Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage Hardcover – Oct 9 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Two experts from Yale tackle the business wake-up-call du jour-environmental responsibility-from every angle in this thorough, earnest guidebook: pragmatically, passionately, financially and historically. Though "no company the authors know of is on a truly long-term sustainable course," Esty and Winston label the forward-thinking, green-friendly (or at least green-acquainted) companies WaveMakers and set out to assess honestly their path toward environmental responsibility, and its impact on a company's bottom line, customers, suppliers and reputation. Following the evolution of business attitudes toward environmental concerns, Esty and Winston offer a series of fascinating plays by corporations such as WalMart, GE and Chiquita (Banana), the bad guys who made good, and the good guys-watchdogs and industry associations, mostly-working behind the scenes. A vast number of topics huddle beneath the umbrella of threats to the earth, and many get a thorough analysis here: from global warming to electronic waste "take-back" legislation to subsidizing sustainable seafood. For the responsible business leader, this volume provides plenty of (organic) food for thought.
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It is a pro-business book that focuses on opportunities. It is extremely well-organized, with three parts, twelve chapters, and three appendices including a superb list of active web sites relevant to doing well by doing good.
This book is based on hundreds of interviews over four years, and every aspect of it is professional presented, including boxes with "10 second overviews" interspersed throughout.
The authors are compellingly pointed in their discussion of how the environment, and attendant regulations and attendant risks of catastrophic costs, is no longer a fringe issue. Mistakes in cadmium content of connecting cables can cost hundreds of millions.
The authors excel at discussing the new pressures from natural limits that are now visible (changes that used to take 10,000 years now take 3--see my reviews on Ecological Economics, the Republican War on Science, the varied books on Climate Change, etc) and the fact that there is a growing range of stake-holders who are altering the balance of power.
The authors are clear in noting that environmental compliance and wisdom is neither easy nor cheap, but they are equally detailed in documenting that most investments to reduce environmental costs are recouped within 12-18 months. In one cited example, 3M saves $1 billion in the first year alone on pollution reduction, and over the course of a decade, was able to reduce its pollution by 90%.
On page 33 they list the top 10 environmental issues and I like this list very much as an expansion on "Environmental Degradation" which is the over-all threat that the High Level Threat Panel of the United Nations ranked as third out of ten, to Poverty and Infectious Disease. They are:
01 Climate Change
04 Biodiversity and Land Use
05 Chemicals, Toxics, and Heavy Metals
06 Air Pollution
07 Waste Management
08 Ozone Layer Depletion
09 Oceans and Fisheries
The authors do a superb job in summarizing each of these in several pages perfectly suited to the busy manager. For those desiring more in-depth looks, see my many reviews across the board, including Priority One: Together We Can Beat Global Warming; various books on energy, Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource; Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy, Blue Frontier: Dispatches from America's Ocean Wilderness; and The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster, and the Water We Drink.
The bottom line for the first part of the book: extremes can no longer be dampened down; and we now recognize the eco-system value of the wetlands that we have paid the Army Corps of Engineers to eradicate for decades.
The authors devised a schema for businesses to develop an understanding and then a strategy for reducing their environmental footprint. The authors do extremely well with their organized examination of Aspects, Upstream, Downstream, Issues, and Opportunities (AUDIO), and anyone looking at the book in a store can go directly to pages 62-63. This is an operational management handbook.
There is an excellent overview of the many new stake-holders (or significantly matured stake-holders including NGOs, religions, and local citizens. Business can no longer bribe government--government cannot "deliver" the way it used to (see my review of The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future - and What It Will Take to Win It Back for a sense of how corruption of other elites by our elites has accelerated all the ills of the world).
Regulations, according to these authors, should be seen as vital incentives and parameters for both reducing costs and gaining trust.
Forty global banks, and many insurance companies, now demand proper examination of ecological costs as a condition for funding or coverage.
The authors remind me of General Tony Zinni, whose books I have reviewed, in their emphasis on relationships developed over time. They urge a strong focus on relationships NOW, across the board, as a means of building a "trust bank" as well as a deeper understanding. Blocks that used to be labels "not our problem" or "not legally liable" are now labeled "IMPORTANT TO US."
In the middle of the book they explore the digital information advantages that can accrue to those who get out of their closed loops and increase innovation. In one instance, simply adding load to trucks reduced fuel consumption and emissions considerably.
The middle of the book contains 8 detailed "Green to Gold" plays, and I won't spoil it by listing them. A box in this section says "Truth Matters" and I applaud silently.
The authors stress that mind-set, not just a check-book, is required to get this right. Five basic rules are 1) See the forest; 2) Start at the top; 3) No is not an option; 4) Feelings are facts; and 5) Do the right thing, morality DOES pay.
Pages 168-169 are sheer brilliance, and illustrate why the value chain must be completely integrated into the environmental strategy of each element of that value chain and most especially the largest and most powerful of the elements, which must carefully consider and accept responsibility for demanding improvements by the smallest elements.
Eight lessons of partnering, 13 problems and their solutions, and a final chapter of very specific actions that managers can take, conclude the book.
My final note on this book: a pleasure to read, easy to read, so well done I got through it in half the time characteristic of denser or less well designed books. This is first rate stuff!
Most books on the topic leave you with the idea that all is rosey and money when "doing the right thing" and developing more sustainable business practices. Not so here - you will find many examples of what HASN'T worked out according to expectations. Case-in-point Interface Floor Covering, a company whose case is in about every book on sustainability. Well, in their pursuit to reinvent the way carpeting is made and sold (many excellent eco-accomplishments), they totally musjudged the marketplace and assumed corporate customers would be happy to switch from buying carpeting (out of annual capital budget) to leasing it (out of monthly operating budgets). They ignored one of the great rules of "Green Marketing": Don't expect the customer to change behaviour to make green choices. So, this book brings these valuable lessons for all to learn and avoid repeating.
This is a great book for VP, CEO, COO levels as it highlights the business case in a clear and compelling way and shows how, really, the business case for sustainability has been largely proven. Green to Gold is a quality, believable business book that will help especially managerial staff understand this topic in biz terms most known to them. It also gives some excellent but succict summaries of the top environmental problems that have led to unsustainable activity and how to savvily engage various stakeholders from Greenpeace to shareholder or employees asking tough questions.
Also highly recommended is "A Necessary Revolution: How Organizations are Collaborating to Create a Sustainable World" by MIT's Peter Senge (2008).
It's a little reminiscent to me of Collins Built to Last and Good to Great in that it is meticulously researched with a mix of company interviews/cooperation and empirical and investigative work. It doesn't have Collins "pairing" framework, but it doesn't need to in order to make its point.
If you liked Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, this book will satisfy your thirst for information about what the heck the corporate world is doing or more important, can do, to do its part in not destroying our ecosystem. If you didn't like Gore's movie or didn't see it because you don't like Al Gore or don't think that many elements of the environmental movement are worthwhile, this book is an even more important read, as it brings the theoretical and scientific to the practical and treats sustainability as the corporate world must treat it in order to adopt it as a mainstream practice -- as a driver of capitalistic profit and competitive advantage.
This is a really important work in terms of advancing the cause of corporate social responsibility as it applies to the environment. Most important, it proves the axiom here that you can, in fact, Do Well by Doing Good.
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