Book Reviews

The Globe and Mail

The Go-green Argument

In 1997, Bob Willard was working for International Business Machines Corp. in leadership development and, through his involvement in a campaign over a water-treatment plant in his community of Ajax, Ont., he became increasingly concerned about the environment.

So he wrote a letter to CEO Lou Gerstner asking him to embed sustainable development principles into IBM’s strategies to benefit both the company and the planet.

His effort bombed.

It was suggested he discuss his ideas with the company’s community affairs director, indicating the top brass viewed sustainability as a philanthropic issue rather than a strategic business matter.

In part, he realized that was because he embellished his letter with rhetoric about improving the planet rather than cutting to the chase: “Dear Lou: I have some thoughts on how IBM could increase its profits by 38%. Interested?”

The lesson was that when you are proposing your company pay more attention to its ecological and social responsibilities — whether you are a CEO, director or member of the rank and file — you must choose your words carefully.

“Just broaching the subject risks your credibility as a corporate leader who has the best interests of the bottom line at heart. It could be a career-limiting conversation.”

To arm you for that conversation, he has written “The NEXT Sustainability Wave,” which makes the case — indeed, hammers home the case — that sustainability can increase profits, substantially, while also helping the planet.

That, he argues, requires moving from simply complying with the laws to pro-actively looking for ways to improve your company’s processes through environmental consciousness or even rebranding the firm to be seen as a sustainability leader.

In the past, companies have acted on sustainability either because of the founder’s personal passion, as with Anita Roddick’s The Body Shop; a public relations crisis, as with Royal Dutch/Shell Group when it faced opposition to disposal of the Brent Spar oil platform; or because of regulatory pressure.

In the future, he expects two pressures to drive companies toward the next wave of environmental responsibility:

A Perfect Storm of Threats. Five global forces will cluster together into a tempest that will threaten many companies: climate change, pollution and its effects on health, the backlash to globalization, the energy crunch, and the erosion of trust in institutions.

Compelling Business Value. Companies that commit themselves to sustainability benefit economically in seven ways:

  1. It’s easier to hire top talent who prefer to work in such companies.
  2. It’s easier to retain talent.
  3. Productivity is boosted as employees are energized by contributing to the
    success of a firm doing work that is good for the planet.
  4. Manufacturing costs drop due to eco-efficiencies, such as reducing and re-
    using materials.
  5. Energy and water costs at the company’s sites are decreased.
  6. Revenue increases as green consumers are attracted to the firm.
  7. Financial risk goes down and easier financing is obtained through risk
    avoidance when using more socially responsible practices that lower insurance

Using conservative estimates, he comes up with a 38% increase in profits for a typical high tech company — the figure that may have caught Lou Gerstner’s interest, if used in that letter.

But even if you list the benefits to your company, you will face objections. So a portion of the book is what he calls an objection handling clinic, in which he presents all the arguments senior executives will raise and the arguments to overcome those concerns.

To those who respond his figures are too good to be true, he says he was also surprised. But the best way to find out is to apply the examples from which they are drawn to your own firm. “Try it,” he urges.

The book is level-headed, written for business people by a businessman. It is also a handy and extensive primer on sustainability for those who haven’t followed the issue closely. Mr. Willard also uses an unusual but highly successful format, making his arguments on right hand pages in short, one-page bursts, while the left hand pages are reserved for supporting quotes, statistics and cartoons.

CMA Management Magazine

(The Canadian magazine for Certified Management Accountants)
August-September 2005
Making sustainability mainstream

Reviewed by ANNE PAPMEHL

Most people who retire after 34 years of service with a company spend their days indulging in leisurely pursuits. Not Bob Willard. This Ontario resident and IBM retiree has launched not one post-retirement career but three: author, scholar and environmental activist.

His first book, “The Sustainability Advantage: Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line,” published in 2002, was one of the first books to quantify the business benefits of environmental sustainability.

