If you’ve ever thought of dropping a book on your boss’s desk, in the hopes of sparking a Ray Anderson-type conversion, here’s a tip. Don’t use the new IPCC report: It’s gloomy, terrifying and a muddle. Try this instead: Andrew Winston’s business transformation book for the “new normal” of climate change-fueled disruption. It’s called The Big Pivot.
The strategist and Green to Gold author has written a practical, working handbook for teams, organizations and corporations to “recreate their operations to succeed within the scientific reality of a hotter, wilder, more radically open world.”
In the book, Winston deftly manages a tricky balancing act: talking about humanity’s impending catastrophes while maintaining a rational, business-minded focus on solutions. I’m glad to say that he pulls it off. And glad for the rest of us, too, because we need a Big Pivot. That’s what Winston calls the kind of rapid and radical business transformation needed to get from today’s normal of insufficient action to new low/no-carbon, climate-resilient practices and strategies.
To start, Winston briskly lays out the science: Failure is what awaits us if businesses don’t prepare for climate-change-fueled weather disasters, resource scarcities and a radically transparent global marketplace.
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For sure, Winston is swinging for the fences by calling for “dramatic improvements in operational efficiency and cuts in material and energy use, waste and carbon emissions.” But only because climate science — not the boardroom — demands it.
Then onto examples: Winston knows The Big Pivot is possible because he’s seen and helped companies do it. He shares stories to show that change can come from decisive leadership rather just than the stick of regulation or crisis. These up-to-date case studies are perfect, sharable examples of what leading companies are doing today.
And finally, he offers 10 strategies for how your company can make big, bold moves for equally big returns on business stability and profitability. Each strategy is stated as an action, such as “Fight short-termism” and “Set big, science-based goals.” And for each strategy, there’s a “How to Execute” section.
For example, one of the simplest (but hardest) things companies can do is to throw out their goal-setting processes that rely on internal or industry benchmarks. Instead, Winston says we have to peg our goals to meeting the true size of the planetary problem, with suggestions for doing that.
Overall, I appreciate Winston’s refreshingly blunt perspective on two points, both of which can mire sustainability work in problems rather than solutions.
The first is that climate change — as a human-caused, dangerous scientific reality — is not up for discussion. Readers who are grappling with climate denialism or its poisonous cousin, climate fatalism, in their workplaces will find Winston a good model for not engaging and getting on with things.
The second is to dismiss the stall tactic he calls “the increasingly absurd question [of], ‘What’s the business case?’” For readers who are genuinely uninformed about why the world’s businesses need to do things differently, the book’s appendix offers a crash course. Readers can also consult Winston’s earlier book, Green to Gold.
I find his use of the pivot metaphor to be really smart. For one, readers who aren’t comfortable with high-stakes sustainability goals might find themselves on more familiar ground by thinking about entrepreneurial pivots. Successful Start-Up 101 is all about trying one thing, then shifting deliberately to another, to find the right customers and positioning. Giving The Big Pivot an entrepreneurial cast, deliberate or not, may help draw in hesitant readers.
What Winston doesn’t talk much about, by necessity of brevity, are the specific people at leading companies who are making Big Pivot changes towards science-based goal-setting, heretical innovation and radical cooperation.
And that’s a shame, because they’re the real story of The Big Pivot — not companies or strategies or tools to get to zero.
I think that The Big Pivot starts with each of us thinking of ourselves this way. And more importantly, by thinking of our colleagues, partners, competitors and elected officials as capable people who are also up for the challenging of creating a better future.
I’m inspired by Winston’s call for businesses to buck the short-term safety of a quarterly profits-obsessed status quo. It’s time to pivot to a focus on long-term, science-based realities. With a certain climate-challenged future ahead of us, The Big Pivot gives us a realist’s path to making sure it’s a prosperous one, too.
This article was originally published on Sustainable Brands.