Green book roundup: Sustainability and innovation in business and the economy
From transparency with customers to envisioning a prosperous, peaceful future free of oil, coal and nuclear energy, these five books are taking care of business.
Mon, Jan 16 2012 at 4:15 PM
How would your business work without oil, on just a few weeks’ or days’ notice? What four global forces will change our world and our economies over the next 40 years? How can you use sustainability to drive innovation in your company and industry? How can you avoid accusations of greenwashing and inspire loyalty in your eco-conscious customers? The authors of the following five books strive to answer these and many other questions about the future of energy, business and power. From fossil fuels to renewable energy and top-down hierarchical power to lateral and collaborative processes, these books show that the end of the oil age can and must lead directly into the beginning of a better, cleaner, healthier and more prosperous era, and that getting down to business has the potential to be a sustainable and rewarding global adventure.
Horace Greeley may or may not have ever offered the advice, “Go West, young man,” but Laurence C. Smith’s important book, “The World in 2050,” shows that we all may have good reason (and little choice) to head in a new direction: North. Though you might expect fire and brimstone from a book attempting to predict our future in the face of big trends like climate change and population growth, “The World in 2050” is anything but a doomsday prophecy. In fact, Smith favors “likely, foreseeable trajectories over unlikely, exciting ones” in a determined (and largely successful) effort to “avoid sacrificing a more probable outcome to a good story.” Smith presents his thought experiment in lucid, engaging prose as he explores how four global forces will change our world over the next 40 years. Looking closely at demography, natural resources, globalization and climate change, Smith exposes our weaknesses and identifies the dangers that lie ahead, all the while acknowledging our strengths and pinpointing our best hopes for solutions and success. Pragmatic, sobering and at times even cautiously optimistic, “The World in 2050” is a vital read for anyone interested in what the near future holds.
Business owners and employees interested in developing sustainable strategies for their companies large and small will find plenty of ideas and constructive examples in Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell’s “Sustainable Excellence,” now available in paperback from Rodale Books. Today’s business landscape is changing quickly, affected by the declining availability and rising prices of natural resources as well as evolving consumer expectations. More and more, the public is seeking sustainability and transparency from the businesses they patronize, a paradigm shift that Cramer and Karabell see as both a challenge and potential opportunity for companies. “The question of whether to communicate about the social and environmental dimensions of business is about as relevant today as whether to have a company Web site,” they write. Executives looking to adopt new ways of conducting business are urged to use sustainability to drive innovation. They’re also encouraged to embrace transparency, engaging in a sort of ongoing conversation — or even collaboration — with their customers. “Many consumer goods companies have taken their commitment to sustainability to its logical conclusion and come to see their role as one of educating customers on how and why to embrace sustainability in their own lives, to bring sustainable excellence into their management of their own homes and communities.” Cramer and Karabell demonstrate that for a business to succeed over the coming decades it must be excellent, and to be excellent, it must be sustainable. “Sustainable Excellence” is a thorough look at why and how to head in that direction.
Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Like Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell, Amory B. Lovins believes that business for profit can lead the energy transition. The esteemed energy expert and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute collaborated with his team of scientists, engineers, architects, economists and business experts to work out a plan for running a 158 percent bigger U.S. economy in 2050 with no oil, coal or nuclear energy. If that whets your appetite, get a load of the icing on the carbon neutral cake: Lovins and his colleagues maintain that this new economy will require one-third less natural gas and a $5 trillion lower net-present-value cost than business as usual, and the transition will require no new inventions and no act of Congress. A road map to this “richer, fairer, cooler, safer” world can be found in Lovins’ comprehensive and hopeful new book, “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.” The book shows how business can lead and greatly benefit from the transition beyond oil and coal by 2050, and in doing so “create new industries with vast potential for jobs, profits and better, cheaper, more robust services.” “Reinventing Fire” shows how the four sectors of the economy that burn fossil fuels — transportation, buildings, industry and electricity generation — can transition into an entirely new structure for the energy system, “creating a remarkable range of public and private benefits.” Though there are challenges and obstacles to be overcome, Lovins insists that with business leadership and policy support, this future is “realistic, already under way, and strikingly rewarding.”
"The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World"
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
In “The Third Industrial Revolution,” Jeremy Rifkin describes a nascent era of collaboratively created and laterally shared renewable energies that will bring about what he calls the “democratization of energy.” Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and bestselling author of 19 books, argues that all industrial revolutions occur when technological advances in communications and energy converge. “In the 19th century,” he writes, “steam-powered print technology became the communication medium to manage the coal-fired rail infrastructure and the incipient national markets of the First Industrial Revolution. In the 20th century, electronic communications — the telephone and later, radio and television — became the communication medium to manage and market the oil-powered auto age and the mass consumer culture of the Second Industrial Revolution.” Rifkin believes that over the next 40 years, by “sharing renewable energy laterally, in power, communications and transport networks that stretch across continents, like we now share information virtually in social networks across the internet,” the Third Industrial Revolution will create thousands of businesses, millions of jobs, and usher in a fundamental reordering of human relationships, from hierarchical to lateral power, that will impact the way we conduct commerce, govern society, educate our children, and engage in civic life. If we can integrate and harmonize the various pillars of the Third Industrial Revolution at every level and stage of development, Rifkin foresees what could potentially be a bright future marked by a sense of "relationship to and responsibility for our fellow human beings." If not, he doesn’t rule out the end of civilization as we know it.
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Planning for 2050 is all well and good, but if you’re looking for practical strategies, tools and inspiration for building a credible value-based green marketing strategy in the here and now, then look no further. New York City-based consultant Jacquelyn Ottman is America's foremost expert on green marketing and eco-innovation, and her book, “The New Rules of Green Marketing,” takes the best of her previous groundbreaking work into the 21st century. Drawing on the latest data from leading researchers and reflecting on findings from pioneering corporations such as GE, Nike, Method, Starbucks, Timberland and Wal-Mart, Ottman discusses using a proactive approach to sustainability to spur innovation, developing products that are green throughout their life cycle, communicating credibly to avoid accusations of “greenwashing,” teaming up with stakeholders to maximize outreach to consumers, taking advantage of social media, and much more. Echoing Cramer and Karabell’s ideas in “Sustainable Excellence,” Ottman writes, “The new rules of green marketing call for businesses to excel by being proactive. Aiming to surpass minimal compliance standards, they set the standards by which they and their competitors will be judged; they are not afraid of disclosing their ingredients and swinging open the doors of their factories in order to build a lasting relationship with green consumers ready to reward them with their loyalty." Her new rules relegate traditional “green guilt” approaches to the recycling bin of history, break green products out of their niche, and ultimately do a far better job of advancing the triple bottom line of people, profits and planet.
Thumbnail photo: Amelia-Jane/Flickr
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