review: Strategy For Sustainability


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A review of the book Strategy For Sustainability by Andy Werbach.

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review: Strategy For Sustainability

  1. 1. strategy for sustainability 1 review: Strategy for Sustainability Without question, Adam Werbach has noteworthy credentials. In 1996 he became the youngest-ever national president of the Sierra Club at just 23 years old. What were you doing at that age? Me, I was just out of college with little notion of what to do next. A year later he wrote a series of autobiographical essays titled Act Now, Apologize Later that recount his visits with nearly all the Sierra Club local chapters. He eventually used the same name for a consulting company Act Now Productions where he created some controversy by taking on Walmart as a client to lead their sustainability efforts. In 2004 he created more controversy with his widely circulated presentation called The Death of Environmentalism and the Birth of the Commons Movement. But most just know it as the Is Environmentalism Dead? lecture. Two years ago his consulting firm joined the global advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi to create Saatchi & Saatchi S - their sustainable vision division. I saw him present at a conference around the same time where he presented preliminary material for his recently published book titled Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto. In the book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath propose six key ideas to make any idea sticky - keep it simple, present it in unexpected ways, give clear concrete examples, make sure it’s credible, tell it with emotion, and employ storytelling. Evaluating Mr. Werbach's book based on these six, I fear his ideas will struggle to stick in the minds of readers. I’m certain his interest was to simplify and clarify a rather complex issue, but may have only added complexity in his effort to do so. He lists ten rules of nature, seven tenets of a strategy for sustainability, STaR mapping (which stands for Social, Technological, and Resource changes), North Star goals, the TEN Cycle (which stands for Transparency, Engagement, and Network), and more. There are more acronyms than a government agency. I was surprised by the his use of what are now very familiar sustainability examples. It’s difficult to open such a book and not read something about Stoneyfield Farm, method, Seventh Generation, Nike Considered, Interface, the differences between Toyota and the American auto industry, The Body Shop, Patagonia, Green Works by Clorox, and so on. If this is your first book about sustainability, these examples will seem fresh and unexpected. Otherwise, they are terribly overplayed. However, he uses those companies to demonstrate clear concrete examples of how business can thrive when employing strategies similar to ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601
  2. 2. strategy for sustainability 2 those being outlined in the book. He shows definitively how STaR mapping and the TEN Cycle would apply, and that was better than the background profile you find in so many other books. In number of attempts to engage the reader through storytelling, he personalizes the message, but struggles to link those stories to his fundamental concepts. As an example, he tells of a disappointing meeting with the mayor of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina to discuss preparations for effects due to climate change. It’s an emotional account of how he feels he failed in his job to sound the alarm bell of pending disaster. But then the story changes course to tell about how Walmart, one of his clients, appeared more capable at relief efforts than the government, making him think that corporations will have to lead the way as they are now larger, richer, and more powerful than most nations. His story concludes with the idea that the tragedy of Katrina was compounded by years of short- term thinking. That may be true, but the flaws exposed by the disaster go much deeper and are far more complex. I was troubled that he used it as a segue or introduction to why business must change their thinking. One area I totally disagree with Mr. Werbach is his desire to rebrand sustainability with a new color - blue. We don’t need another color to complicate the issue. Actually, I don’t think a color should be used at all. From time to time I’ll use green interchangeably with sustainable, but I’m trying to eliminate it from my vocabulary. Colors already have century- old associations and meanings. We don’t need to add more to the existing confusing collection. But more importantly, he presents it in a way that seems like a toss-away idea. It’s as if it were thrown in at the last minute - oh, by the way, here’s a new way to describe all of this stuff I’ve been telling you about - blue. It’s very awkwardly placed. It’s quite possible this book was not intended for me. The language, examples, and stories may resonate better with a business leader new to the idea of integrating sustainability and looking for a way to begin. With his credentials, Mr. Werbach will certainly attract a significant audience. I agree with him that when a company as large as Walmart decides to go this route, others will have to follow just to survive. And regardless of their intentions, any corporation with their power who joins the cause is worthy of celebration. With access to powerful clients and people I’m hopeful that Mr. Werbach will be able to engage an important audience and sway their thinking, but anyone who has read just a few similar books should consider skimming rather than reading cover to cover. ➜ threadcollaborative 11250 morrison street no. 201, north hollywood ca 91601