Review: Saving the World at Work

Tim Sanders declares a “responsibility revolution” in business, where employees can help the companies they work for do a better job of helping individuals, society, and the environment, while staying focused on their business mission. He recounts numerous anecdotes of companies that have improved their contributions to ecology, sustainable business practices, and social welfare, often thanks to the advocacy of individual employees. And his avowed goal for his book: “I want to recruit you, and train you, for the Responsibility Revolution.” Saving the World at Work

The first third of the book focuses on how business revolutions take place, a five-phase process according to Sanders:

  1. a change in circumstances that dramatically affects our view of the business landscape
  2. a consequential shift in values
  3. the arrival of the innovators, who rush to address these new values with new approaches, leading to
  4. disruption as the old guard either disappear or cave in and adopt the new values
  5. the revolution finally culminates in the New Order, becoming better established and serving new markets

He gives a variety of compelling examples of these five phases as companies begin to adopt quality of life, broadly understood, both locally and globally, and for both current and future generations, as a central business value. Companies like GE, IKEA, SAS, Timberland, Aveda, Patagonia, and even Wal-Mart have made significant changes to how they do business, often helping the bottom line at the same time as they’re being more socially responsible.

The book is chock-full-o’ interesting factoids:

  • In one survey, 50% of MBA students said they’d accept a smaller salary to work at a company that was very socially responsible.
  • Two-thirds of recent college graduates claim they will not work for a company with a poor reputation for social responsibility.
  • Paper (the vast majority of which can be recycled) accounts for one-fourth of the volume of landfill waste. As it breaks down in a landfill, it converts to methane, producing twenty times more greenhouse-gas emissions than carbon dioxide.
  • If the US were to cut annual paper use by 20%, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking half a million cars off the road for a year.
  • It takes 3 liters of fresh water to make one liter of bottled water (i cringe every time i see the wall of drinks in the kitchen at work and think about how much energy and resources it takes to support the “convenience” of individual servings)

On the negative side: some of Sanders attempts at catchy phrases are annoying, like “saver soldier”, a “highly motivated person who leverages work as a platform to help save the world”, or the “Them Generation”, those baby-boomers from the Me Generation who have turned around and are thinking about others now. And while he’s touting the “responsibility revolution” as an accomplished fact, i suspect it’s not quite here yet (if it were, he probably wouldn’t have had to write the book!). But he’s acting as a cheerleader here, and sometimes cheerleaders have to do some goofy moves to get our attention.

This book motivated me to see what i might do at work to make my company a better social citizen.