An Environmental Focus That Makes Sense Book Review

Earth, Inc.: Using Nature’s Rules to Build Sustainable Profits

By Gregory Unruh, Harvard Business Press, Boston, Mass.,
April 2010, 224 pages, $24.95.

The reasons for being good stewards of the planet are very real. Such stewardship should be considered in all business decisions as a matter of reasonable ethical behavior. This book is a positive look at connecting environmental concerns with business realities.

What Gregory Unruh has done in his new book is bring some clarity to the potential for improving the business while addressing environmental concerns. Some efforts to build a case for profitable responses to environmental issues have been made in the past, but Unruh puts the concepts in a workable and understandable context with real world examples of successes.

Unruh builds his case for value creation around five key principles that will help the business leader strengthen the enterprise while maintaining a healthy environment. The principles are as follows:

Materials Parsimony:
Create products to use materials that are economically recyclable.

Power Autonomy:
Design manufacturing processes to use renewable energy whenever possible.

Value Cycling:
Maximize the recoverability of components and materials to add value throughout the life of the product.

Sustainable Product Platforms:
Leverage the value cycle of each product for profit improvement.

Function Over Form:
Focus on customer needs in a way that sustains the value cycle.

A full chapter is devoted to each of these notions, and the author includes examples on how the ideas are being successfully translated from theory into practice.

The most valuable concept in the book is what the author calls value cycling. His characterization is “recover and reincarnate materials from end-of-use goods into new value-added products.”

Two examples were explored that put the ideas into a more understandable business context:

-¢ Components for copiers were redesigned to be efficiently and profitably rebuilt to save both waste and time.

-¢ Commercial-use carpet was reformulated so that at the end of its useful life as carpet it can be broken down into its basic elements (reducing input costs) and reconstituted as new high-value floor covering.

With the climate change campaign negatively impacted by recent allegations of tampering with the evidence, the ideas in this book still have traction from an economic perspective.

Sound environmental practices do not need to be based only on generic environmental concerns. A solid business focus on adding value throughout the life-cycle of any product can be both profitable and positive for the environment.

For any business leader, this book is worth the time to read.

Bob Clark is the president of RWC Consulting LLC and has more than 30 years experience in labor-management relations. He provides consulting help in labor relations and is an adjunct professor at Concordia University in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.