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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunately more parlor games than practical advice, November 13, 2010
This review is from: Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World (Hardcover)
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Sustainable Excellence holds the promise of providing a business-focused discussion of raising company sustainability. Cramer and Karabell start the book off strong with the following definition of sustainability: a business that delivers value for investors, customers and employees; improves the living standards of its employees and the communities it touches; makes wise use of natural resources; and treats people fairly.

Based on that definition I was looking forward to reading about how a company accomplishes each of these goals. I am reviewing this book from that perspective a business person who gets the sustainability message and is interested in what excellence looks like and how I might be able bring that to my company.

Unfortunately rather than a book that looks to explain how companies are sustainable and profitable, the book quickly becomes more of an extended press release engaging in name dropping and high level descriptions that offer little value to the reader looking to understand how to achieve sustainable excellence. Cramer and Karabell call this parlor games when companies do it, so without being disrespectful I have to say that they do the same with this book when viewed from a business perspective.

This book may be well received by the sustainability community, but its impact will remain within this community as there is little here to educate and encourage executives and managers to go much beyond the `parlor games' of press announcements, incremental improvement and differed structural change.

This book could have been the seminal call for serious business change playing a role similar to Hammer and Champy's Re-engineering the Corporation. However, Sustainable Excellence does not provide the principles, practices and tools needed by executives to take the next step and incorporate the type of sustainability the authors define at the heart of strategy or management.

It is almost as if the author's believe that their target audience - the sustainability community - cannot handle the details and operational lessons that are normally found in a business oriented book. Those lesions learned, case studies and results are what is needed to mobilize the business audience who will make the changes necessary to achieve the

I cannot recommend this book as a business relevant look at sustainability issues and the techniques required to achieve them. The absence of detail will leave the business leader with the impression that sustainability, while important, is not the significant external force it should be in shaping organizational strategy, action or improvement.

It is possible that the lens applied to this review is not what the author's intended, but sustainability is something that the world needs if it is to evolve corporate, commercial, customer and national behavior. This book does not deliver that support in my opinion.

Strengths

The book recognizes the importance to get beyond sustainability pronouncements to look into changes in an organization's supply chain, commodity inputs, information and capital. There are chapters on each of these subjects which highlights the authors understanding of the importance of these fundamental issues, however their treatment more descriptive than prescriptive.

The book concentrates on specific companies and specific events in the sustainability movement. The authors discuss companies like Wal-Mart, Marks & Spenser, BP, NIKE, IBM, GE and others in terms of specifics and their progress against these specifics. These discussions are more at the press release and public interview level than an examination of specific actions or changes.

The book recognizes a number of trends that provide insight on the evolving sustainability world. These include the observation that companies are able to act faster and with greater effect than national or international government bodies.

Challenges

The book provides a rather high-level treatment throughout its chapters. The authors choose to spend more time documenting executive pronouncements and criticizing their progress rather than trying to understand what these companies were doing. While the discussion is accurate and well supported, it is too high level for the reader to understand

The authors have an outsider perspective as it becomes clear early on that the authors are recounting public statements rather than performing deep analysis of the issues and actions. While its possible that the authors have met with a company's sustainability executive, they definitely did not get onto the production floor to understand what people were doing to create sustainable excellence.

The two previous points create a book that drops more names than it discusses practices and actions. While name-dropping is an effective way to put an issue in the public forum, I had thought that sustainability had already gone through that phase and was ready for a greater focus on practice.
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Mark P. McDonald
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Location: Chicago, IL United States

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