Mar 292010

Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage is a book full of insights and real life lessons on what businesses can do to lower costs, increase revenue, reduce risks, and pursue opportunities in the areas related to climate change.

I finished this book (available from with four ‘golden’ takeaways that are applicable to Canadian businesses and I will share them with you in this multi-part series of posts. But first, a brief overview of the book.

The two authors are Daniel C. Esty, Director of the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale University, and Andrew S. Winston, a corporate environmental expert who has consulted with Fortune 500 companies such as Bank of America, Reuters, Coca-Cola, and IKEA.

Similar to this blog, the book is not primarily about promoting any green ideology. Instead, it has a pragmatic focus on offering practical advices that a business can apply to its operation and strategic planning. If that’s what you are looking for, I think this may be one of the best books currently on the market for you. Other notable books such as Cradle To Cradle, The Ecology of Commerce, and Natural Capitalism, are also good in their own ways. But they do touch upon environmental philosophy, ecosystem effects, etc., and are not as tightly focused on ‘ground level’ business operation and tactical advice.

Another thing I like about this book is that the authors do not just offer examples of success stories. You will also find many examples of real life failures that illustrate the pitfalls you should avoid.

Among the large companies cited in the real life examples are Herman Miller, FedEx, IKEA, General Electric, McDonald’s, Unilever, and Wal-Mart. The authors describe a story on how 3M saved $1 billion on pollution reduction in the first year of implementing their environmental initiatives. It breaks the misconception that green initiatives are just about extra burden and extra costs. In fact, going green and saving money at the same time is entirely possible.

The authors also use examples from many smaller companies and emphasize that they are just as impacted by environmental risks as larger corporations. And in some cases, smaller companies can actually have an edge on seizing opportunities for innovation.

While there are many great insights throughout the book, I think there are four areas that this book does particularly well and are relevant to Canadian businesses: (1) Top Ten Challenges, Risks, Opportunities; (2) Manage Your Stakeholders; (3) Manage Downside, Build Upside; (4) Thirteen Pitfalls To Avoid.

In the coming days, I will write four more posts to add to this multi-part thought leadership series, with one post devoted to each of the four areas. Stay tuned!

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Derek Wong is a recognized expert at ShareGreen by Walmart, panel judge for Earth Day Canada, keynote speaker at Skills for the Green Economy, and guest speaker at University of Toronto. His innovative approach to employee engagement has led to case studies. Reach him by email or LinkedIn.

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