Stirring It Up How To Make Money and Save the World by Gary Hirshberg is about how to use environmental business practices to both save the environment and make money.
I would call many of the things he is describing as either industrial ecology or environmental technology. His main point is that environmental business in the long run ultimately makes money consistently. Business is also a better way to introduce environmental practices than government or nonprofits because it is proven to be effective in a much more convincing manner.
Gary Hirshberg describes numerous companies that use environmental practices, Wal-Mart, Patagonia, Adobe Systems, Timberland, Stonyfield Farms, and others. He even has a set of coupons in the back of the book for companies like Organic Valley, Seventh Generation, and Honest Tea.
This book is both an environmental statement and a tool to sell his company and other companies that use environmental technology. The book is printed on 100% recycled fiber, as well as the dust jacket. The energy used in the book is offset with carbon offsets purchased from Native Energy.
The book is part of a larger strategy of using a cause to sell a product. All of Stonyfield Farms yogurt lids and packages are printed with various environmental messages. The yogurt, milk,and dairy products are sold as high end products with little advertising. The organic ingredients are high quality enough that they use sampling as one of their main sources of advertising. In a similar manner, Seventh Generation sells cleaning products that are high end that are sold as being environmentally sound.
Stonyfield Farms locks in the prices of organic milk and other products by buying ingredients for several years at a time using a fixed price from family farms preferably. This guarantees that they will get the exact product they want up to their standards.
Part of this is also described as fair trade a business cause by many economists. Fair trade and family farming effectively becomes an instrument of advertising for the company.
Also because they are aiming to produce a high end organic product, government regulation work in their favor. The more they can prove they have a better more nutritious product because of regulation, the more of their product they are likely to sell. It is like Volvo with crash tests, they want the highest standards imposed by government because they can meet them.
Various ways are described to make money using environmental technologies. The first is energy efficiency. Using less energy ultimately saves money in the long run. Wal-Mart for example has set out to double the fuel efficiency of its 6900 truck fleet, ultimately bringing in $300 million dollars in annual savings. They also have introduced led and fluorescent lighting and covered their open refrigerator cases with doors to reduce energy use.
Stonyfield originally introduced the largest solar array in New Hampshire when oil was $1.60 a gallon, and they saw little chance for recovering costs within the next ten years. Now oil is at $3.00 a gallon and it looks like they will break even with solar power. Their main intention when they started using alternative energy was to reduce their carbon footprint.
The most interesting part of the book I found was the section on aiming for 100% sustainable production techniques. The first step is to reduce and redesign the product so it uses less material to produce. The proper term for this is lean manufacturing. The objective is to just the right amount of material so nothing is wasted. Toyota for example does this when they manufacture cars. Stonyfield aims to reduce the amount of packaging they use.
The second step is to reuse their resources as much as possible. This means for example, treating the water after it is used in making yogurt so it can be reused in other processes, watering plants, sewage, and other uses. A good example outside Stonyfield would be the xerox corporation which refurbishes its machines and sends them to people as part of a service contract for copiers.
It is only the last step where recycling enters the picture. Recycling only works with a small amount of the waste products. They turn over some of the things to be recycled to a company called recycline. They aim to have 100% sustainability by 2015. One of the ideas they are looking at is biodegradable packaging made from corn polymers.
Gary Hirshberg views recycling as the last step in the process. It is better to introduce reusable steel containers than recycle cardboard boxes for example in his view. More money can be generated from lean manufacturing and reusing products than recycling.
At first, when I was reading this book, I was put off because it seemed to be an attempt to sell a product, Stonyfield Farms yogurt. Businesses are putting out more and more books that are statements about how wonderful their company is. It is like buying a big coupon from their company. Buying this book would be like buying a big advertising coupon from them. It is basically advertising that pays for itself. The Google Story by David Vise is a similar style book where the whole point of the book seems to be to praise a particular company.
Also, Gary Hirshberg attacks Exxon Mobile for its profit at all costs motivations. I am not particularly fond of Exxon, they did make a huge environmental mess. He is right about how it is not possible to be both a strong polluter and an environmental company.
There is a lot of interesting material on profitable environmental business practices. However, it is often simplified for the lay reader, and does not go very deeply into the details of how things are done. This is a good primer for people who are interested in building a high quality company with high end products that uses environmental practices and technology. Stonyfield is effectively becoming the bmw of yogurt, ice cream, and dairy.