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Here’s my book review of The Big Pivot on Sustainable Brands.

If you’ve ever thought of dropping a book on your boss’s desk, in the hopes of sparking a Ray Anderson-type conversion, here’s a tip. Don’t use the new IPCC report: It’s gloomy, terrifying and a muddle.

Try this instead: Andrew Winston’s business transformation book for the “new normal” of climate change-fueled disruption. It’s called The Big Pivot.

The strategist and Green to Gold author has written a practical, working handbook for teams, organizations and corporations to “recreate their operations to succeed within the scientific reality of a hotter, wilder, more radically open world.”

In the book, which launches April 9 (join us for the launch! See details below), Winston deftly manages a tricky balancing act: talking about humanity’s impending catastrophes while maintaining a rational, business-minded focus on solutions. I’m glad to say that he pulls it off.

And glad for the rest of us, too, because we need a Big Pivot. That’s what Winston calls the kind of rapid and radical business transformation needed to get from today’s normal of insufficient action to new low/no-carbon, climate-resilient practices and strategies.

To start, Winston briskly lays out the science: Failure is what awaits us if businesses don’t prepare for climate-change-fueled weather disasters, resource scarcities and a radically transparent global marketplace.

For sure, Winston is swinging for the fences by calling for “dramatic improvements in operational efficiency and cuts in material and energy use, waste and carbon emissions.” But only because climate science — not the boardroom — demands it.

Then onto examples: Winston knows The Big Pivot is possible because he’s seen and helped companies do it. He shares stories to show that change can come from decisive leadership rather just than the stick of regulation or crisis. These up-to-date case studies are perfect, sharable examples of what leading companies are doing today.

And finally, he offers 10 strategies for how your company can make big, bold moves for equally big returns on business stability and profitability.

Each strategy is stated as an action, such as “Fight short-termism” and “Set big, science-based goals.” And for each strategy, there’s a “How to Execute” section.

For example, one of the simplest (but hardest) things companies can do is to throw out their goal-setting processes that rely on internal or industry benchmarks. Instead, Winston says we have to peg our goals to meeting the true size of the planetary problem, with suggestions for doing that.

Overall, I appreciate Winston’s refreshingly blunt perspective on two points, both of which can mire sustainability work in problems rather than solutions.

The first is that climate change — as a human-caused, dangerous scientific reality — is not up for discussion. Readers who are grappling with climate denialism or its poisonous cousin, climate fatalism, in their workplaces will find Winston a good model for not engaging and getting on with things.

The second is to dismiss the stall tactic he calls “the increasingly absurd question [of], ‘What’s the business case?’” For readers who are genuinely uninformed about why the world’s businesses need to do things differently, the book’s appendix offers a crash course. Readers can also consult Winston’s earlier book, Green to Gold.

I find his use of the pivot metaphor to be really smart. For one, readers who aren’t comfortable with high-stakes sustainability goals might find themselves on more familiar ground by thinking about entrepreneurial pivots. Successful Start-Up 101 is all about trying one thing, then shifting deliberately to another, to find the right customers and positioning. Giving The Big Pivot an entrepreneurial cast, deliberate or not, may help draw in hesitant readers.

What Winston doesn’t talk much about, by necessity of brevity, are the specific people at leading companies who are making Big Pivot changes towards science-based goal-setting, heretical innovation and radical cooperation.

And that’s a shame, because they’re the real story of The Big Pivot — not companies or strategies or tools to get to zero.

I think that The Big Pivot starts with each of us thinking of ourselves this way. And more importantly, by thinking of our colleagues, partners, competitors and elected officials as capable people who are also up for the challenging of creating a better future.

I’m inspired by Winston’s call for businesses to buck the short-term safety of a quarterly profits-obsessed status quo. It’s time to pivot to a focus on long-term, science-based realities. With a certain climate-challenged future ahead of us, The Big Pivot gives us a realist’s path to making sure it’s a prosperous one, too.

 

Inspiring.

Last night’s Bard MBA in Sustainability’s program called The Frontiers of Sustainable Business was that, and more.

Hunter Lovins and Andrew Winston talked expansively about everything from proving the sustainable business case and setting science-based goals, to planetary limits and compelling narrative storytelling. And the role that business must play to stave off global climate catastrophe.

If you click just one link in this post, watch this: Unilever’s Lifebuoy: Help a Child Reach 5 Years

Three minutes. Then Share, Link, Tweet, Tag it to your networks.

