Book Reviews


Canadian sustainability expert Bob Willard, who spent 34 years with IBM, offers a punchy, practical guide to leading change in your company in The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook (New Society Press, 129 pages, $19.95). He presents a seven-step model of change, seven practices that sustainability champions in companies must follow, seven paradoxes they will face, and seven “derailers” to avoid. As with his previous book, he harmoniously alternates one element of his message on each left-hand page with some background explanatory model or helpful diagram on the facing right-hand page. If you’re interested in becoming a champion for sustainability in your company, this would offer useful guidance.

 — Harvey Schachter
September 16, 2009


In 1982, “The One Minute Manager” took the business world by storm. The best seller reached millions of readers in search of simple and quick advice on how to get the best out of their employees. Bob Willard’s book is better than that one — far less manipulative and much more principled.

In Willard’s own words, it is “an abridged field guide of tips for transforming organizational culture from unsustainability to sustainability, without all the supporting anecdotes and case studies.” The author cuts to the chase by tailoring the tools that have always worked in any corporate setting for the would-be sustainability champion.

After 34 years at IBM Canada, Bob Willard grasps the nature of environmental, health, and safety management. Don’t slide by that last word: management. The last 10 years at IBM were spent training executives to be leaders and agents of change. Willard has not forgotten anything since he took early retirement in 2000. He added to his storehouse of knowledge, writing two books and speaking at hundreds of conferences. The author has learned more about organizational change and sustainability, and presents the know-how in this thin volume.

Willard introduced himself to the business press with “The Sustainability Advantage.” In it he made the case that better environmental performance lowers costs and raises revenue. He even gave worksheets to use to prove it. His second installment, “The Next Sustainability Wave,” told EHS professionals not to push for sustainability within their companies. He focused them instead on solving practical business problems.

“The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook” distills the two books to the essential techniques of effective management. A few samples from Willard’s best practices give a taste but do not do justice to the wholesome menu inside:

“Sustainability is a wonderful catalyst for self-motivation.”

“Manage expectations by under-promoting and over-delivering on the benefits of sustainability initiatives.”

“Going slow to go fast closes the gap between when a decision is made and when people affected by it buy in.”

“Compliance is extrinsically motivated obedience; commitment is an intrinsically motivated personal pledge.”

“Giving away ownership of sustainability programs to others in the company is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of leadership.”

There is structure to Willard’s dos and don’ts: Seven practices for sustainability change, followed by seven paradoxes to understand and use, and then seven derailers to avoid. The book is easy to read and a perfect disguise for Willard’s deep foundation in business management theory and his doctorate from the University of Toronto. He is serious and never glib. He makes the point from the start that the environmental situation seems to be worsening. He says more enterprises need to ratchet up their efforts to gain the momentum necessary to turn the world in the right directions.

© Victor House News, Co.

— William D’Alessandro


The most distinctive feature of the book is that it is a guide. The author underlines the importance of leadership as a means to sustainable transformation steps, where “leadership” is defined as the capacity to translate vision into reality. Another important issue is that one must primarily identify the issue of leveraging in a company and the people needed to make it happen. In the book, the process of change within companies is displayed clearly via visual tools. The second chapter is devoted to how one can change the process of the company one owns through seven steps. It should be noted that all the chapters are closely related and complementary to each other and the book as a whole is very easy to read. One can also find some questions in the book which challenge one to think about the process that currently exists in one’s given company.

Another impressive section is in Chapter 4. In this section, the topics are explained using paradoxes. Here’s a quote from that section, to give you an idea of what I mean – “You have to do it yourself; you can’t do it alone.”

So who should read this book? First of all, it’s for someone who wants to start the sustainability transformation in a company that he or she owns or someone who wants to review the existing processes in such a company. This is also a great book for people who are open to moving towards new business models, governance systems as well as products and services.

— nseferian
January 13, 2012


In his new book The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook: How to Transform Your Company, Bob Willard presents models and practices from the best available personal, organizational and cultural management theories. Mr. Willard masterfully distils and connects frameworks from thought leaders such as Peter M. Senge, Stephen R. Covey, Peter R. Scholtes, Bob Doppelt, Andrew Savitz, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, J.M. Fisher, Doug McKenzie-Mohr, John Kotter and others.

What sets this book apart from other sustainability guides is the integration of disciplines previously studied individually, such as personal leadership development, learning organizations, team formation and effectiveness, change management, cultural adaptation, social marketing, systems thinking, human happiness and, of course, triple bottom line management. This multi-disciplinary approach is exactly what those of us working in sustainability have been looking for.

Having just completed an MBA in Sustainable Business at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, I can confidently recommend this book as providing an introduction to the most pertinent theories and resources available. For anyone passionate about bringing sustainability to every corner of our society, this book offers the tools and support for personal development and change leadership. I would encourage everyone to buy a copy of the eBook available at the New Society website.

— Jessica Vreeswijk
June 15, 2009


This is our first book recommendation.  This month, Bob Willard released his latest book, The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook.  We think it should be in the hands of anyone interested in working to steer their organization toward becoming a more sustainable enterprise.  It is written clearly and offers a practical “how to” guide for anyone, at any level in an organization.  We like Bob’s lists of sevens: the seven-step sustainability change process, seven leadership practices, seven leadership paradoxes, seven pitfalls to avoid and seven summaries of personal and organizational change models.  We also like his top ten book and online news service recommendations.

