant retailer Walmart is already on board. It says it supports the effort to “simplify consumers’ lives” and “reduce food waste.”