His second book, “The NEXT Sustainability Wave: Building Boardroom Buy-In,” published this year, in conjunction with his doctoral thesis, explains how to achieve those bottom line benefits, and, more importantly, how to sell the idea to very skeptical and busy senior executives. One could easily call it a sustainability sales manual, but that would do a disservice to the scholarly rigor and research that supports the book. A more appropriate description would be a business field guide that gives sustainable business advocates the tools to bring sustainability into the business mainstream.

Common goals

Willard hopes to bring sustainability into the mainstream by explaining the goals environmental activists and business professionals actually have in common. He has nothing against the profit motive. On the first page of the book, he identifies a common goal among corporations, societies and the environment to survive and prosper and be sustainable enterprises, social systems and ecological systems, respectively.

But Willard is equally cognizant of the world’s troubling ecological challenges, and their risks to business. He asks rhetorically: “Are the sustainability goals of corporations, societies and the environment mutually sustainable? If not, who dominates this complex and dynamic interplay of systems?”

The answer is clear. “Business is a direct or indirect contributor to most 21st-century ecological and social challenges.” The solution? Sustainability strategies that give corporations the opportunity to get ahead of the curve, define new rules, and be rewarded by their stakeholders for behaving responsibly. Bringing sustainability into the mainstream, considered this way, is simply good for the environment, society and the long-term survival of the business.

Of course, it’s not easy to change a mind-set that sees environmental stewardship as the cost of doing business rather than a bottom line enhancer. Willard spends considerable time analyzing why companies have resisted for so long sustainable strategies that could profit both the planet and the firm.

Finding a common language

The trouble with sustainability and its many semantic cousins, like corporate social responsibility, corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship, is that the terms carry more of a ‘saving the planet’ than ‘saving the business’ connotation. For this reason, hard-core bottom-line-only types find it hard to accept sustainability as a business driver.

Willard learned this from personal experience. In 1997 he wrote a letter (excerpted in the book) to then-president of IBM, Lou Gerstner, asking him to embed sustainable development into IBM’s business strategy for the good of the company and the planet. “It failed,” writes Willard. “My proposal was treated as a philanthropic request, not as a strategic business suggestion.” But Willard learned a valuable lesson. “This frustrating experience reminded me that it is important to speak executives’ language and relate any proposition to their current business challenges”.

Saving the planet doesn’t make the list of what results drive a company these days. Here’s what does: revenue improvement, expense reduction, profit, share price, growth, market share, leadership, vision, attracting and retaining good customers, good employees, regulatory compliance and quality of products and services, and a host of others enumerated by Willard in the introduction.

The good news, says Willard, is that sustainability is a means to achieve these business ends, and he provides a wealth of information on how to help business decision makers see that, in a language they understand. Sustainability proponents “need to help executives tune into WII-FM (What’s in it — For Me?) instead of WII-FW (What’s in it — For the World?).”

Of course, it’s not always easy. As the author points out, companies are at different stages in their sustainability efforts and the top issues for the head of a marketing and sales group will differ from those of the head of human resources or head of operations. But Willard proposes practical and thoughtful suggestions on getting around these hurdles that few (if any) other business thinkers have expressed.

There are six chapters to the book. Chapter one discusses some of the history, problems, skepticism, and drivers of sustainability. In chapter two, Willard discusses the three drivers of the first wave of sustainability (founder’s personal passion, public relations crisis and regulatory pressure) and in chapters three and four, he discusses two emerging drivers — one related to threats and the other to opportunities. In chapter five, Willard provides an objection-handling clinic on inhibitors to the next wave. Here he presents an entire gamut of possible objections — not unreasonable ones either — and a series of smart strategies for handling them.

Despite the apathy of many captains of industry towards environmental stewardship, Willard is optimistic that things are starting to turn around. In his conclusions, he presents five signs of hope that we are getting closer to the tipping point — where sustainability becomes fully integrated into the corporate ethos and modus operandi. That, by the way, is the next sustainability wave.

