Book Review: Andrew Winston’s Green Recovery

Get Lean, Get Smart, and Emerge from the Downturn on Top
green recovery“Hunker down and play it safe” seems to be the mantra of many recession-battered companies, as they cut back on people, payrolls and purchases of non-essentials. Unfortunately, many of the green programs that may have gotten funded in good times are now finding themselves in this “non-essential” category. That’s exactly the wrong approach, argues Andrew Winston, the green business evangelist, in his new book Green Recovery, a follow-up to his 2006 Green to Gold.
In Green Recovery, Winston offers a compelling case for why the recession is the perfect time to use a green strategy to get lean, get smart and innovate your way forward. With success stories from industry leaders as examples – companies like Boeing, Disney, DuPont, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, and Wal-Mart – the book offers a four-point roadmap for using green initiatives to drive business performance during the downturn:

· Get lean: generate immediate bottom-line savings by reducing energy use and waste.
* Get smart: use value-chain data to cut costs, reduce risks, and focus innovation efforts.
* Get creative: pose heretical questions that force you to find solutions to tomorrow’s challenges today.
* Get engaged: give employees ownership of environmental goals and the tools to act on them.
I recently had a chance to speak with Andrew Winston about his work and his latest book.

Q & A with Andrew Winston

Triple Pundit: Who is the target audience for Green Recovery?

Andrew Winston: One core audience is sustainability professionals, which is the same as with all my work and with Green to Gold. But I’m never really writing for them because they most likely know a lot of this material. I’m really writing for the mid-level and senior managers that surround these people and make up the rest of the corporation. So I always think of my job as helping these sustainability managers by providing tools they can give to the rest of the management community.
And like any business strategy book, it’s in sense from the CEO’s perspective. Managers read these books to help them adopt a leadership attitude, to think of themselves as helping to lead the company. I do hope that the CEO is reading the book, but I understand they have limited time. But what I heard with Green to Gold from many readers is they gave the book to their CEO’s. So that’s always my hope with my work.

3P: Writing for sustainability professionals is to some extent preaching to the choir. What do you say to those business people who are still resisting the green message?

AW: That’s my career, speaking to the resistant! I spend very little time at green events. I don’t need to because the people there really get it. I’m brought into industry events and management retreats with top managers in the company where I find a couple of people there who get it. The rest are still asking “what is this green thing, and why should I care?” and “Is it a fad?” Those questions are still very prevalent. For example, more than half of typical business audiences that I talk to are still skeptical of climate change. They even think the scientists are still in disagreement.
I make this point very strongly in the book:

Whether you believe in the science or not, climate change is a political and business reality.

There will be a cost associated with carbon and the cost of energy is going to go up and that’s going to profoundly affect your entire value chain. It’s going to affect everything you do. And if you don’t get that, and if your not acting with that in mind you’re going to be in trouble. You’re not going to get lean enough. You’re not going to be ready.

3P: For companies just starting out on this path, what are some easy things they can do with the biggest impact?

awinston.jpgAW: In the “Get Lean” section of the book, I describe several energy efficiency initiatives you can do up front with quick returns: things you can do with 6 to 18 month paybacks. So there’s some key areas here you can get lean really quickly – including facilities (lighting, heating, cooling), IT, fleet and distribution, telework, and waste. And for the people who are responsible for these areas, it’s good to check to see if they’ve done all these things. It’s easy to say you know all this stuff but are you doing all this stuff. Also, you should be setting aside some of your capex funds to invest in these types of measures. It sounds simple, but very few do it.
Another key idea I try to get across is that: investments are not the same as costs. I’m constantly hearing that “green costs money.” That is still the biggest mental hurdle. But everything costs money: marketing, R&D, manufacturing. You have to pose the question: is it a good investment of those dollars? And a huge range of the getting lean ideas are. So we have to stop talking about them as costs. The green programs are not costs. There are some things that may seem like costs or expenses up front: renewable energy, redesigning products to eliminate toxic materials, using organic cotton if you are in apparel. There are some things that just cost more. I get that. But the medium and long-run risk reduction from those actions could pay off quite well.
One key message of the book is that getting lean and getting smart doesn’t have to cost that much and can save money quickly. Then you can reinvest some of those savings in engaging your people and innovating in low cost ways (because nobody has budgets right now). These are hard times but also unique times with big opportunities.
3P: In the book, you talk about “disruptive ideas and heretical questions” as a source of innovation. Can you expand on that?
AW: “Disruption” has been a popular subject in the business world. This was really big during the Dot com era, and I think this applies to the green area in a profound way. But I’m making a distinction between disruptive ideas and heretical questions. Disruption usually refers to disrupting someone else’s business. I’m suggesting asking yourself heretical questions that challenge your own business and beliefs.
To drive innovation, you have to be willing to ask heretical questions. What if cars aren’t powered by fossil fuels? What if airplanes aren’t? What if cars are offered as a service? And we can see what happens to an industry like the Detroit automakers when they don’t ask themselves these questions. They’re dead. But companies like Toyota asked themselves “what is a car going to need to look like in ten years”? Product cycles can be long, so you have to be asking yourself these questions now. I wrote an article recently asking the question: are you ready for the next recession? Toyota’s getting rewards now for the questions they asked one or two recessions ago.
It doesn’t always mean you will get there. But the questioning drives innovation, drives new thinking.

Get Lean, Get Smart, and Get the Book

Even as part of the choir, I found the book to be a convincing read. It offers plenty of actionable advice to keep you busy, as well as a timely overview of the macro trends and drivers pushing companies to go green. You’ll also find plenty of real-world sketches from the author’s work with many Fortune 200 companies who have embraced green thinking and are seeing real rewards.
Green Recovery is now available from online retailers like Amazon,
and should be available in all bookstores by mid-August. You can also download a large excerpt of the book from the author’s web page.

Jim Witkin is a writer and researcher based in Silicon Valley focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers on topics that include: sustainable business practices, clean tech, the environment and next generation transportation technologies. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. Contact him at

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