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Book Review: Living Above the Store by Martin Melaver

Steve Puma | Wednesday July 1st, 2009 | 2 Comments

Living Above the StoreMartin Melaver, author of the new book, Living Above the Store, is something of a rarity for an author of a sustainable business text: someone who actually has decades of experience doing the work to create a socially-responsible business. Which is very lucky for us, because while many books claim to be able to teach us how to do it, very few can do so with the wisdom of experience on their side.
The result is an honest and forthright look at what it really takes for shape and maintain values-based business in a very traditional industry.
Melaver is CEO of Melaver, Inc.-a third-generation, family-owned company based in Savannah, Georgia. Through a series of personal anecdotes, Melaver explains, in detail, how a small corner grocery store evolved into a major regional chain, eventually transforming itself into a real estate company focused on sustainable development and management. The fact that this happened was not by accident: all along its seventy-year history, the company chose to pursue a values-based path, even when it meant making difficult choice.
Despite its limitations, Living Above the Store has some really great information. Among my favorites are:

  • His in-depth look of how and why a business should take stock of its local ecology and its place within that ecology. Melaver provides both historical and business context for the importance of taking stock, and offers good examples of how to go about it.
  • His discussion of the merits and limitations of a Triple Bottom Line approach. “A financial bottom line is quantitative and can be captured as a moment in time. Contrast that with social and environmental metrics, which are partly qualitative in nature and are best measured over a time continuum… Instead of speaking about a bottom line, I would suggest an alternative nomenclature, one about three performance organizers (3-PO): financial performance, environmental impact, and social consequences.” He the goes on to demonstrate what this might look like.
  • His example of the company’s use of a Hall-Tonna Survey of Values to track how it’s values have shifted over the years. I’d never heard of this tool before, but it seems very powerful: “It enables a company to determine how it is trending around certain values. It enables a company to determine how it is trending and to evaluate the counter-trends creating inherent tensions. Fundamentally it enables a company to answer a critical question: what is it we collectively care about?”
  • The company’s limits to growth chart showing exactly how the company decides which projects to build or reject. A simple, but very effective tool.
    Melaver’s overriding themes are that running a truly sustainable business requires a whole-systems approach, and is an ongoing process of change. This is a message that needs to be heard loud and clear at businesses everywhere.

Overall, Living Above the Store is a book that is well worth your time and money and a great addition to your sustainability library.
Have you read it yet? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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Steve Puma is a sustainability and personal technology consultant. He currently writes for 3p as well as on his personal blog, ThePumaBlog.com, about the intersection of sustainability, technology, innovation, and the future. Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio School of Management and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can contact Steve through email or LinkedIn, or follow him on twitter.


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  • http://www.chelseagreen.com/content/martin-melaver-a-response-to-the-mba-oath/ Taylor

    Martin Melaver just wrote a great op-ed in response to an NPR story about the new “MBA Oath” from Harvard – and its aim to rein in the excess and greed endemic in the system. (http://www.chelseagreen.com/content/martin-melaver-a-response-to-the-mba-oath/)

  • http://www.thepumablog.com Steve Puma

    Taylor, thanks a lot for posting this! It is especially relevant to me, since I just received my MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio. I’m going to head right over and read what he had to say!
    Steve