January 21, 2008
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Stirring It Up
When Gary Hirshberg started in business, he looked at the standard definition of efficiency in our economy and saw it as ultimately unsustainable. In Stirring It Up, he gives us a new standard to gauge efficiency that is both profitable and sustainable, inspired by his 25 years worth of experience applying this standard at Stonyfield Farm.
Hirshberg concludes that we have the power to quicken this process as consumers--that if we show the demand for environmentally sound products, more industries will shift to making more products sustainable. He also discusses the best environmental practices companies are implementing--from newer companies like his own and Patagonia that built these principles into their original mission, to behemoths like GE that have had to change with the times.
To come up with sustainable solutions for his own company, Hirshberg has enacted some practices at Stonyfield that most business people would think are ridiculous and unsound--pay substantially more for materials than competitors, never advertise products, encourage more government oversight of his industry, and release reports on how much it pollutes--but he goes on to explain why each practice has reaped huge benefits and helped the company's growth. Paying twice as much as competitors for the milk they use to make yogurt, for instance, helps strengthen the small organic farmers who produce it, ensuring Stonyfield will continue to have access to the quality ingredients their customers expect. Instead of needing big budgets for advertising, the quality of the product and their loyal customers have become the best advertising one can imagine. Conversely, Stonyfield's main competitor, Yoplait, spends much less on producing its product, but spends large sums advertising it. These differences have created a situation where Stonyfield loses in the gross margin battle, but actually wins in net profits.
Stirring It Up is filled with examples of how thinking about your business's impact on the earth is not only responsible, but profitable. We're used to viewing big industries as being part the problem. Hirshberg suggests that business, even the smallest, has to be the solution, and his book can be used as a guide for the best ways to bring about that change in mission and behavior.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.