In­no­vat­ing Our Way to Sus­tain­abil­ity

Foreword Reviews - - Contents - by Barry Sil­ver­stein

Michael Lenox, Aaron Chat­terji Stan­ford Busi­ness Books (MAY) Hard­cover $29.95 (200pp), 978-0-8047-9099-4

There is bad news and good news about the state of the earth, and Michael Lenox and Aaron Chat­terji ad­dress both with eye-open­ing ac­cu­racy in this com­pelling, provoca­tive trea­tise.

The bad news, of course, is “the ex­is­ten­tial threat posed by a chang­ing cli­mate and en­vi­ron­men­tal ‘un­sus­tain­abil­ity.’” The good news, how­ever, is that they be­lieve busi­nesses— work­ing in con­cert with the govern­ment, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, and non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions—can come to the res­cue.

In a lucid, well-con­structed ar­gu­ment, Lenox and Chat­terji lay out “a model of in­no­va­tion” that el­e­gantly brings to­gether many in­di­vid­u­als and in­sti­tu­tions, par­tic­i­pat­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively to move prod­ucts and ser­vices “from re­search to de­vel­op­ment to com­mer­cial­iza­tion to scal­ing and dif­fu­sion.” Af­ter a de­scrip­tion of the sys­tem, the book pon­ders how each of four dif­fer­ent kinds of in­di­vid­u­als—in­no­va­tor, man­ager, in­vestor, and cus­tomer—will con­trib­ute to this sys­tem.

Or­ga­niz­ing the book in this way en­ables one to both un­der­stand and iden­tify with these in­di­vid­u­als and the roles they play. In dis­cussing the man­ager’s role, for ex­am­ple, the au­thors point out that “green busi­ness can be good busi­ness,” cit­ing ex­am­ples and stud­ies to back up this ar­gu­ment. The chap­ter con­cern­ing the cus­tomer may be the most sober­ing. Here, the au­thors write, “Busi­ness can­not save the Earth without con­sumers choos­ing sus­tain­able goods and ser­vices from avail­able al­ter­na­tives.”

A fi­nal chap­ter in the book re­it­er­ates and ex­pands upon the roles of the play­ers, demon­strat­ing the in­ter­ac­tions re­quired among all of them. The au­thors make an im­pas­sioned plea, par­tic­u­larly to busi­nesses, to bring to mar­ket the in­no­va­tive prod­ucts and ser­vices nec­es­sary to cre­ate value while re­duc­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts. While the tenor of Can Busi­ness Save the Earth? is gen­er­ally pos­i­tive, one can­not miss the real sense of ur­gency it con­veys.

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