Review: Green to Gold–How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage
Daniel C. Esty
I have read and praised Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, The Ecology of Commerce and Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things here at Amazon, and I mention them to emphasize that this book, “Green to Gold,” is the hands-down no-contest best primer for top management. The others are intellectual presentations. This is a business oriented primer with lots of facts, lists, and resources.
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!
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