Usually, when I read on planes or during brief brain rest-stops between work projects, I pick up fiction to clear my head. But a couple months back, I was handed a book that I would highly recommend to anyone who is responsible for a corporate sustainability or green technology effort. Actually, I would recommend this book for anyone in the corporate world, because I think it's about one of those topics that will start to layer itself across the board into the basic management policies of best-in-class organizations.
The tome I'm referring to is called "Saving the World at Work (What Companies and Individuals Can Do to Go Beyond Making a Profit to Making a Difference)." The author, Tim Sanders, has informed his topic with more than 381 structured interviews with both CEOs and a class of corporate citizen that he dubs Saver Soldiers. The latter category is made up of people who believe that companies can do well by doing the right thing, according to Sanders' definition, bucking the misconception that being sustainable or adopting a corporate social responsibility strategy is inherently cost-prohibitive.
A word of caution before you read any further: Building sustainability awareness is not about greenwashing or spending lots of money to market your cause. In fact, those who spend more money bragging than doing are immediately suspect, Sanders says.
What makes "Saving the World" a good book is that there are plenty of specific examples not only about how being identified with sustainability has reinvigorated certain brands (such as Interface Flor, the carpeting and flooring company) but how it has actually proved to be an innovation advantage for many businesses. High-tech companies, such as Google, are well-represented. I'm still digesting many of the great ideas that are shared here. Note to the presidential candidates: Read this book on the campaign trail if you haven't, you're going to need it. (Note to self: DO NOT look at stock market news today.)
It's also gratifying to read about the many examples where an employee with no explicit management "pull" has been able to inspire change. You don't have to have a title. In fact, more likely than not, you won't but you'll inspire someone who does.
Of course, not every company cares about such things. Although, who knows, maybe the general economic malaise will prompt some managers to push the reset button and think afresh. It would behoove them to do so, according to Sanders, because a company's sustainability profile is becoming increasingly important to younger generations that are evaluating positions not just for monetary benefits but for how a company gives back to the community. Ignore the sustainability movement and you could lose out not just on sales but on good hires, he says. Plus you may end up being the target of eco-terrorism, an increasingly troubling trend on the west coast where people have been known to deface SUVs with Liquid Paper. (Seriously bad for the paint job.)
I met Sanders over breakfast late in the summer and was really struck not only by the thoroughness with which he has developed his argument but also by the possibilities for real change. And his appreciation for the process. "There is no such thing as going green," Sanders declares. "That's the same thing as going perfect."
But practice makes permanent.