Hazel Henderson, a self-taught environmentalist and futurist who became an apostle of the green economy and of socially responsible investing, and who popularized the slogan “think globally, act locally,” died — or “went virtual,” as she would have put it — on Sunday at her home in St. Augustine, Fla. She was 89.
The cause was complications of skin cancer, said Linda C. Crompton, chief executive of Ethical Markets, the media company that Ms. Henderson founded in 2004 to promote, in her words, capitalism’s evolution “beyond maximizing profits for shareholders and management, to benefiting all stakeholders.”
Ridiculing conventional economists — and relishing her reputation in some quarters as a crank — she sought to redefine gross national product as a measure of prosperity not merely to encompass material success on the bases of the cash value of goods and services produced annually, but also to include health, social, educational and other benchmarks that, as Senator Robert F. Kennedy declared in 1968 after being briefed by Ms. Henderson, “make life worthwhile.”
“She was instrumental in pressing for qualitative measurements suitable for people focused on a democratic economy, in contrast to the dominant monetized yardsticks of the corporate economy,” the consumer activist Ralph Nader said in a phone interview, “and through networking she spread those measures throughout the international civic community.”
The environmentalist and author Bill McKibben described Ms. Henderson on Twitter as “a visionary ecological economist.”
Ms. Henderson called herself an “independent, self-employed futurist” who, like the nation’s founders, raised warning flags about the factionalism engendered by party politics. She wrote nine books, perhaps most notably “The Politics of the Solar Age” (1981), which heralded the environmental movement’s embrace of sustainable energy sources as a substitute for fossil fuels like coal and oil.
In The New York Times Book Review, the political scientist Langdon Winner, reviewing “The Politics of the Solar Age,” called Ms. Henderson “a capable successor” to E.F. Schumacher, the author of “Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered” (1973).
Mr. Winner said that Ms. Henderson wrote “in a lively, well-informed, deliberately outrageous style about matters important to us all,” and added, “Those weary of threadbare liberal economics and repelled by present-day conservative nostrums will find here a great deal to ponder.”
Ms. Henderson also wrote “Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy” (2007), later the basis of a PBS television series.
Perhaps the most notable of Ms. Henderson’s books, “The Politics of the Solar Age” heralded the environmental movement’s embrace of sustainable energy sources.
Deliberately or not, her style outraged members of the academy, who bristled at her conclusion that “economics is a form of brain damage” and at a professional agenda she said was aimed at “defrocking the economics priesthood.”
“One might even say that the beneficent ‘invisible hand’ envisioned by Adam Smith has become for increasing numbers of Americans a clumsy, heedless ‘invisible foot,’ which tramples on social, human and environmental values,” she wrote.
Ms. Henderson’s own professional evolution was a modern Cinderella story: A British-born high school graduate with no interest in going to college, she immigrated to America, where she was baptized in the environmental movement by the ash spouting from New York’s garbage-burning incinerators.
Forced to bathe her baby daughter every day just to remove a patina of soot, and rebuffed by indifferent officials when she complained about pollution to City Hall, Ms. Henderson and another concerned Manhattan parent, Carolyn Konheim, formed Citizens for Clean Air, a groundbreaking environmental group. Among other innovations, their organization transformed an obscure measurement, the air pollution index, into a fixture of daily weather reports.
Jean Hazel Mustard was born on March 27, 1933, in Bristol, Somerset, England. Her father, Kenneth, was a businessman. She recalled her mother, Dorothy May (Jesseman) Mustard, as a proto-environmentalist who grew fruits and vegetables and raised chickens. (Hazel later became a vegetarian and preferred recycled products, including toilet paper — in keeping with her promulgation of the Scottish planner Patrick Geddes’s early 20th-century axiom to “think globally, act locally.”)
“I learned from my experience growing up in a typical patriarchal family in Bristol, a port of the slave trade in Britain, that women were trained to be the givers and men were trained to be the dominant takers,” she wrote last year on the website of Radix, which calls itself “a think tank for the radical center.” “My mother was kept penniless by my father, a powerful business executive, and he forced her to grovel for money to pay our grocery bills.”
She graduated from the Clifton School, a girls’ high school, in 1950; worked as a telephone operator, saleswoman and hotel clerk; and married Carter Henderson, who wrote for The Wall Street Journal, in 1957, the same year she moved to New York. She became a naturalized citizen in 1962 and moved to Florida in the mid-1970s.
Her survivors include a daughter, Alexandra Leslie Camille Henderson, from that marriage, which ended in divorce in 1981, and a grandson.
In 1996, she shared the Boston Research Center’s Global Citizen Award with A. Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980. That same year she married Alan F. Kay, an internet pioneer who had founded a Wall Street computerized trading concern, and who underwrote her founding of Ethical Markets. Together they also started the Global Commission to Fund the United Nations. Mr. Kay died in 2016.
She wrote for The Harvard Business Review in the 1960s and ‘70s; was named “citizen of the year” by the New York County Medical Society in 1967; was a regents’ lecturer at the University of California, Santa Barbara; held a chair in conservation at the University of California, Berkeley; and advised the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Science Foundation.
She remained self-employed, she told The Tampa Bay Tribune in 2005, because “I would have been fired off any job for insubordination.”
Like that of many futurists, her success was based on savvy intuition. It was also based in part on the fact that either so much time had elapsed that most people had forgotten what she once predicted, or it hadn’t happened yet.
In 1982, for example, she was asked by The Times to forecast what the millennium would look like.
“You will definitely see this returning to a more human scale society,” Ms, Henderson said. “It will be more efficient and do things locally. It won’t make sense to buy Wonder Bread baked in Illinois. In the future, we will share capital goods like lawn mowers and freezers and houses.”
Was she wrong about any of her predictions? “Only about timing,” Mr. Nader said. “She thought quicker than other people did, because she was an optimist.”