Environmental Sustainability Benefits Business
As if the title failed to provide a clue, from the beginning you have the sense that Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World is a different kind of book. Even before the narrative starts comes an Environmental Benefits Statement that certifies that by printing the book using post-consumer waste fiber that is processed free from chlorine, the following resources were saved: 67 fully grown trees, 28,769 gallons of water, 49 million Btu of energy, 3,209 pounds of solid waste and 6,322 pounds of greenhouse gases.
“Our planet is a wondrous system of interdependent processes that nourish themselves,” writes Gary Hirshberg, an unabashed capitalist who as CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm has created thousands of jobs, double-digit revenue growth and excellent profits for two decades. He has also turned conventional wisdom that environmental commitment hurts the bottom line upside down. “In my view, the more any business emulates this model, the more it can generate true wealth for its owners, customers and all fellow humans.”
Although Hirshberg encourages businesses to declare war on “ecological idiocy” to atone for past environmental depredations, this is no lop-sided evangelical environmental tome.
By sharing his own environmental journey from a windmill maker and anti-nuclear protester, he effectively demonstrates practical initiatives businesses can implement to save the planet while achieving higher growth and better profits. Adding credibility to his effort, he punctuates his story with liberal doses of successful efforts of like-minded companies including Patagonia, Newman’s Own, Whole Foods, Timberland and Clif Bar.
For Hirshberg, the journey is not a quest for perfection. Rather, it’s about helping business leaders identify their environmental impact and taking steps to reduce the footprint, offsetting what remains by supporting projects that prevent or reduce emissions elsewhere. Examples include paying suppliers as much as twice the going rate for organically grown materials; doing hardly any advertising; pushing for more stringent governmental oversight; and providing customers and investors detailed reports about the waste and pollution generated.
Hirshberg goes on to share other offbeat business solutions that he implemented to create the Stonyfield personality. “Our job was to personalize Stonyfield by friendly gestures — symbolic handshakes — that made customers like us and buy our yogurt,” he says. “The tactics available to us — or any company for that matter — were and are limited only by imagination.”
For instance, he describes the company’s efforts to penetrate the tough Chicago market through hand-to-mouth tactics. Targeting public-transit riders, Stonyfield passed out free cups of yogurt to thank transit riders for saving energy and resources — a message that neatly underscored the company’s brand promise.
Another aspect of the Stonyfield customer handshake is its Web site which is loaded with information about everything the company does including its support for organic family farming and its pledge to return 10 percent of each year’s profits to environmental causes. It even boasts a “Have a Cow” program that allows children to become make-believe part-owners of cows on supplier farms, an innovative resource to educate the next generation of consumers about the benefits of organic farming.
“This is not airy blather touting the tofu way to happiness,” says Hirshberg. “[Organic] backs a sensible farm policy that protects not only family farmers, but also the health of all Americans — when you eat better, you are better. In fact, an organic food system could bring down health-care costs by eliminating toxic lifestyles and the unnecessary disease and illness they cause.”