Book Review: The New Sustainability Advantage, by Bob Willard

Bob Willard’s 10th Anniversary book, The New Sustainability Advantage, is an update of the old with new examples.  For sustainability non-believers, his book is a great first guide. It succinctly summarizes bottom-line benefits of sustainable practices in relevant business terms.  In a Forrester survey of over 2000 executives regarding top 10 business priorities in 2011, 64% of executives selected revenue and customers, 44% selected cost reduction, while only 10% selected corporate social responsibility (CSR).  For CSR professionals, messaging the revenue increase and cost reduction benefits of CSR efforts continues to be key in driving CSR implementation.

Willard points out seven business case benefits of a Triple Bottom Line and provides short examples of how to implement these practices.  The benefits are:

  1. Increased Revenue and Market Share
  2. Reduced Energy Expenses
  3. Reduced Waste Expenses
  4. Reduced Materials and Water Expenses
  5. Increased Employee Productivity
  6. Reduced Hiring and Attrition Expenses
  7. Reduced Risks

For sustainability practitioners, these benefits are nothing new.  For everyone else, Willard’s guidebook provides a quick read to begin the CSR conversation.  For every chapter, Willard first inspires the reader with examples of successes.  For example, USPS reduced energy use by 29 percent from 2003 to 2010.  Then, Willard provides first level information to trigger an analysis.  For example, knowing that the top three energy use in commercial buildings are lighting (25 percent use), space heating (14 percent use), and space cooling (13 percent use) helps prioritize the energy reduction process.  In some cases, Willard provides an illustrative financial analysis of potential savings at a small firm and at a large firm.

Since many of the seven benefits focus on energy, waste and materials, businesses with manufacturing and physical products will find Willard’s book most relevant.  Customers also pay closer attention to sustainability on physical goods. A Cohn and Wolfe survey of consumers’ intent to buy green shows 53% support for ‘green’ groceries and 49% support for ‘green’ household products, compared to 15% support for ‘green’ restaurants and technology.  Although customers pay less attention to sustainability from service-only businesses, benefits still exist.  Service-only businesses depend heavily on employee performance to succeed, and thus will find sustainability benefit five and six, employee productivity and retention, very relevant.  For example, a green office building provides up to 34% or $40 per square feet increase in productivity.   Meanwhile, job hunters place a 30% emphasis on compensation and benefits and a 15% emphasis on organizational values and reputation.  A business that cares about social and environmental returns will more successfully recruit and retain top talent.

Willard’s book is a useful introduction to the business case for sustainability.  Gifting it to the whole leadership team can be a great way to bring everyone up to speed on applied sustainability basics.  The book is a great conversation starter and Willard’s site provides useful slide sets and worksheets.  For sustainability practitioners who are implementing, other books such Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard’s Step-by-Step Guide to Sustainability Planning is more applicable.

Connie Kwan is the founder and CEO of in Silicon Valley, CA.  She holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School, and covers stories on food and health sustainability. Follow her on Twitter @RealMealz and @conniemkwan.



Connie Kwan is a Product Manager and Entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, CA. She builds teams to deliver products that benefit people, planet and profit. She holds an MBA in Sustainability at Presidio Graduate School and blogs about sustainability and business at Sustainable Thinking: Applied (

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