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For a “Crash Course” Sustainable MBA, Here’s Your Homework

Scott Cooney | Sunday February 28th, 2010 | 6 Comments

The results are in!  The 3P reader poll we conducted 2 weeks ago received a lot of attention and traffic, and generated an interesting list of green business books that our readers consider important. They span the gamut from manufacturing to strategy to sustainable food to clean energy.  And, importantly, they represent a nice cross section of the green economy that would behoove any aspiring or current green business person to become familiar with.

I will begin with the disclaimer that this poll is not scientific.  It is simply a readers’ poll, and inherently has biases.  However, Triple Pundit readers are some of the most well-read, in-tune, and knowledgeable voters on subjects of sustainable business that we may find in the blogosphere, and therefore, this poll carries some not insubstantial weight.

Every book that was nominated has value, and some will be more applicable to your particular field of green business than others.  As they say, it is truly an honor to just be nominated.  Here, I attempt to summarize my take on the top ten vote getters.

The list included some of the usual suspects–Paul Hawken appeared twice, with Natural Capitalism, largely regarded as one of the seminal works on the entire field, and Ecology of Commerce, the book Ray Anderson cited as his “Spear in the chest” wake-up call that helped him turn Interface Carpets into arguably the most sustainable large company on the planet.   Michael Pollen made the list with In Defense of Food, largely regarded as one of the seminal and defining works on sustainable food.  The best-selling of all the books, Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, placed in the top ten, though not at the top, perhaps demonstrating that best-selling doesn’t necessarily translate into most influential for those of us embedded in the green economy. Cradle to Cradle and Biomimicry received a lot of votes, showing the importance of sustainable manufacturing and product design.  Gil Friend, (pardon the pun), a ‘friend’ of Triple Pundit, got the second most reader votes for The Truth about Green Business, a book that aims to dispel myths about the inefficiencies of the green economy.  Jared Diamond’s Collapse also made the list, perhaps demonstrating the frustration many people feel with the government of the U.S. and its short term focus, lack of commitment to future generations, and unclear strategy to move us out of the stone age.  Woody Tasch made the top ten with Slow Money, a treatise on investing in local and sustainable food as a pathway out of economic and environmental ruin.

The top vote getter was Strategy For Sustainability:  A Business Manifesto, a strategy book, written by Adam Werbach, former President of the Sierra Club and Global CEO of sustainability consulting firm Saatchi & Saatchi S.

I had the opportunity to interview Adam to ask him more about his book and his reading on the green economy.

SC:  Congratulations, Adam, this is quite an honor!  Triple Pundit readers really know their stuff.
AW:  Scott–this is really humbling, thank you.

SC:  Adam, which books, not listed on the original voting list, were most influential to you in your professional development, and in writing Strategy?
AW:  The ones on this list are obviously quite influential, but the ones I was most influenced by that are not on this list are probably Discipline and Punish by Michele Foucault, Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky, and PR! by Stewart Ewen.

SC:  Are you satisfied with how Strategy for Sustainability has been received and utilized by Corporate America?
AW:  Yes and no.  I’m perpetually dissatisfied with the impact of my work.  The corporate world is still not moving fast enough to embrace sustainability as a business strategy instead of a philanthropic effort.  But I’ve also been surprised.  Even though I attacked Apple’s overall sustainability performance and lack of transparency in the book, they bought a bunch of copies and asked me to speak there, and I’ve been impressed by their new MacBooks.  Wal-Mart continues on their long path towards sustainability and the thousands of associates we trained in some of the frameworks from the book are a force within the company.

SC:  What would you say is the best single outcome from Strategy that you’ve seen since the book hit the shelves?
AW:  There’s a concept in the book about setting a “North Star Goal” that has been getting a lot of traction quickly.  A North Star Goal is optimistic and inspirational, core to the business, solves a global human challenge, is actionable by every employee, and can be achieved in 5 to 15 years.  Lots of companies have strictly profit-oriented goals that they call BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), and lots of companies have philanthropic goals which make them feel good.  Now corporate leaders have been bringing the two together to create North Star Goals.  It’s a great first step for any small or large business to undertake.  Toyota’s North Star Goal is to build cars that never crash and clean the air as they drive.  I would bet on their ability to use that North Star Goal to pull themselves out of their recall mess.

SC:  Thanks, Adam.  You’ve really been an inspiration to me and many others who will carry sustainability in the business world forward through our careers and our passion to make the world a better, more fun place.

AW:  My pleasure, Scott.  There is inspiration all around, that’s for sure.  Keep up the good work with Triple Pundit and keep spreading the word!

Below are the results of the poll, and the book covers of the top ten vote getters.  Happy reading!

Scott Cooney is the founder of Green Business Village, a sustainable strategy consulting firm focused on providing low-cost management tools to small, green businesses that are usually only available to big businesses with big budgets to hire consulting firms, and author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), a book deliberately left off the nominations for this post 1) because that would have meant a lot of bias, and 2) because it does not belong in a top ten list with some of the names above.  Maybe one of my future books…but for now, I’m very happy to be promoting the wonders below.


The results of the survey are as follows:

[poll id=”5″]


▼▼▼      6 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.foodconnect.com.au/ Robert

    Thanks for running the poll Scott look forward to checking some of the ones I have not read.
    Although I did not get a chance to vote I am so surprised that Small Giants by Bo Burlingham did not make it. Even though some of the businesses are not Green parse, they all show incredible commitment to their communities. I am loving it.

  • http://twitter.com/meganle Megan Le

    Ooo I am excited about this- thank you! Can't wait to add some of these to my “to read” list.

  • http://twitter.com/gfriend Gil Friend

    Thanks for running this poll, Scott/Triplepundit, and thanks to everybody who voted my work high among such distinguished and inspiring company.

    A small clarification: The Truth about Green Business doesn't “aim to dispel myths about the inefficiencies of the green economy” (though people tell me it does do that).

    It does aim to provide a concise, focused handbook that shows how to build one, with a practical roadmap for companies (large and small) to put these 52 truths to work.

  • http://twitter.com/PowerOfGo John Joseph

    Great list – looking forward to some new reads! The breadth of disciplines covered by the books reflects how 'sustainability' can reveal insights into much more than just 'environmental' issues.

  • Guest

    Our undergrad program at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids MI uses Biomimicry, C2C, EoC, NatCap, and HF&C and SmallMart. Upon reading several of these books on my own, I would say that while many of these recommendations are spot on, others miss the mark, and still other seminal works are left off the list. Meadows Thinking in Systems is incendiary, and is 10 ten on any list in my book. Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber provides a critical look at the problem statement. What about Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? These two books aren't even listed in the choices.

    $0.02

  • Guest

    Our undergrad program at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids MI uses Biomimicry, C2C, EoC, NatCap, and HF&C and SmallMart. Upon reading several of these books on my own, I would say that while many of these recommendations are spot on, others miss the mark, and still other seminal works are left off the list. Meadows Thinking in Systems is incendiary, and is 10 ten on any list in my book. Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber provides a critical look at the problem statement. What about Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? These two books aren't even listed in the choices.

    $0.02

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