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Book Review of: Green to Gold

How smart companies use environmental strategy to
innovate, create value, and build competitive advantage

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Review of Green to Gold by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston (Softcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

Green to Gold belongs on every executive's reading list. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, executives learned that a good safety program was actually a competitive edge rather than "additional overhead." The same became true of quality in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, very few executives would pooh-pooh either safety or quality. Doings so would be the career kiss of death, for one thing. We are now seeing the equivalent for green.

For what it offers, the book is modestly priced. It goes beyond the primer level to deliver true business book content. Yes, the business book market has been flooded lately with children's novellas posing as business books. But Green to Gold is definitely not one of those. This is a serious work, and it provides useful information.

Let's look at some strengths and weaknesses of Green to Gold.

Some strengths of this book

  • Well-researched. Green books aimed at specific disciplines tend to have their basis in fact. For example, the many green books for engineers and architects are well-researched and quite useful. Their recommendations actually work. That's not true of all green books, but it's true of this green book. Green to Gold was written for executives, and the authors didn't take that responsibility lightly. It's an understatement to call their research extensive. Authors who do their homework score big points with me.
  • Balanced. Green at any cost isn't realistic. The authors are careful to explain the risks and costs, rather than just hype the benefits in a "let's save the planet" hysteria. Their perspective is mostly the business case for green, and that case is strong. A solid business case is the key to getting businesses to embrace green. Taking the business perspective is how you get green in ways that are new and innovative (rather than mere compliance with ill-conceived laws written by ill-informed legislators).
  • Practical. This book isn't practical for the consumer, and it wasn't meant to be. But it is practical for the business executive. It provides a base on which executives can justify and successfully implement green initiatives. It helps the executive determine which green initiatives are right for his/her company. It doesn't stop there; it helps the executive ensure those initiatives are implemented cost-effectively and in a way that makes the initiatives sustainable.
  • Example-based. This ties back to its being well-researched. One of the flaws in "Best Practices" is they sometimes get preached as absolutes instead of as examples to learn from. The authors take the correct "Best Practices" approach by providing examples and then looking at why a particular tactic or strategy worked in those circumstances. Looking at ABC Corp and seeing they did this or that isn't helpful unless you have a sufficiently detailed example. You have to know what problem they solved, what their options where, and why they chose the one they did. The authors provide this information.

Some negatives about this book

  • Repetition. It's interesting that the authors talk about reducing waste and making things leaner when their own book could be reduced to about half of its present size simply by eliminating the redundant statements (at least, it seemed that way). In addition to wasting paper, this repetition wasted my time as a reader. Perhaps the authors are trying to reach out to the sound-bite people whose short attention spans and meager retention abilities require repetition. But making the book longer via copious copy and paste isn't the solution.
  • Celebrity worship. The authors gave too much credence to a man who has done more to harm sustainability than to help it. That man has done his great harm by injecting hysteria and clouding the issues in such a way as to energize powerful opposition to the green movement in general. That man is Al Gore. His infamous fraudumentary, laced with absurdities, spoofs the entire sustainability movement and undermines the credibility of people who try to effect change. Take, for example, Gore's ocean level projections--these are not the "consensus" of any scientists. For one thing, there's not enough water on the planet for his numbers to work out. Anyone can verify Gore's misanalysis by watching ice melt in a glass. The fact that Gore managed to deceive the Nobel Committee doesn't mean the rest of us have to pretend his scam is sincere.
  • Printing. The inside gutter is about an inch too narrow. This makes the book hard to keep open while reading. You can't relax and just read it. The outside gutter is large enough that a space trade would have solved this problem without adding to the page count.

About the book

This book runs about 300 pages. Probably half of those could be eliminated by eliminating redundant text. To me, this is a 150 page book, maybe 200 pages tops. It consists of 12 chapters, two prefaces, an introduction, and three appendices. It has extensive notes and a comprehensive index. The acknowledgments section is 2.5 pages long.

The 12 chapters are arranged into four parts. Each part has an introduction that is 1.5 pages long, except for Part Two (3.5 pages long).

Part One discusses what's driving the green movement and why those drivers and the movement itself are permanent. The authors aren't proselytizing, just describing what is. The do weaken their case a bit by dragging in Al "conspicuous consumption" Gore, who has made millions of dollars peddling nonsense that he personally does not believe. It is better to stick to facts, as they stand on their own without any "creativeness" from predators like Al Gore. Part One contains chapters 1 - 3.

Part Two talks in general terms about building a green strategy. It makes the business case. It looks at examples where green strategies reduce risk and cost. For the low-hanging fruit, at least, there is a high ROI. Much of what people call "green" is simply a better, more effective way of doing business. Part Two contains chapters 4 and 5.

Part Three is the case history part of the book. There are case histories elsewhere, but here we really go into specific examples and analysis. This Part contains four chapters, each of which looks at things from a different perspective. Part Three contains chapters 6 - 9.

Part Four lays out a process for making green initiatives into reality. The first chapter firmly grounds us. To avoid the head in the clouds mentality that prevents lasting change, the first chapter talks about why environmental initiatives fail. The lessons learned here are valuable in many ways. The next chapter explains how to execute green initiatives for sustained competitive advantage, and the final chapter talks about plays, tools, and plans to obtain that sustained competitive advantage. Part Four contains chapters 10 - 12.

My criticisms of this book have to be weighed against the price of this book. In its price range, this book is outstanding. Against a more broad measure, it's disappointing.

  • The authors could spend considerable time editing and reorganizing to fix the redundancy problem, but that would mean a much more expensive book. Any intelligent person can read this book and still understand the message.
  • The references to Al Gore detract from its authority, but the extensive bibliography (notes) may restore what that removes.
  • The page gutter problem is annoying, and can quickly turn off the reader. I was tempted, early in the book, to stop reading it for that reason. But I wanted to "hear the message" so I soldiered on.

The strengths of this book would be expected of a book in a much higher price range. It's those strengths that make this book well-worth reading. It raises issues all corporate executives must face. Those issues don't have to be a burden or profit drain. They can be, as the title infers, a source of gain. This book is an excellent resource for anyone in the executive suite.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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