Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable by Amy V Fetzer and Shari Aaron

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Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable by Amy V Fetzer and Shari Aaron

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A sound introduction for anyone thinking about wanting to green their working life from the top down or the ground up. Full of ideas and success stories.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: November 2009
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons
ISBN: 978-0470748015

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With the abject failure of the Denmark Climate Change Conference fresh in our minds, it is perhaps time to turn away from the politicians and look back toward what we can do.

The Conference may have finally got the likes of the USA, India and China to acknowledge that they have to join in if we are going to save the planet as a benevolent place for our species to live, but there is still too much posturing and not enough commitment.

Clearly our governments and 'leaders' are not going to do this for us; we have to do it for ourselves.

So back to grass roots it is, and from there hopefully onwards and upwards on something which Fetzer and Aaron call the Green Ladder. The book is subtitled make your company and career more sustainable and the ladder of the title is the professional one. The basic thesis is that you can influence the sustainability of your company to raise your own profile and thus improve your career prospects. A selfish motive, you may think? Perhaps. As it happens, this is just the authors appealing to their audience in a way that they advocate throughout the book. Use whatever tools you can to get them on board. Whilst they do pay lip-service to the idea that you won't be doing your reputation, company profile, CV and general career any harm by showing leadership skills, communication skills, get-it-done skills by pro-active involvement in making your company more sustainable, you might even get high-level recognition (a promotion, or the occasional bonus in your pay-packet), that isn't at any time the main thrust of their argument.

Green Ladder isn't really about your career. It is about your company. So if you were looking for something to sort out a job you're not enjoying… look somewhere else. To get anything out of this self-help guide, you need to love your job and love your firm, but just want to make it do what it does, better.

Accepting that limitation then, does it deliver?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and (to try to maintain the metaphor) this isn't a meal, it's a recipe. Having read it, my head is buzzing with ideas and contradictions and I will only really know how useful the work is in six to twelve months time, when I know whether I've persuaded anyone to use anything from it.

To put this is context, the organisation I work for is what used to be called third sector. Our legal status is 'exempt charity', we're registered under the Industrial & Provident Society process, we are not-for-profit, we're obliged to be abide by many of the regulations affecting the public sector, but we have to function as a private, financially sustainable enterprise. In other words, whilst this does give us certain tax advantages and access to public funding, we have (in my personal view) the worst of all possible worlds when it comes to freedom of enterprise. We cannot necessarily do what we would want to do, because of regulatory restriction.

On the other hand, what we would want to do is full of social responsibility and sustainability. These are mere modern buzz-words that describe what we've been about for the last 40-odd years. We want to house people, ensure that the properties they live in are the best that we can make them, and that their wider communities are places they support and want to be part of. Behind that, however, is an increasingly complex back-office operation that diversifies as necessary to support the primary aims and objectives.

Earlier this year we started to formalise our 'Green' agenda, brought in the consultants and set up an action plan to produce a Sustainability Strategy by the end of the year. It has been an interesting experience so far, but many of us on the working group feel that we haven't got as far as we thought we would have. The strategy is nearly ready for sign-off, but the action plans to support it are still fairly nebulous.

It was in this context that I came across Climbing the green ladder and decided I really needed to know what other people had achieved, and how they'd made it work.

With case studies from the USA and the UK, and surveys from around the world, Fetzer and Aaron provide more than enough food for thought.

Global corporations, UK construction companies, small consultancy businesses and co-operative agricultural outlets all share their experiences. The experiences are broken down by theme however. The authors have avoided the bane of all working group reports that produce the 'case study' in its entirety, looking at the methodology and the outputs and conclusions and boring you to tears in the process. Instead they pick out the key facts from what the likes of Google & GE did together, or how Bovis Lendlease has approached its construction operations, or Plan A from M&S, or the logistics of Alliance Boots or Riverford Organics, and show you how that particular part of their journey (the waste strategy, the communications, the approach to delivery or whatever) fits in. This enables the reader to compare and contrast approaches that may or may not work in their own scenario.

Not one of the firms included in the research works in my sector. Many of the general principles do apply.

In terms of readability, I have to say that I personally found it slow going… but I think that was because I didn't just read it. It is highly relevant to an ongoing project, and so I was trying to extract and use info as I went along. This did make it feel a bit like 'work', at a time when I was supposed to be winding down.

From a general reader's perspective, I would suggest that you adopt the normal advice for self-help books. Read it first. All of it. Then go back and start again to think about which parts are relevant to you and that you can you start to implement.

If you're even beginning to think there won't be anything you can use, then you're either unemployed or retired – and aren't thinking laterally. This might be about business, but there is stuff in here that applies at home. For instance: did you know that if you have one meat-free day a weak for a year you could reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 600kg, save 84,0000gallons of water and 7700 square feet of rainforest (oh, and save yourself about £320). Of course this does depend upon what kind of meat you normally eat, and what you choose to eat instead… but even if you're swapping out of locally grown, organic, free-range meat for that one day a week, there are savings to be made… and when they are scaled up to the population of, say, Europe or the United States… they become significant.

Lurking behind that message is one of the main themes of the book. You cannot save the world on your own. We have to work together. And not everyone will want to play.

There are lots of sound ideas about co-operative working, getting colleagues (and the Board!) on board, keeping the message fresh, relevant and inspiring. There is also a lot of reassurance about the fact that you won't bring everyone with you. That doesn't matter; they will follow in their own good time. Doing what you can is better than not.

In terms of structure the book breaks down into:

Ø Why we need the green ladder

Ø Getting the mindset

Ø Make the business case

Ø Get your colleagues on side

Ø Have two-way conversations

Ø Work together

Ø Make it part of the culture

There is then a concluding summary chapter and a really useful appendix of people 'who can help'.

From that alone, it's clear that much of the problem around the green agenda is really bogged down in communication. Most of us intuitively know that we are asset-stripping the planet and that cannot go on indefinitely if our species (or your grand-kids!) want to go on living here. Getting us to do something about it, even the easy things like switching off our computer monitors overnight, is hard to achieve. Much of what needs to be done is around making it obvious, and making it easy. Raise the profile of wasted energy, and make it worthwhile doing something about it.

If resistance is because folk think it's about the company bottom line (and why is that a bad thing?) offer to share the benefits – a percentage of savings fed into staff bonuses surprisingly work less well than giving the same proportion to charitable causes. Royal Mail did this with great success.

My first impressions upon reading this are that much of what has come out of our working group over the last 7 months or so is right on track, and some of it might need a re-think. At least I now have some back-up ammo to take to the business case debate for some of the things we want to put in place, and a reasoned argument for asking for a stay of execution on a couple of ideas.

I'd have liked a little more detail on measurement methodology and implementation experiences – especially on the downsides and what didn't work – but the book is clearly intended as a primer, and the signposts to more information are there in abundance. On balance, first impressions are highly favourable.

If you're remotely involved with the sustainability progress of the firm you work for, I do recommend that you take a look at Climbing the Green Ladder.

And if you're not… why not?

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you're inspired to take things a little further check out The Self-sufficientish Bible by Andy Hamilton and Dave Hamilton. If you're a startup, you might find this useful.

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Buy Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable by Amy V Fetzer and Shari Aaron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable by Amy V Fetzer and Shari Aaron at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable by Amy V Fetzer and Shari Aaron at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Climb the Green Ladder: Make Your Company and Career More Sustainable by Amy V Fetzer and Shari Aaron at


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