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Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World Hardcover – October 12, 2010

3.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In their first book together, Cramer, the CEO of Business for Social Responsibility, and Karabell (Superfusion) define a sustainable business as one that not only delivers value, but also treats people fairly, improves the living standards of its employees and community, and uses natural resources wisely. The authors are well-positioned to speak on the timely topic and, though their voices strike a nice blend between conversation and education, their effort suffers from disorganization and a lack of analysis. After the first chapter's discussion of five core elements executives should adopt to position their companies for sustainable excellence, tips and insights are few and far between, and too much time is devoted to emphasizing the importance of sustainability, a position that most readers drawn to the book will already be at least somewhat convinced of. The authors' narrow focus-only highlighting businesses pursuing sustainable excellence-reduces the need for analysis, results in a sort of literary greenwashing, and reads more like an early history of sustainability efforts than a business primer; it might satisfy history, business, or conservation buffs, but the CEO looking to achieve this future greatness in her own organization won't find much help here.
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About the Author

ARON CRAMER has been the president and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility since 2004. Since he assumed the helm, the organization has more than doubled in size, with seven offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. He lives in the San Francisco area.

ZACHARY KARABELL received his PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of ten critically acclaimed books, a money manager, and a CNBC contributor. He lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books (October 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605295345
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605295343
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark P. McDonald VINE VOICE on November 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Sustainable Excellence" by Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell is a good primer for those new to the concept of sustainability as it relates to business. The authors define sustainability on the first page so the reader is clear about the subject being discussed. The first chapter outlines the five core elements for achieving sustainable excellence in business. These include think big, use sustainability to drive innovation, set the right incentives, embrace transparency and collaboration, and partner with consumers. The remainder of the book provides examples of corporate successes and failures to embrace and achieve sustainable excellence.

The authors contend that sustainability has become the defining factor in business success. This does not negate the necessity for excellence in other business practices. And profit is still a necessary goal of business. However, in today's business environment of rapid change, corporations need to commit to sustainability. This means delivering value to a wider circle of stakeholders, using natural resources wisely, and treating people fairly. Business leaders need to transform the way they think about the purpose of business and how it is conducted.

Transformation is not easy as illustrated by the examples throughout the book. The authors do not minimize the challenges. Corporate failures as well as successes are discussed. The lessons to be learned in either case are highlighted.

This book is a great place to start for an introduction about the role of business in ensuring environmental sustainability. It provides an overview of what needs to be done and what companies are currently doing or not doing to achieve sustainable excellence. Readers seeking a detailed how-to manual will be disappointed.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What is sustainability? How do businesses define it? How does one integrate sustainable business practices into traditional measures of business performance? How can one identify opportunities in sustainability? These are the questions that will point businesses toward operating on a genuine stewardship model.

Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell provide an interesting exploration of companies who have embraced a culture of sustainability. The examples are interesting and to a certain extent, it fosters the idea that sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive.

While the book has its moments, it has several key weaknesses:

1) The authors focus on businesses that have already "drunk the sustainability Kool-Aid." This is not a criticism of the concept, but rather a desire to have seen more focus on how companies which have hitherto not acted under the sustainable model, can begin the process. Many companies find the notion of sustainability so overwhelming that they are discouraged from even beginning the process.

2) There is a judgmental "all or nothing," "success or failure," "black or white" approach. I have worked with businesses who wish to act as good corporate citizens, but feel as if the "sustainability advocacy" has no room for the realities of business. Recognizing that sustainability is both a goal and a process is something that needs to be promoted in order to reduce the often adversarial pressures existing as businesses seek to evolve.

That being said, the book provides a good introduction to an understanding of the "sustainable" side and what constitutes good social responsibility. If only it provided more guidance to those earnestly seeking the means to sustainable excellence in measures consistent with often diverse corporate objectives.
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