Natural Order

Customers get their products, clients get their services-but the environment is still waiting on its big shipment of respect.

Within weeks of taking office, President George W. Bush sent out a message: Business growth will be a higher priority than the environment. Bush acted quickly in pronouncing the Kyoto Protocol dead in the United States, angering leaders of industrialized nations who, alongside the previous U.S. administration, had hammered out what was to become the foundation of a treaty among 178 nations promising to lower greenhouse gases. At the same time, he pushed energy production rather than conservation as the solution to the energy crises on the East and West Coasts. By the 30th anniversary of the first Earth Day this past April, the environmental movement seemed to be losing ground, with business growth coming possibly at the expense of the environment.

Playing With Rainbows

But entrepreneurs like 26-year-old Darren Patrick aren't headed in that direction. Patrick may not have been demonstrating in Genoa against globalization, free trade or corporate pollution, but he is acutely aware of businesses' impact on the environment as he runs his business in San Antonio.

Patrick founded Rainbow Play Systems when he was 20; three years later he was a millionaire. Rainbow sells redwood and red-cedar residential playground equipment in 14 Rainbow stores throughout south Texas and Mexico. The company will ring up approximately $6 million in sales this year, but it's that success that makes Rainbow one of the nation's largest consumers of redwood.

"Since the onset of our business, we have always been concerned about our lumber purchases and the mills that fulfill them," says Patrick, who purchases lumber only from mills participating in sustained-yield programs that protect the population of the nation's redwood trees. But Rainbow goes beyond simply making an effort to sustain its own natural resources. The company uses its marketing program to educate potential customers about the benefits offered by sustained-yield programs. "These programs have been successful environmentally and, for us, by creating a sustainable resource," says Patrick. "Today, we have more redwood trees than ever before."

Patrick has unintentionally embraced the concept environmentalist Amory Lovins calls "natural capitalism." In his book, aptly titled Natural Capitalism, Lovins notes companies that eliminate waste and become more environmentally efficient prosper while their competitors that are environmentally inefficient fail.

Patrick, along with hundreds of entrepreneurs like him, is forging the next industrial revolution by following-intentionally or not-the four principles of natural capitalism: increasing productivity of natural resources, modeling industrial processes after biological systems, selling service-based solutions for the environment, and reinvesting in natural capital.

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This article was originally published in the November 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Natural Order.

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