 
The following is presented as things came up in conversation, more or less:


Books (Amazon links noted for easy reference. Buying used and local are always better):

Green to Gold, Andrew Winston

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins

Saving Capitalism From Short-Termism: How to Build Long-Term Value and Take Back Our Financial Future, Alfred Rappaport

Factor Five: Transforming the Global Economy through 80% Improvements in Resource Productivity,  Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker

The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World
Peter M. Senge, et al

Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Adam Hochschild


Ideas/Articles (Wiki links for convenience; caveat emptor):

Michael Porter: Climate Change is unlike any other challenge the world has ever faced. (citation needed)

Not if. When. Make that now. Business leaders need to set science-based carbon goals. Setting targets based on prior business performance is irrelevant–and dangerously naive. It ignores the external realities of irreversible, inevitable global resource scarcity, social and climate disruptions.

Bhutan’s journey to Gross National Happiness

The evolution of the UN Millenium Development Goals to the new Sustainable Development Goals framework

Hunter Lovins’ work with the United Nations Development Programme

Planetary Boundaries

“Earth’s Tipping Point”, article in the journal Nature (June 2012)

“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”, Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone magazine (July 2012)

“Time to Wake Up”, Investor Jeremy Grantham on the price of everything going up (May 2011)

Unreasonable Institute partnering with Semester at Sea to offer Unreasonable at Sea

“The Elephant in the Room is Growth”, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard lays it out. (GreenBiz Forum SF, March 1, 2013)

“The Fallacy of the China Defense” (Stop claiming that China isn’t doing anything about climate change. It’s not true.) (March 2013)

“The fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry.” McKibben (December 2012)

David Keith on Tar Sands and CO2 Capturing Technologies (January 2013)

“The Tar Sands Disaster” What if Canada becomes like the U.S? (March 2013)

Unilever’s CEO Polaman Quit Reporting Quarterly in 2009. Long-term corporate stewardship is possible. It takes leadership. So let’s stop saying it can’t be done.

Earnings guidance is not a necessary evil to be endured. Coca-Cola, Google and Costco shun quarterly guidance and reporting too.

Systems Thinking as a core sustainability professional competency

“Looking Back on the ‘Limits to Growth'” Smithsonian Magazine looks back at the 1970s prescient description of our world’s current state. (April 2012)

Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

Buckminster Fuller’s Trimtabs

Mondragon Cooperative in Spain


On the power of conversations to change the world:

Daniel Ellsberg meeting Gary Snyder

Joyce LaValle gives Ray Anderson a copy of Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce


People:

David Brower

Paul Hawken

Ray Anderson

Michael Porter

Kees Kruythoff (Unilever President North America)

 

Ray Anderson believed in doing well by doing good.

Before his untimely death in 2011, Interface founder Anderson pioneered the field of Sustainable Business.

His company doubled profits while slashing greenhouse gas emissions, waste, fossil fuel and water consumption.

What impresses me about his story is that his company was in the business of making acres of toxic-laden, waste-producing, petroleum-based commercial carpets.

Not what you would think of as a green company.

When he realized the impact his company was having on the earth, he took action.

Two books by Anderson to download or buy used:

Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose—Doing Business by Respecting the Earth

Mid-Course Correction. Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model

And the book by Paul Hawken that inspired Anderson’s business transformation:

The Ecology of Commerce Revised Edition: A Declaration of Sustainability

On the one-year anniversary of Anderson’s death, Greenbiz.com chairman and executive editor Joel Makower asks:

Why aren’t there more Ray Andersons?

Who today is the enlightened CEO picking up where Anderson left off?

Makower’s query to sustainable business experts brought one name to the top:

One name did come up repeatedly: Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever. For at least the past two years — since launching his company’s Sustainable Living Plan in 2010 — Polman has been presenting a bold sustainability vision for his company, one that at times rails against the status quo.

“He may be on track to surpass Ray,” says Jeffrey Hollender, the co-founder of Seventh Generation, now a speaker, activist, and consultant. “Unilever’s focus on accepting that the way their consumers use their products is part of its sustainability footprint, and that to reduce their negative impact they have to change consumer behavior, is revolutionary.”

But one more Ray is not enough.

Makower says that Anderson left behind “a vision for what sustainable leadership looks like.”

The qualities that Makower identifies as “What Made Ray, Ray” are attributes of transformational leaders : an entrepreneur’s vision, a passion for learning, and a willingness to risk big.

My take-away from Makower’s article is our energies are best spent not on finding the next Ray Anderson, but on encouraging and supporting business leaders to become the next Ray Anderson.