By David Bennett, Intern, EDF Corporate Partnerships.
In Jeffrey Hollender’s latest book, “The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win,” the co-founder and chairman of Seventh Generation lays out a compelling set of principles and practices for shaping environmental and social responsibility within an organization. Hollender offers sharp criticism of how the term, “corporate social responsibility” or “CSR” has become an abused catch-phrase for many companies, and he encourages the reader to go one step beyond the day-to-day operations of their business practices and to think seriously about the longer term innovations that will truly revolutionize their companies and the markets in which they operate. This is the same type of thinking that Peter Senge, (who wrote the foreword for Hollender’s book) recently encouraged EDF’s Corporate Partnerships Program to consider during a recent annual retreat.
These days, bookstore shelves are growing crowded with texts on sustainable business management, but few are written by pioneers like Jeffrey Hollender who has created and continues to foster a leading brand built on the values of sustainability. Many management books that cover green business topics highlight the successes of companies such as Seventh Generation, Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Ben & Jerry’s; Hollender includes these classics in his recent book as well. However, companies such as these were founded at the onset with sustainability at the core of their business model. As a result, there is a gap for readers interested in understanding how to instill true corporate responsibility into an organization that has already built momentum and infrastructure without the guiding values of responsibility. The most significant contribution that this book makes is providing a detailed examination of companies such as Marks & Spencer, Nike and Timberland that in some cases have gone from zero to ten in terms of adopting sustainability strategies to innovate, increase market share and further customer loyalty. The transformation of an organization from one that thinks about the short-term, internal aspects of sustainability to one that embraces a long-term, external approach is what the Responsibility Revolution is all about. This is the same type of revolution that Peter Senge spoke about during his time with EDF just a few weeks ago (be sure to check out my colleague Elizabeth Sturcken’s post to learn more).
One of the examples that Hollender cites in which an organization created business value through changing its business practices to emphasize stewardship is Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company (KKR), one of the world’s largest private equity (PE) firms. Historically, environmental management was not a major focus for how KKR or other leading PE firms managed their portfolio companies. Shortly after the TXU buyout in 2007, KKR teamed up with Environmental Defense Fund to launch the Green Portfolio Program, which uses environmental management as a lever to increase efficiency, cut costs and reduce environmental impacts. To date, the program has helped eight KKR portfolio companies save more than $160 million in operating costs, and eliminate more than 345,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions, 1.2 million tons of waste and 8,500 tons of paper use. In addition to KKR, we are also collaborating with The Carlyle Group and other leaders in the PE sector to make environmental management a standard practice for value creation across the industry. Although there’s more work to be done within the PE industry, we are optimistic that our Green Returns initiative will help catalyze the kind of “Responsibility Revolution” that Hollender describes.
The Responsibility Revolution is filled with other succinct case studies of leading companies (e.g., EBay, IBM, Linden Labs, and more) that have adopted innovative business practices while ensuring the financial health of the business.
So, whether you’re an entrepreneur who’s starting from scratch and seeking guidance on how to build sustainability into the DNA of your business or, if you’re a seasoned manager motivated to deliver increased value to your organization, The Responsibility Revolution is worth the read. For a limited time, the first chapter is available for free, online. Check it out and let us know what you think.