Jeana Wirtenberg knows sustainability is about people. Living, caring human beings – who get things done. It’s not “green.” Or “eco.” Not goals or dashboards. Not on their own, at any rate. It’s people who make these things actually happen. Sustainability is people at every level of a business making decisions and working with their colleagues, customers and communities, day in and day out.
Sustainability is people — not programs or promises — taking actions that move their company towards more sustainable business outcomes. It’s culture.
This insight is what makes Jeana Wirtenberg’s exhaustively researched but highly readable book, Building a Culture for Sustainability: People, Planet and Profits in a New Green Economy (Praeger, 2014), stand in excellent company with other recent works such as Andrew Winston’s The Big Pivot and Arianna Huffington’s Thrive.
Specifically, this book gives readers a detailed framework to bridge the gap between what leaders say they want their companies to accomplish around sustainability and what actually gets done — by building a culture for sustainability.
With a forward by Winston, the book is set up as a series of nine case studies based on Wirtenberg’s exclusive interviews with executives and employees from Alcoa, BASF, Church & Dwight, Ingersoll Rand, Pfizer, Sanofi, Wyndham Worldwide and Bureau Veritas.
Wirtenberg describes what people working in a “culture for sustainability” sound like, what they do, how they overcome difficulties, and how they measure their success.
Along with the case studies, Wirtenberg also offers a practical, actionable outline of the key attitudes and characteristics that these successful cultures share. The book’s meticulous appendix and index provide a keyed reference guide for building or strengthening your own company’s culture of sustainability.
Although they represent very different industries — from consumer products to chemical manufacturing — these companies share something that eludes so many: They’re successfully mainstreaming a sustainability mindset into their organization’s DNA and achieving results.
This gap between knowing and achieving is well-documented and surely familiar to Sustainable Brands readers. As an often-quoted Accenture survey put it, 93 percent of CEOs consider sustainability important to their companies’ success, but most don’t know how to make it happen.
Anyone who’s ever worked in an organization with competing priorities and pressures knows all about this gap. As Wirtenberg quotes a BASF executive as saying, “Culture is what everybody does when no one is looking.” Wirtenberg’s rigorous work proves that culture can be well understood, evaluated, improved and used to drive business performance.
That this book exists at all — the product of hundreds of hours of interviews with senior-level execs over several years — is a testament to Wirtenberg’s sterling reputation as a trusted colleague and her professional fortitude to see it through to fruition.
Considering the stakes as we race towards the 2-degree tipping point for our earth’s temperature, I think all her hard work was worth it.
As Winston and others have said, “Business cannot succeed in a world that fails.” Extending that thought one step further, business cannot succeed if the people involved aren’t working together to make it happen.
Wirtenberg’s book is a smart contribution to the growing understanding that being a sustainability leader in the business world not only enhances profitability, high-visibility breakthoughs and stakeholder reputation. True sustainability leadership is also about realizing the dreams of all people working together, at companies of all sizes, who want their children to inherit a world worth having.
That’s a culture worth building. And Wirtenberg’s book is a valuable read to help us get there.
This article was originally published on Sustainable Brands.