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Green Recovery: Go Green Boldly to Build Momentum

July 27, 2009

Originally posted on Matter Network

By Deborah Fleischer

Andrew Winston’s new book, Green Recovery, comes in a small, green package, but it packs a big, relevant punch. It is a must read for CEOs who still think going green will cost too much, and for mid-level and senior managers responsible for identifying strategic sustainability initiatives to focus on.

Like his public speaking style, Winston’s writing voice is personable, authentic and engaging. Building on his previous book Green to Gold and his sustainability consulting experience, he presents a clear, green recovery framework that outlines four key paths to a leaner, greener world:

* Get lean: Invest in energy efficiency, waste reduction and other quick-return strategies, and use the cost savings to fund innovation.

* Get smart: Gather data on your environmental footprint throughout the value chain, and use the data to identify priorities, encourage creativity and support employee engagement.

* Get creative: Encourage staff to ask heretical questions and implement strategies to nurture innovation.

* Get engaged: Galvanize your staff by making a real commitment to sustainability, and encourage alignment with core business goals by linking performance to key metrics.

Winston advises that companies that follow this framework will, “…survive today’s travails, thrive as things get better and emerge from the downturn on top.”

Top reasons to read Green Recovery
If you need more convincing, here are the top three reasons I think you will want to read Green Recovery.

1. Business case for going green: Winston does a great job making the business case for why going green is a vital business strategy, with specific examples that address six business drivers. You might want to get a copy for your CEO or other senior staff if they are not fully on board yet.

2. Practical ideas: This small book is chocked full of practical ideas and strategies that can both save money and strengthen your business, with case studies from large corporations, such as DuPont, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Wal-Mart and Disney. Yet, the framework will apply to smaller companies as well.

3. Holistic approach: If you integrate all four approaches, you will be addressing sustainability from an authentic and holistic perspective. Yes, switching light bulbs will save you money, but if you stop there, you are not maximizing the business value sustainability can offer.

The strength of the green wave continues to grow
Winston details six business trends that are powering a green wave, including volatile prices for energy and other resources; new climate change regulations; demands for greater transparency and openness; pressure to green your supply chain; consumer demands; and employees wanting something to believe in.

Sometimes a relatively new book feels out of date by the time I read it. With Green Recovery, I had the opposite reaction. It almost seems as if these forces have grown even stronger since the book was written.

Only days after release of the book, Wal-Mart made a big splash with the announcement that they are going to develop a sustainability index, starting by requiring all their suppliers to respond to 15-questions related to energy and climate, material efficiency, natural resources, and people and community, beginning the process of gathering more concrete data on the environmental performance of their supply chain.

In Winston’s blog at HarvardBusiness.org he responds, “…first, let’s be clear: this kind of sustainability data collection is good for business, and it’s definitely good for Wal-Mart. And while it may seem like a total pain to suppliers, it will be good for them as well…Companies with the best understanding of their own footprint will be able to find their own ways to save money, identify opportunities for innovation, pinpoint risks in their own supply chain before they cause brand and profit-draining events, and — not to put too fine a point on it — allow them to answer questions from big customers like Wal-Mart lest they get dropped as a supplier.”

Get lean
In the “Get Lean” section of the book, Winston describes a range of energy efficiency initiatives with quick (6 to 18 months) paybacks, focusing on facilities (lighting, heating and cooling), IT, fleet and distribution, teleworking and waste.

Some of the tips seem like no-brainers, head-slappers or what are often referred to as “fruit lying on the ground.” Change light bulbs; turn off the lights; focus on your data center cooling; turn off computers; drive slower; inflate tires properly; fit more stuff on a truck; and reduce waste.

So why, you might ask, if there are so many quick, high-ROI projects sitting around, aren’t companies jumping on them? According to Winston, the first reason is that energy efficiency just isn’t seen as sexy. And second, most capital expenditures go to fix things that are broken.

A key message is, “Set aside money specifically for energy efficiency or other green priorities.” While some strategies are no or low cost, others do require an up-front investment. He stresses the concept that green programs are an investment, with quick returns, not merely a cost sitting on a balance sheet.

He points to the example of DuPont, who set aside 1 percent of their capital expenditures solely for energy-saving ideas. DuPont invested $50 million in energy reduction projects in 2008, and the initiatives now save DuPont $50 million every year, for a short 12-month payback.

Get smart
Getting smart means having a solid understanding of your environmental footprint—energy, water, other resource use and waste, in addition to the impacts along your value chain.

Winston suggests that getting smarter will save you a ton of money, help you prioritize your initiatives and allow you to answer your customers’ pressing questions.

It is important to note in this section that Winston advises, “back of the envelope analysis is ok.” A big, expensive assessment is not necessary. Using data that is readily available, and qualitative analysis to start, you can begin to map out the basic flow of your supply chain.

Get creative
As someone with a reputation for being the one to raise the questions others want to avoid, I was pleased to see Winston encouraging that we all ask more radical questions. Can a plane fly with no jet fuel? Can we send no waste to the landfill? As he says, disruptive initiatives and heresy can fuel creative thinking.

He quotes marketing guru Seth Godin as saying, “Suddenly, heretics, troublemakers, and change agents aren’t merely thorns in our side—they are the keys to our success.”

He concludes the chapter with 10 ideas for green innovation in tight times, including look for innovation opportunities in all parts of the business, set aside money and people for the cause and my favorite, find innovation in partners.

Get engaged
Despite being a big fan of stakeholder engagement, I had the hardest time with this section, in part because it is light on specific case studies to support the concepts. It focuses on the idea that if employees are engaged in the dual purposes of driving profits and protecting the environment, they will be more motivated, excited and innovative.

In a recent e-mail exchange, Winston elaborated, “The engaged workforce will find more opportunities to get lean and identify more opportunities to innovate and create products and services that lower customers’ environmental impacts. All of this work will improve the top and bottom lines.”

He proposes that employees need to understand climate change and what it means for business, grasp the constraints in natural resources and nonrenewable energy and take a bigger picture view of the business that includes the full value chain. In addition, engagement means involving everyone in sustainability on multiple levels, both at work and at home.

Weaving it all together
In the conclusion, Winston does a great job of weaving together how the four key components of the framework interact with each other.

When asked via e-mail to further expand on how the pieces of the framework interact, he responded, “The four pillars of the green recovery for corporations…all reinforce each other. You can’t find opportunities to get lean without getting smarter about where you’re fat. And it certainly helps innovation efforts if your people bring real passion and engagement to the challenge. So while it’s tempting to just pursue a piece of the agenda, such as getting lean and saving money, you’ll achieve more if you take a holistic view and think about all aspects of a more complete green strategy – how you train your people in green principles, how you make green innovation more systematic, and how you gather better data about your company’s footprint up and down the value chain.”

So, push the boundaries, ask heretical questions and create a culture of creativity where everyone is fully engaged. “In the process, you’ll redefine your business and help build a leaner, greener world,” concludes Winston. Let’s hope he is right!

You can download a free excerpt of Green Recovery here.

Deborah Fleischer is the founder and president of Green Impact, providing strategic environmental consulting services to mid-sized companies and NGOs who want to launch a new green initiative or cross-sector collaboration, but lack the in-house capacity to get it up and running. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. And you can follow her occasional tweet at GreenImpact.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brothersteve permalink
    September 17, 2009 2:09 am

    Solid thinking.

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  1. Why Clean Tech Start-Ups Should Bother Going Green : Ecopreneurist

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