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Leading Change toward Sustainability: A Change-Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society. Bob Doppelt. Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, United Kingdom, 2003. 272 pp., illus. $30.00 (ISBN 1874719640 paper).

Leading Change toward Sustainability: A Change-Management Guide for Business, Government and Civil Society blends insights and research from science and organizational development to provide a framework for leaders and organizations to refer to when making their shift toward environmental sustainability. Whether you are just thinking about taking baby steps toward “greening” your organization or business, or you have already established written policies to formalize your efforts, this book serves as a practical guide. The author, Bob Doppelt, combines organizational development and leadership theory with what he has learned from researching and evaluating organizations, businesses, and governments that have headed down the path toward sustainability. His book is full of compelling examples that provide real-world context for the reader.

Doppelt is the director of the Program in Watershed and Community Health, a sustainability research and technical assistance organization affiliated with the University of Oregon in Eugene. Doppelt draws on experience from his programmatic work and consulting to provide real-world examples of integrating sustainability into organizations, large and small. (For example, he is currently advising and teaching at the Bainbridge Island Graduate Institute's new MBA program in sustainable business.) Qualitative and anecdotal evidence abounds demonstrating that reducing waste and conserving resources makes good sense, both economically and for the environment.

The book starts with a narrative chapter, “Tale of Two Companies,” in which the author presents two divergent efforts toward sustainability change. Norm Thompson Outfitters is highlighted as having made successful inroads, while B&G Tools (not the company's real name) has faltered through the process. This introduction gives the author a comparative backdrop for discussing the key strategies for successful change in the following chapter, “What Went Wrong?” Next, Doppelt provides the reader with an informative primer on sustainability. A variety of definitions are discussed, but the author's version seems to speak to the everyday citizen: “Sustainability is about protecting our options. This requires a new economic paradigm that allows humans to live and work in ways that can be maintained for decades and generations without depleting or causing harm to our environmental, social and economic resources” (p. 40).

A number of established frameworks for sustainability are presented in chapter 3. The well-respected team of Paul Hawken and colleagues (1993) developed the “natural capitalism” model, which involves increasing natural resource productivity, reducing waste, moving to a “service and flow” business model, and restoring the stocks and flows of natural capital. The systems science– based model called “the natural step,” founded by Swedish oncologist Karl-Henrick Robert (2002), is described as another option. This is only the beginning of many stellar Swedish citations that are presented throughout the book, making the reader feel as if the United States is still in the Dark Ages in its approach to sustainability for the planet.

There are two examples given of frameworks that build on the efficiency of environmental management. The focus of the Zero Emissions Research Initiative is to identify specific objectives for technological innovations that help bring about zero emissions or waste from manufacturing. The second example, the “zero waste” model, uses a very similar approach; proponents of this model work to achieve zero levels of toxins, discharges, or hazardous waste. An alternative framework for reaching sustainability is the “ecological footprint” designed by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees (1996). This accounting tool enables individuals or institutions to estimate their total resource use and waste in relation to a corresponding parcel of terra firma (you can assess your own impact by using a footprint calculator at The last model highlighted is the “cradle-to-cradle” production model of Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002). This framework draws on nature's balanced wisdom and reminds us that waste equals food. Out of this emerges McDonough and Braungart's mantra of “eco-effectiveness”: the goal of designing and manufacturing products and process that replenish, rejuvenate, and give back to nature and society.

With these models as a backdrop for achieving sustainability, the author proposes his own version, a “wheel of change” toward sustainability. This is a model of organizational changes that are key to facilitating environmental sustainability, made up of seven principles rotating on a wheel. The process of change is continuous and circular, and users can begin anywhere on the wheel. This is important because, as Doppelt says, change is messy and far from linear. Each principle has a chapter devoted to it, with examples of companies and professionals working to make changes in each area. Doppelt calls the seven stages of change “interventions,” with names such as “Change the Dominant Mindset” (establish compelling need) or “Restructure the Rules of Engagement” (create new strategies). This was where I thought I was going be lost in the rhetoric of organizational development and change, but I was pleasantly surprised. Beyond the long-winded titles of the interventions were easy-to-understand chapters laying out the concepts for the amateur reader. Doppelt's model draws more from organizational development and leadership theory than the other science-based frameworks discussed earlier. He makes a great attempt at synthesizing a number of threads from both science and business contexts to give the reader detailed, practical information on affecting environmental change. The weaving of the sustainability tapestry has seen many successes and failures. But this is the fabric of our future, and we need to be persistent in repairing and strengthening it in innovative ways to keep the threads intact.

The examples the author uses to illustrate his model vary widely in scope. For example, the Dutch government's sustainability-focused National Environmental Policy Plan gives the reader an example of a countrywide effort to balance the economy and environment. The State of Oregon's sustainability initiative gives us hope that advances in the public sector are being spearheaded in the United States. Compelling stories emerge from the private sector as well, in companies ranging from international corporations to small businesses. The author uses firsthand communications with top business leaders to share the raw challenges of trying to incorporate sustainable practices throughout a company. By the end of the book, the reader is bolstered by the successes of these companies and begins to think, “If they can do it, I surely can!”

Overall, I found the book easy to navigate. The narrative is interspersed with simple flowcharts, bulleted lists, and diagrams. The only downside to this was that there were numerous times when it had the feel of a textbook, with the and narrative and figures repeating themselves.

This book will serve both the novice and the seasoned person who strives to be an agent of change in his or her business, institution, government, or country. My copy will not rest on my bookshelf long. The colored flags and neon highlighter marks throughout the book will serve me well as I journey on my own path toward sustainability.

References cited


P. Hawken, A. Lovins, and L. H. Lovins . 1993. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. New York: Little, Brown. Google Scholar


W. McDonough and M. Braungart . 2002. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point Press. Google Scholar


K-H. Robert 2002. The Natural Step Story: Seeding a Quiet Revolution. Gabriola Island (Canada): New Society. Google Scholar


M. Wackernagel and W. Rees . 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. Gabriola Island (Canada): New Society. Google Scholar


ELAINE JANE COLE "HANDBOOK FOR SUSTAINABILITY CHANGE AGENTS," BioScience 54(6), 595-596, (1 June 2004).[0595:HFSCA]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 June 2004

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