While tailored to the sustainability champion, the book is also an excellent primer for the sustainability skeptic. The book follows an unusual format. The left hand side pages contain quotes from thought leaders and literature, as well as cartoons, tables and charts to supplement the point made on the right side. Each right-hand page is a self-contained thought or idea, designed for quick and comfortable reference. By employing this format, Willard has managed to distill complicated concepts into bite-sized pieces. One reviewer wrote that this book should be read by every executive that cares about the planet. Equally, it should be read by every executive that cares about business.

Anne Papmehl is a London, Ont.-based writer and consultant.

June 10, 2005
Book Review — “The Next Sustainability Wave: Building Boardroom Buy-In”

Longtime IBM Canada executive authors a sequel book, adding new sustainability drivers and providing a comprehensive tool for convincing management to consider sustainability. — In “The Next Sustainability Wave,” the sequel to “The Sustainability Advantage,” Bob Willard continues his mission of evangelizing sustainability to the skeptics who inhabit seats of corporate power. While he acknowledges the validity of the ethical, environmentalist, and humanitarian arguments for sustainability, he believes these tactics will not convince capitalists as effectively as the business case, so he deliberately chooses to speak in business vernacular.

He also speaks in accessible language, and employs a user-friendly structure. Open the book to any page, and you will find a blend of humor, statistics, pithiness, even-handedness, pragmatism, and objectivity. Each page-spread is intended to be self-contained, arguing one specific point. The left-hand pages contain quotes from the 43 sustainability experts he interviewed and article reprints. They even contain “Dilbert” cartoons!

The right-hand pages contain Mr. Willard’s own commentary, which runs the gamut from well-documented facts to colorful metaphors (for example, the business case is a “Trojan horse” for getting sustainability into the boardroom). The two facing pages create a conversation of sorts, with the left-hand side providing copious anecdotal evidence and the right side presenting concise arguments supporting the section’s point. Taken together, each page-spread advances the book’s ultimate goal: to convince corporate decision-makers of the validity of integrating sustainability into their business model.

The overall structure of the book reinforces this goal as well. Each argument is not only self-contained, it also acts as an incremental step in the overall case for corporate sustainability. To facilitate navigation along his line of reasoning, Mr. Willard breaks it up into subsets that readers can easily visualize.

For example, he posits five stages of development for companies on the path to sustainability: pre-compliance (Stage 1), compliance (Stage 2), beyond compliance (Stage 3), integrated strategy (Stage 4), and purpose and passion (Stage 5). Stage 5 companies are typically small firms founded on sustainable principles, while Stage 4 companies tend to be large firms that adopt sustainability and are significant due to their visibility.

“The distinction is not meant to be a value judgment,” writes Mr. Willard. “Frankly, if we got to the tipping point of companies using sustainability as a management discipline at Stage 4, I would be delighted.”

“I am less concerned with the righteousness of motivations than I am with results,” he adds, exhibiting his pragmatism.

Later, Mr. Willard frames five signs that sustainability’s tipping point is close, borrowing the theoretical framework popularized by New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell. Among these signs are the fact that “financial markets are poking with sharper sticks” and “sustainability reporting is becoming business as usual.”

“If the critical mass required to reach the tipping point is 20 percent, I estimate about one percent to five percent of corporations buy into the concept now,” he writes.

The middle of the book is filled with a recapitulation of the three primary drivers of the first sustainability wave presented in his first book, as well as two emerging drivers of the next sustainability wave. The emerging drivers include a “perfect storm” of risks, such as climate change, and compelling business value and opportunities presented by sustainability.

The body of the book next contains a long list of specific objections corporate executives might pose to resist integrating sustainability considerations, each followed on a separate page by specific responses that map out strong arguments that answer the objection.

The book ends with a long exposition on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are often overlooked when the sustainability spotlight focuses on big companies, but are very significant in their cumulative social and environmental impact.


Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE) newsletter

Bob Willard “The Next Sustainability Wave: Building Boardroom Buy-In”
New Society Pubs., 2005.

