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Friday, October 29, 2010

Street Smart Sustainability: The Entrepreneur's Guide

Street Smart Sustainability: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Profitably Greening Your Organization's DNA

By David Mager and Joe Sibilia

Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

ISBN 9781605094656

This review first appeared on on 29th October 2010.


If you run a small to medium-sized business and you're wondering whether or not to go green, this book probably isn't for you. Although David Mager and Joe Sibilia do include ten reasons that sustainability makes economic and ecological sense, they're not here to convince you why. Street Smart Sustainability is about how - detailed, nuts-and-bolts, step by step advice on how to green business green profitably.

Read cover to cover this is a comprehensive A to Z handbook, but each chapter also works as a self-contained stand-alone guide to a specific business function. So if you need to you can go right to whichever chapter speaks to your needs at the moment.


Street Smart Sustainability is both inspiring and scary. I can compare it to what I imagine it would be like to compete in a decathlon. Every single event in the decathlon has its own technical requirements, demands a good deal of knowledge and a considerable overall understanding of sports, fitness, physical limits, risks and opportunities. After completing each event in the decathlon, I assume the athlete feels a great sense of accomplishment, but in thinking about the next event, I assume a sense of trepidation. This is how I felt reading Street Smart Sustainability. As someone who is generally reasonably eco-aware, and as a small business owner, representing the target audience for this book, I found the detailed step-by-step approach to greening a business to be incredibly eye-opening, full of new things that I learned for the first time, and actually pretty scary, because no matter how much the authors tried to teach environmental sustainability in manageable-sized chunks and lay language, the scope and challenges for those intent on implementing sustainability are serious stuff. And yes, quite scary.

You couldn't get two more experienced people to teach you the practicalities of sustainabilizing your business. David Mager is a Principal of Major Environmental Solutions and worked as an Advisor to the Obama USDA Transition Team on complex environmental issues. He was one of the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 and has helped hundreds of companies work towards profitable environmental excellence. The scale of his experience comes through from examples cited in the book, including overseeing the first US voluntary standards for energy efficient lighting, water efficient fixtures, recycled business paper and more, or how David conducted an IOMBA (input/output mass balance analysis) and discovered that someone was stealing from the company as the analysis revealed that ingredients had gone missing, something that had not shown up in regular audits. Joe Sibilia is the founder and CEO of Meadowbrook Lane Capital, a self-described socially responsible/sustainable investment bank and CEO of CSRwire. Both clearly live on Sustainable Street, and Street Smart Sustainability is a testament to their knowledge and experience and also their understanding of the way entrepreneurs think.

Street Smart Sustainability is astounding in the way it does not shy from introducing complex sustainability concepts and offering a multitude of advice-bytes relating to every single aspect of greening your business, including those you have almost certainly never thought of, in a way which makes a direct contribution to profitability. Whilst each chapter is a standalone on some aspect of greenification (design, workplace, energy, carbon, purchasing, emissions reduction, waste), a cover to cover read (as I did) helps you pull it all together and understand more fully the connection between individual impacts as you prepare for your own Sustainability Audit and decide your own performance plan and measurement metrics. The book contains personal perspectives from a range of business leaders who have been-there-done-that but remain on the journey. Prominently featured, for example, is Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm, who tells about how sourcing milk from rBGH free cows (recombinant bovine hormone growth), or building a wastewater treatment plant, or reducing methane emissions by changing cow feed and reducing packaging impact by 12% in one year through Life Cycle work on packaging. Other companies cited include Patagonia, Aveda, Ecover, ABC Home and many more.

Central to this book is the guideline for conducting a Sustainability Audit. The authors work you through this in a detailed way, providing explanations and advice for even the most elementary activities. At the end of the book there is a set of useful resources which include an Audit Protocol, a summary of Enviro Management Systems, an IOMBA (see above) process and worked example, a Life Cycle Analysis matrix and a Carbon Footprint Calculator. All these are tools for a small business manager who is intent on understanding and doing business in a sustainable way. I confess to actually being tempted to put the book down and start using some of these great processes in my own business (but I decided to finish the book first!) Another useful resource is a sample questionnaire for employees to help you understand their views and gain their input and recommendations about what the company can do to advance sustainability practices because, as the authors say "Inspiring employees to buy in to the sustainability vision is key to becoming sustainable."

Alongside the plain language and step-by-step approach of this book, Street Smart Sustainability introduces you to a host of technical terms and probably for the first time for many readers, explains them in a way you can understand and puts them into relevant context. Who would have thought that eutrophication, photovoltaics, pyrolytic processes, high efficiency particulate arrestors, integrated gasification, selective catalytic reduction, windrow composting, reverse osmosis and many other techy-greeny terms would be relevant to small business entrepreneurs? After reading Street Smart Sustainability you not only know what they mean, and why they are important, but you also know how they can help you and your business be more profitable whilst protecting the planet.

The only problem with reading this book cover to cover is that by the time you have finished, you realize that there is so much to be done. This is good news, I suppose, but it sure is scary. Inspiring but scary. At least, however,  now you know how to do it.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website

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