Book Review: Green to Gold

By: Michael E. Zimmerman

Review of Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage, by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006)

In recent years, many useful books have been published promoting the greening of business. I think immediately of Natural Capitalism (2000) by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. The strength of Green and Gold lies in its extensive reference to case histories of what authors, Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston dub the top fifty “Green Wave Riding” corporations, 25 American, 25 International, including Johnson & Johnson, Baxter, DuPont, and 3M in the US, and BP, Shell, Toyota, and Lafarge outside the US. The authors spent years researching Waver Rider corporations and interviewing key environmental managers and top executives. Waver Riders are leading the way toward environmentally sustainable products and production processes. I learned a great deal from the many examples, which include several instances of green initiatives that failed, for one reason or another. The authors emphasize that trade offs are always necessary on the market, and that when it comes to so-called “green” products, marketing may work best when the green advantage comes third after price and performance. It is impossible to summarize the many angles that the authors discovered are being pursued by companies that have discovered that “no” is not an answer when it comes to doing things the right way, environmentally.

As I mentioned in my brief review of this book on Amazon.com, at times I lost sight of the overall structure of the book, so I often had to refer to the table of contents to remind me of the main focus of a given chapter. This problem might have been corrected if the authors had utilized a user-friendly conceptual framework, such as the quadrant model and development scheme at work in Integral Ecology.

Although not mentioning "integral ecology," the book's perspective is consistent with key integral themes. For example, on p. 193 there is a bullet list of "Lessons from the corporate trenches for NGO's." One bullet states: "Don't expect success if you equate all business with evil. Anti-market or anti-capitalist approaches don't provide a good foundation for corporate engagement." This is an important insight, which took me a long time to accept. Like many in the environmental movement in the 1970s, I began with the attitude that business is bad and wrong, and so is the modernity associated with it. Likewise, I had little patience with standard religious attitudes, which were even more problematic than modern organizations. Obviously, trying to get my environmental interests over to people in these two worlds met with little success. Ken Wilber's work in particular has helped me to honor and integrate (rather than to “diss” and dissociate) both modern and premodern attitudes, as embodied in institutions and individuals. Where would any of us be without the religious traditions that called for respect for all individuals, thereby laying the groundwork for democratic institiutions? And where would we be without the wealth made possible by modern economic institutions? That premodern religion and modern economic institutions have dark sides goes without saying, but their important and enduring contribuitlons must be understood and respected.

That Esty and Winston are promoting something like an integral agenda is clear from their statement on p. 284:

"Strategy no longer rests in the hands of narrowly focused planning systems. Today, every company’s financial future depends on executives who possess the ability for integrated thinking. [….] They work with a dynamic and holistic vision of how a company operates and engage the full range of stakeholders who can shape the company’s future. They create enduring Eco-Advantage by thinking differently, adopting tools to understand their companies’ environmental challenges and opportunities, and embedding attention to stewardship in their corporate values."

In this paragraph, reference is made to all four quadrants: UL (first person, singular) is represented by executives who can think integrally; LL (we, constituted by first-second person dialogue) is represented by shared corporate values as well as those of stakeholders; UR (third person, singular), represented by using tools to solve particular problems; and LR (third person, plural), represented by planning and financial systems. In other words, Green to Gold is integral, because it takes into account the major perspectives from which to assess and to make proposals for resolving environmentally-destructive corporate practices.

Another area in which the book could have benefited from using the Integral model has to do with its call for “building a corporate culture that promotes environmental thinking and intervention.” (295) Although the authors make some excellent recommendations for such culture-building, Integral Ecology would also recommend using a developmental model to characterize the developmental “centers of gravity” of various employees. Some employees, for instance, may have modernist centers of gravity, whereas others may be green or postmodern; still others may be relatively premodern in important respects. How to speak most effectively to employees whose developmental centers of gravity are rather different? The same question would apply to stakeholders: What centers of gravity characterize major stakeholder groups, and individuals? How to tailor the corporate message such that it speaks in a way that people at different levels can best understand, without compromising the major ideals that are being broadcast and promulgated? Green and Gold stands on its own as a fine greening-the-corporation book, but I would like to see another such high-quality work informed by Integral theory.

Check out the authors' website for further information.
Reviewed by Michael E. Zimmerman

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