It is a pleasure and privilege to review a book by a colleague and member of CASAE. Hot off the press this spring comes Bob Willard’s second book, The Next Sustainability Wave. Only a couple of years ago, his first book came out, “The Sustainability Advantage: Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line” (New Society Pubs., 2002) — now in its second printing. In it Bob demonstrated how businesses can profit from strategies that incorporate environmental and social concerns along with financial gain. In fact ignoring social and environmental factors can result in increasing risks and costs; it is simply not good business.

In this second book Bob takes his ideas further by analyzing why companies resist sustainability practices and focusing on strategies for persuading leaders to do more. This ground-breaking book is about how to engage corporate leaders positively in conversations about sustainability for the benefit of the company, the environment, and society. The ideas are based on the author’s experience working within the corporate world, extensive reading and research, and interviews with 43 sustainability experts including consultants, corporate leaders, NGO representatives, and academics.

The introductory chapter sets the stage and provides background information about rapidly shifting attitudes in society and within corporations. Sustainability is becoming increasingly synonymous with high performance.

Chapter 2 describes three drivers of the first wave companies that have already established themselves as leaders in sustainability: founders’ personal passion, public relations crisis, and regulatory pressures.

Chapters 3 and 4 offer two further drivers which are surfacing for the next wave of companies getting aboard: market forces (such as green consumers, activist shareholders, NGOs, governments, and the financial sector) and a compelling business case. Five mega-issues of climate change, pollution and its effect on health, the globalization backlash, energy crunch, and erosion of trust in institutions can be viewed as threats or as opportunities. Threatening market forces may increase business risk and also move more corporations into increasing sustainability.

Chapter 5 outlines 26 objections commonly raised to adopting a more aggressive environmental and social agenda. Each objection is countered with an example of a possible response which is realistic, positive, and engaging.

Chapter 6 revisits climate change as a foundational driver for change and offers five signs that indicate increasing momentum for companies incorporating sustainability as a legitimate business concern. The appendix focuses on issues of sustainability related to small and medium-sized organizations.

I am very impressed with the book’s style and organization. The language is crisp, conversational, and brief. Metaphors and images relevant to the business world bring abstract concepts and statistics into sharp focus. On each right-hand page there is a key topic or point with a bold heading while the left-hand pages contain quotes from experts interviewed, case studies, cartoons, and charts that expand on the theme across on the right page. Busy executives may pick and choose key points by skimming through the right-hand pages only. Those wanting further elaboration can refer to left-hand pages.

The bibliography is also helpfully arranged into four themes: books about deterioration of the environment and society, books about corporate contributions to environmental and social problems, books about companies that have incorporated sustainability considerations into strategic business decisions, and books about why and how companies should undertake the transformation into greater sustainability.

In his introduction the author identifies his primary audience as ‘sustainability champions and chief executive officers, followed closely by those people working with them on sustainability issues — board members, senior executive colleagues, nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives, sustainability consultants, policy makers, and academics.’ To this list I would add adult educators. The book is aimed at ‘anyone who wants to learn how to engage senior leaders of more companies in sustainability initiatives.’

Since Bob’s first book appeared, I have recommended it to students in my graduate courses in adult education. Their response has been excitement and inspiration from reading about best current thinking on important business concerns. This sequel will take them further as they discover practical strategies for taking up the challenge of moving their workplaces toward greater social and environmental responsibility.

And speaking of students, the material of this book has another incarnation as the author’s doctoral thesis which he has recently successfully defended at OISE/UT. He indeed knows how to combine multiple drivers for successful ends! Congratulations, Bob!

Reviewed by Margaret Fisher, Ed.D., who teaches in the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Crossroads Bulletin on Business, Law, and the Environment

May 2005
The Next Sustainability Wave

Bob Willard’s first book contained a practical accounting method to quantify the financial case for corporate sustainability. In the final chapter, the career veteran of IBM Canada wondered, “If the business case is so good, why are smart executives not taking advantage of it?”. This sequel tries to answer the question by examining the motives of companies that get the message, and by making arguments to overcome the objections of those that don’t.

