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Green for Green

STIRRING IT UP: How to Make Money and Save the World

By Gary Hirshberg; Hyperion; $24.95

If businesses wholeheartedly went green, the impact—on both the environment and their bottom lines—would be tremendous. That's Gary Hirshberg's message in Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World. Hirshberg is the CE-Yo—yikes!—and president of Stonyfield Farm, the Vermont-based maker of organic yogurt and other dairy products. In this easily digested book, he recounts how Stonyfield and other green companies have done well financially and done good environmentally.

A self-described "passionate capitalist who has created thousands of jobs," Hirshberg has a worldview, born in the political ferment of the 1960s, that evolved through a "hard-fought journey from windmill builder and antinuclear protester to CEO of a profitable company." First, he lays out his company's bona fides: Stonyfield Farm is the world's largest organic-yogurt maker, growing more than 27% annually for the past 18 years, with 2007 sales set to top $310 million. Yet, the author points out, its business practices defy conventional wisdom. It pays top dollar for quality ingredients, avoids major advertising campaigns, lobbies for more government oversight, and fesses up to customers and investors how much pollution and waste it generates, even when the numbers aren't good. Stonyfield was the first U.S. manufacturer to become carbon-neutral, balancing all its facility's emissions through investments in carbon offsets. To handle waste—typically, yogurt that fails the quality test—the company built an ecological pretreatment plant that turns waste to methane to help fuel its manufacturing facility.

The author provides many more examples of sustainable practices, and not just his own. Patagonia Inc. installed radiant heating and solar-tracking skylights in its huge distribution center in Reno, Nev., and cut energy use by 60%. Colorado's New Belgium Brewing, fully powered by wind, is the first brewery in the U.S. to eschew fossil fuels entirely. Clif Bar, the Berkeley (Calif.) maker of nutritional supplements, offsets more than 100% of the carbon dioxide generated by its bakeries, shipping, business travel, and offices, and keeps office waste out of landfills through recycling and composting programs.

All the companies Hirshberg describes continue to experience healthy growth and profit margins, lending support to his passionate belief that good business and sustainable practices go hand in hand. "Commerce is the most powerful force on the planet," he writes. "It got us into this mess and is the only force strong enough to get us out."

Get Off the Couch

STRATEGY AND THE FAT SMOKER

By David Maister; The Spangle Press; $29.99

Catchy title aside, Strategy and the Fat Smoker has genuine insight. A potpourri of essays by David Maister, a former Harvard Business School professor and longtime consultant, it is provocative and insightful enough to dip into for a burst of contrarian advice, if not to read at one sitting.

Maister's thesis is that most businesspeople know they have to develop a winning strategy, improve client relationships, and manage employees effectively, just as overweight smokers know they should lose weight and stop smoking. The tough part is actually doing it.

In ruminating on both the personal and professional, and the behavior of groups and individuals, Maister holds managers' feet to the fire. One bugaboo is that CEOs often expect employees to execute strategies without committing to them themselves. If the executives are skeptical, he asks, "can you imagine how cynical the employees are?" Another charade is the company mission statement. "More firms have mission statements than actually have missions," Maister writes.

Fortunately, the author does more than criticize. His advice is tough and sensible. If you feel you must have an articulated mission, then not only must you hire people who will put that mission ahead of their personal agendas, you must also establish consequences for noncompliance—all the way up. "The top level's commitment will filter down throughout the organization, to the junior levels, and finally to the outside world," Maister writes. "It can't be done effectively any other way." After dismissing traditional management training ("The majority of business training—by me and by everyone else—is a waste of money and time"), he suggests instead that companies put people through a training regimen in which they have to experience and develop their "emotional self-control and interactive styles." For such training to be effective, the bosses who request it not only have to undergo it but also must set an example as to why the new behavior is mandatory.

Other articles cover how to select a leader, especially in professional service organizations such as law firms, one of Maister's consulting specialties; building accountability into a company; and creating institutional loyalty and team focus. He names some firms that have succeeded in this last endeavor—Goldman Sachs (GS) and Hewitt Associates (HEW) are two—but allows that the prize is hard to come by. Maister, who like his title character was a fat smoker, should know.

Back to BWSmallBiz December 2007/January 2008 Table of Contents


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