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What We Learned in the Rainforest: Business Lessons from Nature Hardcover – January 9, 2002


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Product Details

  • Series: Future 500 Book
  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers (January 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576751279
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576751275
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,668,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Studying the environment to gain insight into organizational behavior can be a fascinating exercise, with advocates from Jane Jacobs to Margaret Wheatley among those who have helped us envision the inherent possibilities. What We Learned in the Rainforest takes a similar but uniquely focused approach, as Mitsubishi Electric CEO Tachi Kiuchi and environmental advocate Bill Shireman tie development and sustainment of the rainforest directly to progressive practices of businesses such as Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola, and Nike. Employing an interesting format--each section begins with the authors describing an ongoing parachute descent into the rainforest in order to illustrate a specific principle--Kiuchi and Shireman explain how concepts such as feedback, profit, design, and diversity aid both their natural laboratory and their corporate examples. In the "Succession" chapter, for instance, they relate a rainforest's "four phases of life" to the cycle of innovation, growth, improvement, and creative destruction that is experienced by successful businesses. With the goal of drawing on nature's wisdom rather than drawing down its physical resources, the book advances a vision of sustainability en route to profitability that is as provocative as it is potentially practical. --Howard Rothman

About the Author

Tachi Kiuchi is one of Japan’s best-known and most iconoclastic corporate executives. As Chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric America, he built the Mitsubishi Electric brand in the U.S. and managed the company’s transition from the old to the new economy. As Managing Director of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, he broke with Japanese corporate norms to champion a “living systems” approach to business that included rapid adaptation, financial transparency, openness, cultural diversity, executive positions for women, and environmental sustainability. He even forged a bold agreement with Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to promote corporate sustainability. Today he continues to press for profitable and sustainable business practices at Mitsubishi and other major Japanese corporations.

Bill Shireman is one of America’s leading environmental advocates. Called a “master of environmental entrepreneurism,” he develops profitable strategies for sustainability. As head of the largest recycling lobby in the country, Shireman wrote California’s “bottle bill” recycling law. He then brokered deals between some of the world’s largest corporations and most impassioned activists—from Coca-Cola, Coors, Nike, Mitsubishi, and Weyerhaeuser, to Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, and the Sierra Club—to recycle over 100 billion beverage containers, help save millions of acres of forest, and harness corporate buying power to drive down consumption of nonsustainable resources. Today he is CEO of Global Futures, serves as President of the Future 500, and leads a Corporate Accountability Practice (CAP) in partnership with Manning Selvage & Lee.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Morley Winograd on January 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What we Learned in the Rainforest is a brilliant presentation of both the theory and practice of sustainable development. Its the best portrait yet of the power that comes from harnessing the energy of complex systems to grow profits and preserve our environment. Bill Shireman once again demonstrates his ability to rise above the dead end debate between jobs and environmental protection and with his co-author proves there is a third, better way. For those who loved Bionomics in the 90s, this book will provide new ammunition and ideas to carry the cause forward in the new millennium.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By JW on February 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Well, as soon as our species can survive on information rather than calories, this book MIGHT be of some use.
In the meantime, I find it a questionable, if not pathetic, apologia for megalomaniacal outfits like Coca Cola. Coke is a leader among the pack of those who apparently share a neverending pseudo-quest to combine illusory humanitarianism ("Coca-Cola does a great service because it encourages people to take in more and more liquids") with an unquenchable thirst for global market dominance ("until, eventually, the number one beverage on Earth will be soft-drinks-our soft drinks").
Can we contemplate the notion that 'unlimited growth' and 'sustainability' just might be mutually exclusive? Look up Ecological Economics, my friends. I beg you.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By "jibellison" on February 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As a business strategy consultant focused on the power of mindset in relationship to developing and executing complex and innovative plans, I am struck by how the authors have successfully viewed key business case studies through a totally different lens. If they are right, and it appears that they are, there is a 'better' view of reality from which to organize human activities - and if businesses want to continue to be competitive in the new globalized and highly technologized landscape they should take heed of the simple lessons found here. This book should be of interest for CEO's, policy makers and students of the environment alike. I intend to share it with my clients. Bravo!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Hazen on January 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The authors take an engaging and critical look at the not-always-easy lessons that nature can teach us as we seek to survive and thrive in a competitive world. "What We Learned..." is compelling and challenging from the first page and very successfully bridges the gap between some of the more esoteric studies of ecology's relationship to business and the very practical business toolguides at the other end of the spectrum of the manager's toolbox. Find yourself a tree and invest in a great read. Then get back to your office and start doing something about it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Bill Shireman and Tachi Kiuchi's book is an accessible, well written treatise on the economic and social power of applying natural principles to business. Unlike other books on industrial ecology, which can be heady and boring, Shireman and Kiuchi have broken down the natural cycles of the Rainforest into easily understandable principles and then provide brief case studies illustrating the application of those principles in a business setting. The book is a great primer on corporate sustainability.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nottingham on August 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This title of this book is an alluring theme but the book is, upon reading, virtually worthless. The analogy between a natural ecosystem and an economic system is clear enough and certainly not an earthshaking discovery - the rhythms, cycles, feedback mechanisms, etc., of any dynamic system are obvious similarities. But try to draw too much parallel between a natural system and a man-made system will inevitably lead to meaningless conclusions.
The author proposes a theory and then cites real-world examples that conform to that theory, sometimes rather forcibly. One example: In a section on information, the author said that the Indian auto industry was protected by high tariffs and that it led to its stagnation and decline. The author claimed that it was because the industry "failed to encourage the use of information." Anyone with the slightest knowledge of free market knows that lack of competition was the real cause. Does the rainforest add anything?
At another point, the author pondered on how the eye was (or was not) the result of evolution, and after postulating that incremental evolution was not possible for certain very complex biological structures (such as the eye), he cites the new notions of "intelligent design" and "downward causation". High sounding names, but how do they come about now?? Well, intelligent design must be because evolution is not...As to downward causation, it is, as illustrated by the rainforest, a series of adaptation. Wow, I thought that was evolution.
There was also a lengthy tirade denouncing the Wintel platform's dominance "threatening the infospace." This was taken right out of the annals of the cyberspace sour grapes.
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