The author takes the view that convincing executives to embrace sustainable management is no different than marketing any product to them. In a delightful sketch, Willard writes about his first attempt to get Lou Gerstner, the chairman and CEO of IBM, interested in sustainable development. It took six months and reviews by 18 people to write a letter of one and a half pages.

Willard used phrases such as “business will play a vital role in the health of our planet.”  The intention was to link what was good for the world with what was good for IBM.  Gerstner and senior management interpreted the appeal as a call for IBM to support more worthy philanthropic causes, not as a strategic business suggestion.

Willard writes, “Maybe a better letter would have been: ‘Dear Lou: I have some thoughts on how IBM could increase its profit by 38%.  Interested?  Yours truly… .'”

Willard says sustainability champions should not push sustainability, per se.  They should solve business problems.  And saving the world does not make the list.
Those who have watched a relative handful of corporations inch forward on the social responsibility agenda may react somewhat negatively to Willard’s approach.  On the edge of the corporate sustainability and environmental management, a few brave souls are already preaching that more is necessary than the advancement of win-win solutions.

Willard is not blind to criticisms about the bottom-line approach to sustainability.  He seems sympathetic to alternative values-based and moral arguments.  He holds his ground, though, saying, “in today’s business community CSR needs a strong business rationale or it will fail.”

“The Next Sustainability Wave” is the first book about strategic environmental and social business management that is actually fun to read.  It is a tribute to Willard’s crisp, friendly style, intimate familiarity with the subject, and honesty.  But the book’s success also stems from its unusual format.

Each right-hand page contains a concise discussion of one topic — for example: The Squeeze on Boards; How SMEs Are Different; Inhibiter #4: Mindset.  All left-hand pages hold sidebars — quotes from experts or from other literature, cartoons, tables, or charts that supplement the point being made on the facing page.

The sidebars are essential to the book. Willard lists the 43 sustainability experts he interviewed for the work between January 2002 and March 2004. Forty percent of them are consultants.

Willard and his publisher considered titling the book “Show Me the Money!”  They decided against it because the phrase was overused at the time, made famous by the movie Jerry Maguire. In retrospect, Willard says a better title might have been “Innovation, Productivity, and Competitive Advantage: The Sustainability Trinity.”

The author’s final thought is that “sustainability provides a vitamin supplement for corporate health.”

The Gallon Environment Letter

Vol. 10, No. 7, April 18, 2005

Bob Willard’s new book “The Next Sustainability Wave: Building Boardroom Buy-In” explores five drivers which encourage the highest levels of decision-makers in companies to adopt sustainability initiatives and strategies. GL discussed his last book “The Sustainability Advantage” published in 2002. (see GL Vol. 8, No. 5, October 7, 2003) This new book is written for the modern age: one side is charts, quotations, Dilbert cartoons, and the other side more conventional text, creating a snappy bubbling-along kind of read.

One of the drivers causing corporate change is business risk based on the concept of “the burning platform.” The idea comes from the explosion and fire on the Piper Alfa offshore platform in the North Sea in 1988. There were only about 60 survivors from among 200 people on the platform. People jumped, plunging down fifteen stories from the platform to the icy North Sea. When one survivor was asked why he jumped, he replied that he faced certain death on the burning platform, uncertain death below. He jumped because he had to.

Willard suggests that for business, the burning platform is the clustering together of a number of sustainability-related market forces. He discusses five: 1. climate change 2. pollution and its effect on health 3. globalization backlash 4. energy crunch and 5. erosion of trust in institutions.

These market forces bring risks in the form of regulatory bans on products or emissions, reduced market demand, remediation liabilities, insurance costs, rise in prices for inputs and energy, difficulties in accessing capital and competitive disadvantage as other companies adopt a more sustainable approach.
It is a useful book for those with knowledge of business sustainability initiatives. It is particularly of value for those leaders of business just becoming aware of the sparks which might set afire their company’s platform.


Thursday, Nov 04, 2004
“Sustainable business, better business”

The chasm between economic and environmental interests remains wide. Yet this need not be the case – executives who use sustainable business models can both save money and boost profits.