In this blog we offer our thoughts about how business leaders can respond to climate change risks and opportunities.  When we talk about “business leaders” we aren’t necessarily referring to Vice Presidents and CEO’s.  Leadership can come from anywhere.  In fact, most successful businesses maximize innovative leadership from every level and area of their organization.   Creating change can be overwhelming for those in official leadership positions, let alone those who are not.  This book is for anyone who believes their organization can be successful by becoming a more sustainable business and wants to create that change.  We recommend visiting Bob’s website for more information about his books and resources.

— David Cruickshank
July 14, 2009


After reading numerous books that take chapters and chapters to lay out the problem and then devote only one chapter to what to do about it, Willard’s latest book is a refreshing change. This is a cut-to-the-chase overview of the last 30 years’ theories about how to be an effective change agent and he’s converted all the theories into to-do’s (and a few don’t do’s). Willard is in a hurry for us to be better change agents because the problems are so urgent. He leaves out all the theories and stories and gets right to what you should do. The body of the book is only about 100 pages and probably 1/3 of those are charts, diagrams, etc. He covers each of the principles in a page (literally, one page per principle plus a picture of some sort!).

He offers:

  • Seven practices of successful change agents (e.g.  get and stay credible, dialogue, piggyback existing initiatives)
  • Seven paradoxes (e.g. you have to do it yourself but you can’t do it alone; go slow to go fast)
  • Seven derailers (e.g.  hubris, stress)

I found myself struggling a bit to keep his lists of seven straight in my head, although he does provide a visual model to show the relationships. But each principle embodies a pearl of wisdom.

So the trick to getting a lot out of this book is to read it slowly. Read one principle and then stop and consider: How am I doing this or not doing this? How have I seen this done well? What do I want to work on improving? Make notes and preferably take action before reading the next section. Or better yet, attend the distance-learning training that Bob Willard will be doing for the International Society of Sustainability Professionals in November.

Bob graciously includes an entire chapter on ISSP in the bibliography, but he doesn’t mention what an important role he has played in giving ISSP credibility. We are grateful to him for that support!


The hard facts of climate change and diminishing natural resources should engage anyone who has a stake in the future of our planet. But even in the face of a looming crisis, sustainability champions who hold sway in the business world ought to be armed with a lobbying strategy that is tactful, diplomatic and, above all, sensitive to the norms of corporate politics. Otherwise, argues author Bob Willard, business leaders who are not already on board with the green movement will not listen.

In The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook, Willard outlines the principles of effective leadership that will help sustainability champions transform their companies before it’s too late. Writing with 34 years of corporate experience, Willard is acutely aware of the entrenched values and practices of the business world. Rather than strategizing to undermine those fundamental beliefs, he argues that the best approach to provoke change is to “focus on transforming unsustainable corporate behaviors,” allowing cultural norms and assumptions to follow naturally.

The book is written for sustainability intrapreneurs—champions of environmental sustainability that seek to influence businesses that they already work for. Willard describes a determined, yet measured approach to inspiring a green vision. He advises that while there may be compelling environmental reasons for urgent changes in corporate practices, the case for sustainability must be framed in a language that senior executives are receptive to; for instance, “concern for the future of profitability” translates better than “concern for the future of the icecaps.” By couching the benefits of sustainability in economical terms, the intrapreneur stands a better chance of effecting change.

Willard also stresses the importance of humility and open-mindedness. Few people enjoy being lectured to, but high-level management is especially adverse to an authoritative tone. That’s why effective communication is better served by dialogue. Willard emphasizes the importance of understanding and responding to the concerns of others. After all, if sustainability champions intend to recruit support for their cause, they must be willing to accommodate the concerns and interests of different people.

This kind of sensible, pragmatic approach is highlighted throughout the book, under four seven-point sections: “The Seven-Step Change Process,” “Seven Practices of Sustainability Champions,” “Seven Paradoxes to Use” and “Seven Derailers to Avoid.” Each point is relegated to a succinct one-page summary, complemented by a figure on the opposite page—usually a visual representation of an abstract idea in the form of a complex Venn diagram or flow chart.

As indicated on the back cover, The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook is the how to achieve sustainability, not the why. In essence, the book deals with rhetorical strategies that effect change in the business world: how best to project yourself, to frame your ideas and to inspire change in others. In fact, much of the book could be removed, unaltered, from its context of sustainability and still be a useful model for effective business communication.

For instance, chapter 2, “The Seven-Step Change Process,” outlines general, but important, stages in lobbying for change. For each step, from ‘Wake Up and Decide’ to ‘Embed and Align,’ Willard concisely crystallizes the development and implementation stages of a compelling vision. Such methodology is not uniquely tailored for sustainability championing; nevertheless, for those seeking to instigate environmental change, it is certainly relevant.

Willard realizes that good ideas will not spread by their merit alone. It is imperative that they be packaged and presented well, because ultimately, the struggle for a sustainable future will be won or lost in a battle of ideas. While legal sanctions, carbon taxes, and other proactive measures are important, forcing change is itself not a sustainable solution. Instead, it is critical that industry leaders be persuaded to make their businesses environmentally sustainable. For that reason, sustainability champions, communicating change according to the kind of guidelines Willard proposes, may be the most vital players in securing a livable future.

One of the most compelling chapters in the book is that focused on the “derailers” to avoid. Click here to read the chapter.

— Lenny Talarico
September 8, 2009
Lenny Talarico is an editorial intern with Green Business


Reprinted courtesy of Soundview Executive Book Summaries. Soundview summaries are available in 8 digital formats and on CD. To subscribe, call 1-800-SUMMARY  (240-912-7513 outside the United States and Canada), or order on the Internet at Multiple-user and corporate discounts are also available.
© 2009 by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.
November 2009