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The Natural Advantage of Nations


Anyone interested in the practical details of building a bright green future needs to read this book. It's an absolutely critical overview of our progress towards sustainability thus far, 500+ information-packed pages on what's working best.

Intended by folks at the Natural Edge Project to be a sequel to Natural Capitalism [most of which you can read online, by the way], Natural Advantage does the best job I've yet seen of sweeping the vista of sustainability-related issues, with pragmatic examinations of best-practices in business and government; issue-wrangling essays on profitable green house solutions, greening the built environment and sustainable transportation; probing inquiries into the nature of major planetary problems -- the list goes on.

It's not beach reading, unless you're even farther gone into ecowonkery than I. The writing often makes you work, the material is thick and abstract, and illustrations (where they exist) are often murkily-designed graphs still wet from somebody's powerpoint presentation. I would be mildly shocked to find anyone who read Natural Advantage cover-to-cover without applied duress (to fully disclose, I haven't even finished the whole thing myself, and I'm into this stuff).

Nor is Natural Advantage perfect. Indeed, there are two places it falls significantly short of the mark. First, there are very few global voices here. Few of the authors come from the developing world. Not enough of the content is about the developing world or the interplay between North and South. This seems a pretty profound oversight. Second, while Natural Advantage brims with practical information on what's working now, it seems to shy away from the cutting edge.

Most of the "wild" examples in this book will ring familiar if you read Worldchanging very often: cellphones in India, biomimicry, green building, the Simputer, green cars. And there are some gross oversights. I have only so far found one mention of the Internet, and no discussion of free/open source software and collaborative design, for instance.

To sum up, nothing in this book totally blew me away (except Alan's piece on The Goa 2100 Project, which we'll be publishing here tomorrow), but much in this book heartened me. It has a wonderful restorative effect to hold 500 pages of working solutions in one's hand. It's also incredible to have so many important ideas under one cover and within easy reach. This is a book I'll be coming back to again and again.

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On behalf of The Natural Edge Project and our partners and supporters, we would like to thank you Alex for your write up on our publication The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century. We believe that this may be the first review of the book posted and we were very proud to read that you thought it was 'an absolutely critical overview of our progress towards sustainability'. We appreciate the time you have spent in reading parts of the book and communicating your feedback. We are very happy that the book has heartened you and has had a restorative effect.

The short comings you have identified are ones that our team has thought long and hard about in developing the book and a brief response based on our decisions is provided below to give you a better idea of our process to deliver the final manuscript. As we all know, no one book will ever be perfect and we appreciate your thoughtful feedback on its short comings as this will influence our future works.

1) The balance between readability and depth of content is a tricky thing as achieving a sustainable economy its not a subject that can be glanced over nor do we want to overload the reader as the end goal is to inform action. In order to reduce the duress and assist the reader the first section of five chapters is designed as a précis of the argument to be developed in the publication, to then allow the reader to choose the chapters to then read (based on the expanded table of contents).

2) Throughout the entirety of the book there is actually quite a lot of content directly and indirectly regarding the developing world and most of the frameworks within the book apply to the developing world as much as OECD countries. Most of the sector-based sustainability networks featured in the book are also as active in developing countries as OECD countries.

To assist in reading, a selection of some key extracts from the book that relate to developing countries and sustainability are summarised as follows: Chapter 1 p1, p7, Part 5 (Benefits of Valuing Nature - p24), Part 6 (Implications & Benefits for Global Development - p25-33), Chapter 4 (Curitiba, Brazil), Chapter 5 (Globalization), Chapter 6 pp90-94, Chapter 7, Chapter 11 - pp176-181 & 204-207 (use of natural resources in developing countries), Chapter 12 (asian economic crisis of 1997), Section 4 (Challenge of Mega-Cities), Chapter 16 (Alan's piece on Goa 2100 from India), Chapter 17 (Profitable Greenhouse Solutions -pp321-323 & 329-330), Chapter 19 (Sustainable Transport Chapter - based on the Millenium database that covers close to 100 cities, with over a quarter coming from the developing world), Chapter 21 (the WSSD framework on sustainable consumption and production), and pp 454-457 (Alan AtKisson's work in the Baltic states).

However we have kept much additional material and research for the follow up book as we are now building the second volume The Natural Advantage of Nations -Exceeding the Millennium Goals. For instance we were not able to cover issues of Environment and Trade adequately due to lack of space and hence topics like this, and technology transfer from the North to the South and visa versa will be covered in the follow-up publication. We would be very grateful to receive material for consideration in this second volume - to ensure that we adequately respond to what we agree was a big part of the picture, but could not be covered in the first volume. We intent to study the Worldchanging.com database in the literature review for this second volume.

3) Our goal was to present a practical and rigorous publication using case studies of tried and tested technologies and methodologies, so we decided to focus on what is working now rather than what people are saying will work in the future. Our main message is that we can meet many of the challenges with what we already know and don't have to wait for future technologies, hence we have intentionally focused on what is working now.

4) We don't actually see any of the examples as being 'Wild' as they have been proven in practice (a prerequisite for their inclusion in the book). Issues of Intellectual Property and access to information are not really issues that can be written about in such a context as they are subject to legal requirements. On other projects such as assisting the Australian Conservation Foundation with their online databases for example, we did ensure their section on online resources for communities had a link (hyperlinked on the word "computer") to open source projects (www.acfonline.org.au/na/asp/pages/document.asp?IdDoc=839). We are also in discussions with efforts to use open-source software in Australia, to help build sustainability networks (for example with the Australian National Sustainability Network).

Due to the fact that there are already numerous books/web sites on this topic of open sourcing, we did not focus on the topic in The Natural Advantage of Nations. That said, our book does emphasise the role the internet is playing in both allowing networks working on sustainability to rapidly form to share relevant information and the role that internet sites can now play as a watchdog. The Natural Edge Project promotes open source and we have developed a comprehensive online companion to the book at www.thenaturaladvantage.info where most of the references alluded to in the book can be downloaded or hyperlinked to.This website is still under construction but most of the chapters now have their online equivalent.

We are happy to hear that the book did not 'blow you away' as our intention was to present a rigorous peer reviewed body of work based on what can be done now to meet the significant challenges we face to achieve sustainable genuine progress. It was our intention to present a case that most readers saw as being very plausible and possible (the case study Alan wrote up did actually blow us away too...). Should readers have additional case studies or material that they would like considered for uploading to the online companion, or for inclusion in the second volume, then please contact the team at secretariat@naturaledgeproject.net.

Once again, thank you very much for your review and the opportunity to further explain our rationale,

Kind regards on behalf of the TNEP Secretariat
Karlson 'Charlie' Hargroves and Michael H. Smith (Co-Editors, The Natural Advantage of Nations)

Posted by: Charlie Hargroves & Michael Smith on April 12, 2005 9:52 PM

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