That’s the argument from Bob Willard, a retired senior manager who worked at IBM for 34 years. In his 2002 book, “The Sustainability Advantage,” he argues that making money and protecting the environment needn’t be mutually exclusive. In fact, he makes a persuasive argument, and includes hundreds of case studies, on how sustainable companies are competitive companies.

Like it or not, increased regulations and growing consumer demand for sustainable products mean executives can ill afford to close their eyes to these issues. Moreover, the investment community is starting to ask questions about how companies manage risk and how they conduct business over the long term. In answering those questions, companies are starting to rethink how they do business, Mr. Willard says.

“As sustainability reporting becomes more known, companies will start to track it and if they track it they’ll manage it and if they manage it they’ll want to get better at it and if they want to get better at it they’ll see opportunities or risks they hadn’t seen before — and that’s good business,’’ he says in an interview.

So which companies are embracing this shift? In researching his next book, due next spring, Mr. Willard asked 43 sustainability senior managers, consultants, non-profit workers and academics in Canada, the U.S. and Europe to name the top 10 sustainability leaders in the world.

They are, in this order: Royal Dutch/Shell, British Petroleum, Interface, Suncor, Dupont, The Body Shop, Alcan, Husky Injection, Mountain Equipment Coop and Electrolux.

These are interesting results. Three of the top four winners are fossil fuel companies that now invest heavily in alternative energy. And Dupont, a major CFC producer in the 1980s, is now committed to reducing its own waste and getting other companies to cut carbon emissions.

Thus yesterday’s environmental pariahs are today’s sustainability leaders.

In his last book, Mr. Willard cites seven ways businesses can benefit from going green: easier hiring, higher retention, increased productivity, reduced manufacturing costs, reduced costs at commercial sites, increased sales and reduced risk. Here are just some examples Mr. Willard cites of how sustainability can be used as a competitive advantage:

Attracting and retaining high-quality staff is a huge challenge for executives — especially in the tech industry. Hiring a new person costs about $7,000 (in searching, screening candidates, interviewing and making the offer), but the cost when someone leaves and needs to be replaced is at least $25,000, he says, citing KPMG studies. The company that treats its employees well and conducts business in a sustainable manner is more likely attract talent, retain staff, have less absenteeism and increase productivity – and boost the bottom line.

3M Co.’s Pollution Prevention Pays has saved the company more than $750-million since its inception in 1975.

Husky Injection Molding used waste minimization and recycling to divert 85 per cent of its waste – thus generating $263,000 in income.

Electrolux found that its environmental product line (which included solar-powered lawn mowers) had a profit margin 3.8 per cent higher than the rest of its products.

ING Bank’s new headquarters in Amsterdam included energy-saving systems that paid for themselves in the first three months. The building, which saves $2.9-million per year, uses less than a tenth of the energy of its predecessor. Absenteeism is now down 15 per cent and productivity has increased.

In one of the more practical aspects of the book, Mr. Willard uses a hypothetical company, SD Inc., to test the cost savings and increased revenue of a sustainable company. Readers can plug in their own numbers by using spreadsheets, available on his publisher’s website, to see themselves the financial benefits of going green.

By his conservative calculations, SD Inc., which employs 120,000 and has $3-billion in annual profit, would earn an extra $1.15-billion, or 38 per cent, more in profit due to increased sales and savings. A caveat here: not all these benefits would be felt in the short-term; this is a long-term approach.

Nonetheless, there are still many barriers to executives implementing these kinds of changes, he points out. Management isn’t aware of, or doesn’t believe in, the business case. It’s uncomfortable with being accused of “green-washing.” Its business model dismisses sustainability as being irrelevant to business.

“The word ‘environment’ is a sensitive one,” says Mr. Willard. “It brings up all sorts of connotations with hassle and cost for most company executives. I think if they understood the environment is not just about regulations, expensive retrofits and scrubbers on chimneys, that there’s actually some business opportunity here, they would look at it differently.

The clever executives are those who spot that opportunity — and use it to their advantage.

Tavia Grant is an editor at GlobeinvestorGOLD.