Adam Werbach was the youngest ever president of the Sierra Club and now heads up sustainability consultants Saatchi & Saatchi S having worked with many businesses including Walmart, so I had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately it does not get off to a good start, when Werbach lists ten of nature's rules for sustainability:
1. Diversify across generations.
2. Adapt and specialize to the changing environment.
3. Celebrate transparency.
4. Plan and execute systematically, not compartmentally.
5. Form groups and protect the young.
6. Integrate metrics.
7. Improve with each cycle. Evolution is a strategy for long-term survival.
8. Right-size regularly, rather than downsize occasionally.
9. Foster longevity, not immediate gratification.
10. Waste nothing, recycle everything, borrow little.
Problem is, two of these are demonstrably nonsense. Nature is not transparent, but has armfuls of beasties that rely on decidedly non-transparent tactics such as camouflage, mimicry and traps. If a fly knew what a Venus flytrap was, it would steer well clear. Likewise the idea that nature is 'obsessive' about protecting the young is disproved by watching any nature programme - just watch the annual slaughter of the innocents on BBC's Springwatch and you will see what I mean. I would also suggest the 'integrate metrics' rule was tenuous to say the least. Werbach also omits probably the most important sustainability lesson from nature - "Use Solar Energy". The other strange thing about these rules is that many are never or only briefly mentioned again, particularly number 1.
Werbach drops another clanger when he describes 'cradle to cradle' as the concept of eradicating toxics and improving energy efficiency at every life cycle stage from raw material extraction to disposal. Wrong. Cradle to cradle, as the name suggests, is about making products endlessly recyclable - there is no 'disposal' stage. There is also a somewhat unnecessary comparison of sustainability requirements with the famous business book 'Good to Great'.
This is a really great shame as the guts of the book, Werbach's TEN cycle of transparency, engagement and networking is a strong model for the human side of business sustainability (although why it has to be a cycle is not clear - why not three parallel activities?). Transparency is interpreted as both opening up available information to everyone and collecting all possible information. In engagement, Werbach advocates getting individuals to choose their own 'personal sustainability plan' to get them really engaged, and in the networking chapter he demonstrates a limited number of advantages of engaging with external stakeholders. All of this activity should be aligned to the business's sustainability 'North Star Goal'. Werbach omits any discussion of technological solutions, management structures or innovative business models.
In summary, I found the book really frustrating. The North Star Goal and TEN concepts are excellent, but I was constantly distracted by clangers, tenuous logic and clunky use of language. Werbach needs a really tough editor to cut the book down to the good 50% which could then be developed further. A deeply flawed gem.