BOOK REVIEW: Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto

Dispatch from SSC Intern Crystal Kirsch

Strategy for Sustainability is all about turning sustainability into an operational concept for business. Adam Werbach walks along the path of business - where has business come from, where is it going and how it has to prepare for the changes of the future. Werbach does an excellent job in explaining how to move a company forward into a sustainability-framed business mindset.

"This book is about how you can help any company craft such a sustainability plan much further upstream. It’s about developing and executing a company’s strategy that takes into account all aspects of sustainability but this is useful enough to be implemented today. It’s about involving employees and the community in every part of the process. And it’s about survival."

The author goes into practical detail by dissecting those businesses that were not prepared for the future, using examples such as The Big Three auto companies and their lack of staying power. He also analyzes the struggle of the City of New Orleans resulting from their deficient storm preparations. He points out the signs that forecasted doom for companies that refused to change. Werbach explains the importance of embracing sustainability along the entire time frame, not just when the company is seeing profit and when the economy is doing well.

Innovate differently, and win. Or continue to innovate narrowly, and lose – businesses can watch some savvy competitor pass them by as they scramble to recoup lost market share or, worse, fight for their very survival.

He encourages readers to move from the triple-bottom-line and embrace the “sustainable bottom line.” His sustainable bottom line includes not only social, economic, and environmental factors but also culture as a way to market properly. Just going green will not work - sustainability is long-term thinking. Planning and going green is a trend that will soon lead to true sustainability.

Werbach does an excellent job of relating his book to businesses and its staff of every level. He uses recent media coverage to explain past company pitfalls and success stories. These perfectly portray what happens to businesses according to the way they set their sights on the future. Examples of The Big Three, Clorox and the disaster left by Hurricane Katrina are just a few that perfectly describe what happens to the ones that plan ahead and to the ones that do not.

Additionally, establishing North Star goals and using STaR mapping gives companies outlines on creating a strategic business plan for the future. He urges companies to think realistically but also to keep in mind that any changes or lack of changes will profoundly affect them. Most importantly, he repeats that it is always imperative to keep the entire company involved in the sustainability action.

Werbach’s book mentions the importance of encouraging diversity and working together towards a common goal. However, he offers little advice on how to maintain this diversity while working on the same goal. How do we achieve this without disturbing current culture(s)? A sustainable practice for one culture may be against another culture (ex. The one-child policy in China is against some religious practices that encourage many children).

He also fails to capture the influence that the media has on our sustainability goal-setting procedure. What about the media systems that take up on the bad publicity but never air the changes/updates that companies make? How do we take on the media as well as the sustainable bottom line (as a part of culture)?

Nevertheless it is a very insightful book. No business can afford to ignore it!