Learning to Green Our Organizations


A lot of books cross my desk, but few grab my attention the way one new title did recently.

The book, The Necessary Revolution, How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World, is by Peter Senge, the highly acclaimed author of The Fifth Discipline, along with Bryan Smith, Sara Schley, Joe Laur, and Nina Kruschwitz. The Harvard Business Review described Senge’s earlier book as “one of the seminal management books of the past 75 years” and the Financial Times called it one of the five greatest business books of all time. So, when Senge wades in on sustainability and corporate responsibility, people ought to listen.

In his new effort, he challenges individuals and corporations to think differently about their approach to sustainability. The book is loaded with valuable insights, facts and figures, and practical tips that will interest leaders from every sector.

Emerging Leaders


How can you cultivate the leaders of tomorrow in your organization— those “open-minded pragmatists, people who care deeply about the future but who are suspicious of quick fixes, emotional nostrums, and superficial answers to complex problems”?

Senge et al. say they wrote this book for the leaders of tomorrow—people who wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves as leaders today. “They are not the flag wavers, campaigning vocally for change, but rather passionate individuals working to transform their organizations from the bottom up. They are most often open-minded pragmatists, people who care deeply about the future but who are suspicious of quick fixes, emotional nostrums, and superficial answers to complex problems,” they write., “They often do not think of themselves as leaders, but time proves them wrong.”

When I read that passage it sounded to me like the authors were writing precisely about the type of people I’ve met over the past decade or so covering the manufacturing industry—the people who make a difference. The people actually running manufacturing plants aren’t usually the ones in the corner offices placating shareholders or creating visioning documents. They are the ones who can transform the direction that their corporate leaders articulate into a plan of action on the shop floor.

This is where the major progress will occur. The push for change will come from above, but the processes, actions, and results will have to come from below.

We have all seen this at work. Manufacturing CEOs and presidents are keenly aware of the changing times and the urgency to “green” their operations for a host of reasons. As these leaders recognize they must act (whether by shareholder pressure or a genuine desire for change), they will start to issue directives to their managers, such as “reduce our energy costs” or “eliminate any environmentally harmful chemical from our production processes” or “reduce our environmental footprint.” Or worse: “Do something green so that we can include it in our annual report.”

Institutions Matter

These types of directives can be spectacularly unhelpful, because while it’s important to get things moving and to have buy-in from the top, the truth is these leaders usually lack the technical, engineering, and operational knowhow to know where to start and where to go next.

That’s why The Necessary Revolution is so timely. Not only do the authors address the thinking required to transform manufacturing operations, they showcase many practical examples that other leaders can learn from. These include Coca-Cola’s collaboration with World Wildlife Fund to conserve clean water, the Xerox Lakes Project with a zero-to-landfill goal of reducing waste, Dupont’s shift away from oil-based feedstocks, and GE’s Ecomagination initiative, to name a few.

One reason this book can make a difference is that the authors also recognizes that “institutions matter” and that business and industry have a key role to play. While it’s noble and uplifting to think that, as individuals, our actions can change the planet (and they can to a certain degree), Senge and his coauthors recognize that until networks of businesses and governmental institutions start to work together, the revolutionary change they are calling for just won’t happen. So, just as we are all in this together, much higher degrees of interdependency will be required to pull us out.

Todd Phillips (tphillips@clbmedia.ca) is the founding editor of Advanced Manufacturing magazine and a longtime observer of the manufacturing sector. This article originally appeared at www.green-business.ca and is reprinted with permission. To read an excerpt from The Necessary Revolution, go to www.green-business.ca/images/ stories/seng_45_47.pdf scroll to the bottom of the page, and click where indicated.

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