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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Green Executive

The Green Executive: Corporate Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy

By Gareth Kane

Published by Earthscan.

ISBN: 9781849713344

This review was first published on on 8th August 2011


The Green Executive: Corporate Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy provides everything you need to know to develop a winning sustainability strategy and the leadership skills you require to implement that strategy.

The first part of the book explores the business case for action taking into consideration opportunities, threats of inaction, risks of action and the ethical dimension. This is followed by an overview of global environmental problems, including the big three: climate change, resource depletion and toxic materials, and global solutions – including eco-efficiency and industrial ecology. The third part translates these large-scale solutions into practical actions for a single business ranging from simple housekeeping measures through to innovative business models. The final, crucial part introduces the sustainability maturity model and provides an insight into how the highest level of that model can be achieved.

A range of personal views is provided in the form of 18 exclusive interviews with senior level executives from a wide range of sectors including retail, transport, manufacturing, logistics and the service sector, from small businesses through to international giants like Canon, BT, Marks & Spencer, National Express and GlaxoSmithKline.


Having attended a fascinating webinar where Gareth Kane, author of The Green Executive: Corporate Leadership in a Low Carbon Economy, presented some of the key themes of his book, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. There are many books around that talk about what it means to be green, how to do it and what insights can be gained from all of them. What's so appealing about the way Gareth goes about presenting this subject is not only his skill in covering all aspects of green and sustainable business with clarity but also his very down-to-earth, pragmatic and plain language approach.

The Green Executive is structured logically: first comes the business case for becoming a green executive, next an explanation of what creating a sustainable economy actually means, then the actions required and finally the processes that need to support the actions. Each chapter closes with a helpful summary and is followed by an interview with a range of senior executives from a diverse group of companies. Each chapter is fairly short and almost can be taken as a standalone lesson in sustainability.

Rather than using this review to describe the details of how to become a green exec (yes, sometimes you just have to buy the book!), I thought I would share some of the insights from company execs. Here are my faves:

"The mainstream consumer wants performance and value and sustainability." Peter White, Procter and Gamble.

"Initially we wanted to develop a feel good factor among the staff." Julie Parr, Muckle LLP.

"The sustainability programme saved Northern Foods £2 million last financial year." Paula Widdowson, Northern Foods.

"We launched 31 new products during the recent recession." Nigel Stansfield, InterfaceFLOR.

"Give responsibility for sustainability to someone with a real passion for it." Sally Hancox, Gentoo Housing Group.

"The most important driver is to protect and enhance our brand." Richard Gillies, Marks and Spencer.

"Reputation has become a much more important part of the corporate structure than it was in the past." James Hagan, GlaxoSmithKline.

"The single most important quality in this game is perseverance." Roy Stanley, Tanfield Group.

"We've received many awards for reporting, diversity, and for specific sustainability projects." Chris Tuppen, formerly BT.

"Senior management commitment is essential." Roberta Barbieri, Diageo.

"Our next big challenge is water." Stephen Little, The Sage Gateshead.

"We have been instrumental in the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles." Martin Blake, Royal Mail.

"You have to start breaking all the old rules of business." Vic Morgan, Ethical Superstore.

"We see the low carbon future as a really exciting, positive future." Nick Coad, National Express Group.

"We have found it very useful to get an external set of eyes to come in and do an audit – this gave us an action plan of how to move forward." Glen Bennett, EAE Ltd.

"A big challenge is to motivate middle management. The top level management can be committed, the general staff can be committed but middle management have sales targets, costs targets and organization to run…." Surrie Everett-Pascoe, Canon Europe Ltd.

"Sustainability is fast becoming a reputational issue for our clients." Chris Jofeh, Arup.

The Green Executive is an essential book for those who want a leadership view of how to make a business sustainable, from how to address the risks to how to exploit the opportunities. The book is nicely populated with models, frameworks and ways to advance, and is pitched exactly right to make it interesting without getting bogged down in academic texts. Using tools that include Gareth Kane's Sustainability Maturity Model or his summary of new and emerging green markets, green executives may just become a mainstream feature of business.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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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