Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Making sustainability work

February 2009

Marc J. Epstein. Hardback. 288 pages. Greenleaf. £17.50

In his foreword, John Elkington draws parallels between this book and Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Don’t, however, expect any undue profundity: this work is for sustainability practitioners rather than philosophers.

Epstein uses a simple input-process-output model as his framework for the book (think ISO 14001 meets AA 1000). By and large, this works well and puts sustainability into terms that managers will be comfortable with.

Chapters take us through discussions on leadership, strategy, organization, costing, capital investments, risk, performance evaluation, measurement, processes, products, reporting, verification and benefits.

One great strength is the extensive use of examples, including many box inserts, tables and diagrams extracted from sustainability reports. This, together with lots of bullets and an easy writing style, makes the whole thing highly readable. Epstein also manages to bring together often disparate disciplines such as strategy, organizational design and environmental economics.

What the book gains in comprehensiveness, however, it loses in depth, with many critical areas – such as the debate on bottom of the pyramid economics – limited to a page or so. By implication, much of the content is about what companies have done or should do, rather than the difficulties and dilemmas faced by managers in practice.

Nevertheless, Making sustainability work is a comprehensive book that will be a helpful resource.

Wayne Visser

Wayne Visser | Global | Sustainability


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