Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review: Stirring It Up

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

Book description: Gary Hirsberg is the founder and CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm, a company that proved it was profitable to operate sustainably. Hirsberg outlines his own journey in Stirring it Up and highlights other success stories, from Wal-mart to Patagonia, of companies who have embraced a sustainable product, production supply chain, work environment, and culture -- and made it profitable.

I scoffed when I reached the section where Hirsberg points to Wal-mart, the most hated of retail giants, as an example of a company that was working to "save the world." It took me a while to reconcile my view of Wal-mart -- the blight upon rural America and destroyer of the small mom-and-pop stores -- with the Wal-mart Hirsberg described. I had to remind myself there were two sides to every coin. I still find it very hard to believe that Wal-mart's journey to being green was motivated by anything other than . . . well, green, as in money.

And it is true -- being green can save you money. It goes back to the three 'R's of environmentalism we memorized all those years ago. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Those were the tenents of the do-it-yourself environmentalism. Unfortunately, the first two seem to have been forgotten. They were unpopular in that they reminded us of the need to change our gluttonous and spoiled lifestyles. But, as Hirsberg showed with examples throughout his book, reduce and reuse can sure conserve more than just raw materials. For a business, the bottom line is hugely important.

While I am a believer in green business, I doubt it can save the world because it ignores one of the root causes of most if not all environmental problems: consumption. Green business is still firmly rooted in the capitalist framework and in the free market economy. The belief that the free market can fix everything is somewhat of a sacred cow in the United States. I agree that the market is a very powerful entity but do not think it is the answer for all the ills in the world, mainly because the free market without government intervention will most likely not take into account the externalities into the price of the product. And the free market is still based on consumption. Whenever we buy something from the store, we are directly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, resource depletion, and landfill waste. Buying "green" should also mean buying less, and reusing what you can (either yourself and giving to others) in addition to recycling.

Still, overall, a great thumbs-up to Hirsberg and other green business entrepreneurs out there.

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