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Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World

Here's the Review in Brief for Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World by Gary Hirshberg. See below for the Review in Depth and for Additional Resources.

How this book is different:

As the subtitle says, this is a book about making money and saving the world at the same time. You can read it with either goal in mind. What makes the book especially interesting are the many examples of companies of all kinds combining profit objectives with sustainability objectives.

Strengths:

The business stories and examples are clear, well-written and cover a range of different business operations.

A meta-lesson of the book is that if you ask "How can we" instead of "Can we" you're more likely to come up with good options.

Warnings:

Hirshberg says that he realized that "sermonizing would never get his ideas into mainstream thinking." Alas, he often forgets that and heads off into long digressions on sustainability issues that slow the otherwise brisk pace of this book to a crawl.

Hirshberg is writing for two audiences, those whose primary concern is the environment and those who are looking for business lessons from his success. Neither group will like the parts of the book that the other likes.

Bottom Line:

Zealots are often insufferable. Practical zealots have the capacity to change the world. Gary Hirshberg is definitely a zealot, but because he's also both practical and successful, you will find a lot of good business advice in this book.

Now for the Review in Depth.

Gary Hirshberg is the CE-Yo (I'm not making that up) of Stonyfield Farms where they make great yogurt. I love it because it's good. It is also organic. For me, the yogurt eater, that is mostly irrelevant.

Hirshberg titled his book, Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World. The subtitle should be a clue that there are two kinds of material in this book.

There are the places where Hirshberg writes as if he's trying to pass some sort of environmentalist purity test. These are mostly long expository sections that may be of great interest to you. If so, read them. I found them stupifyingly boring most of the time.

If you're reading this as a business book, you may be tempted to write Gary Hirshberg off as a nut case. But consider the following.

His company makes a great product. The only limit on his production is the number of organically certified cows he can get to supply his farm and meet his standards. And his company makes a lot of money. That's why you want to pay attention to the other parts of the book.

The other parts of the book are where Hirshberg tells the story of his business and several other businesses including Timberlake and Patagonia. He tells about how Wal-Mart is making "environmentally friendly" changes to its operations because those changes are good business.

Those were the parts of interest to me. They are written in a less formal style. They are mostly stories. And there are a lot of lessons in them about business, business practices, and what both successful businesses and Mother Nature might have to teach us about them.

Here's an overview of the book.

The first chapter, Natural Profits, begins with the simple, but profound, observation that nature does not produce waste. When nature is functioning naturally, everything thrown off by one process is used by another. Hirshberg suggests that following that principle with business practices will make things more efficient and, thus, more profitable.

He tells us the story of how he wound up at Stonyfield Farms. There's info on the early stages of the company and how many of his principles about how to live on the planet also helped his company survive and grow. The story of Stonyfield Farms runs through the book.

Mission Control gets us into the mission statement for Hirshberg's company. Frankly, this is as good a chapter on mission statements as I've seen anywhere.

Hirshberg says that a mission statement, in addition to guiding operations, should be simple and enduring. He also points out that Exxon's mission statement at one time only cited "increasing return to shareholders" as a guiding principle and he describes how that informed the company's response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Hirshberg makes the point that if you have only one purpose, as Exxon did, it's relatively easy to make decisions and to be blind to other concerns. But if you have several sub-missions or groups of stakeholders to consider, things get more nuanced. The main story in this chapter is about Patagonia, whose CEO, Yvon Chouinard, says: "Profit is what happens when you do everything else right."

From CO2 to COno is about Stonyfield's efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. There's excellent material on doing analysis of a problem, seeking solutions and using metrics to gauge success or lack of it. This chapter includes the stories of Timberland, Wal-Mart's recent changes and Adobe's efforts to make its campus carbon neutral. Hirshberg describes cost-saving benefits to the corporations.

Hands Across the Aisle has a lot of excellent material on Hirshberg's marketing methods. In the beginning there was no money for marketing so Stonyfield had to be creative. They were. They also developed the idea of marketing as making a "handshake connection" with everyone. He has important things to say about how the quality of the product is important because that's what gets customers to come back.

The Delicious Revolution includes the story of Honest Tea. In 1998, Seth Goldman left his job at the Calvert Group of "socially responsible" mutual funds to join Barry Nalebuff and found Honest Tea. Nalebuff was Goldman's professor at Yale, where Nalebuff is known as an expert on business strategy and game theory. You may know him for his books such as Coopetition and Thinking Strategically.

No Such Place as Away is all about recycling and re-using and planning in ways that leave you with less to transport somewhere else. A lot of this sounds new, but it's not. There was a time when Henry Ford demanded that suppliers of engines for his cars pack their engines in boxes made of boards of a particular size. Ford then took the crates apart and used the wood to make floorboards for his cars.

A real strength of this chapter is the description of Interface Carpet. Interface Carpet is two things. It is the world's largest manufacturer of carpet tiles, a publicly traded company worth almost a billion dollars. It's also a company with a commitment to sustainability.

Nurturing Those Who Nourish the Earth is about Stonyfield's dealing with suppliers. There's good material here about the importance of relationships along the supply chain. Stonyfield Farms may be an "organic" business, but when Hirshberg talks about thinks like marketing and cost analysis, and supply chain relationships, the lessons are solid business.

Future Perfect is Hirshberg's vision of an ideal future. Since it's a true "Utopia" or "nowhere" he feels free to let his inner zealot run free. This chapter is awash in unexamined and unsupported assumptions.

Worse, from my perspective, is that Hirshberg tends to present only his own favored solution or technique. So you don't get any discussion of whether offsets, for example, are actually a good idea or how to make them work better. There are no alternatives in this chapter.

Additional Resources

From the New York Times: A Special Section on the Business of Green

Greenbiz.com
"A comprehensive free information resource for large and small companies seeking to align environmental business practices with business success. Includes environmental business news, job listings, career advice, tools, reports, mentor programs, awards, government resources, backgrounders, expert advice, and more."

To see what other folks thought of this book, or to purchase it from Amazon, click here.

Three Star Leadership is leadership that gets a star rating from three key groups: your boss, your peers and your subordinates.

This book review first appeared in the Three Star Leadership Blog.

Three Star Leadership is leadership that gets a star rating from three key groups: your boss, your peers and your subordinates.

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