The business of rating business

good-better-bestIs Coca Cola a more sustainable company than PepsiCo? Which company is greener, Dell or Hewlett Packard? Both UPS and FedEx say they are environmental leaders—who’s right?

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) — one of the world’s oldest and most respected standard-setting organizations — is going to help settle some of those arguments.

In cooperation with Greener World Media – the publisher of Greenbiz.com, where I’m a senior writer — UL plans to launch a ratings system for companies by the end of the year. This is a big deal because it could help bring credibility and clarity to the very crowded and confused business of sustainability ratings, rankings and eco-labels.

The news that Greener World Media and UL are working together on a sustainability standard surfaced last week when Marcello Manca, the vice president and general manager of UL Environment, spoke on a panel at the Amsterdam Global Conference on Sustainability and Transparency convened by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). At the same time, my friend Joel Makower, the founder of Greener World Media, wrote a detailed blogpost, explaining the origins of the project, which go back to the early 2000s.  Joel calls the new venture “LEED for companies,” saying:

We’ve long described this in shorthand as “LEED for Companies” — that is, a point-based rating system along with good-better-best levels of certification. We have been inspired by the success of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating systems, which created definitions of “green building” where there were none. Those ratings systems were critical catalysts in spurring the green-building market. Similarly, we believe this new standard and rating system will help define sustainability at the enterprise level, growing markets for certified companies.

If all goes according to plan, the new ratings system will rise above the crowd because it combines the knowledge and networks of Joel and Rory [click to continue...]

Why green business is like teen sex

Corporate sustainability is like teen sex.

Everybody talks about it.

Nobody does it very much.

And when they do it, they don’t do it very well.

My friend and colleague Joel Makower likes to tell that joke, and it’s as good a way as any to introduce Greenbiz.com’s third annual State of Green Business report. The wide-ranging report was unveiled today in San Francisco at a conference hosted by 100203-sobg1-wJoel. I won’t try to summarize it;  it’s available free for download here, and well worth a read. Among other things, Joel and his colleagues identify 10 green business trends–they include radical transparency, green fleets, toxics as strategy, and the rethinking of packaging–and they measure progress (or the lack thereof)  around 20 different metrics, including carbon transparency, carbon reporting, clean-tech investments and green power use.

The teen sex joke is fitting because the ratio of of talk to action in the green business arena remains high. Particularly when it comes to climate change–now and most likely forever the No. 1 environmental issue for business, and for everyone else–progress has been halting because of the absence of consistent government policy, at the national or global level. Only 34% of the S&P500 companies have promised to [click to continue...]

Next steps: Climate action and green business

Under the category of shameless promotion of self and friends, I want to call your attention to three upcoming events where I’ll be asking questions of some very smart people.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, January 26), I will be moderating a webinar for my colleagues at The Energy Collective called Is Global Action on Climate Change a Pipe Dream? Breaking Down What Was (Or Wasn’t) Achieved at COP15.

3

Next Thursday, February 4, I’ll be in San Francisco to join my colleagues at Greenbiz.com, led by executive editor Joel Makower, at their annual State of Green Business Forum at the PG&E Auditorium.

logo_sogbf_2010

The following Tuesday, February 9, Joel and I and the Greenbiz crew will reconvene for a State of Green Business Forum at the Chicago Mart Plaza.

Here are some details:

We’ve got a great panel for The Energy Collective webinar, which is free of charge. Robert Stavins, the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Kennedy School at Harvard, as well as director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Prior to Harvard, Stavins was a staff economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. You can read one of his thoughtful blogposts about Copenhagen here. Aimée Christensen is an activist and consultant who’s worked in government, business, law and the nonprofit world on climate, human rights and development issues. She’s now got her own company, Christensen Global Strategies, which advises corporate, governmental,  and non-profit clients seeking to address the global challenges of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and resource scarcity. Her clients have included the Clinton Global Initiative,  Swiss Re, the United Nations Development Program, Virgin United, and Wolfensohn + Co.  Our third panelist will be Dirk Forrister, managing director at Natsource, a leading carbon finance company. Dirk previously worked for the Clinton White House and the Department of Energy, so he knows the Washington scene.  We’ll begin our conversation at 1 p.m. ET, and allow plenty of time for questions from the audience. You can register for the event here.

In San Francisco and Chicago, after Joel Makower and Greenbiz release their annual State of Green Business report, we’ll spend the day talking about where green business is going with an impressive array of business leaders. In San Francisco, they will include Carl Bass, the president and CEO of Autodesk, Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist for Microsoft, entrepreneur and MacArthur fellow Saul Griffith, Rich Lechner, v.p. of energy and environment at IBM,  Rick Rommel, who leaders emerging businesses for Best Buy and Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials. (Van Jones, the former White House green jobs czar, is also on the SF agenda, but he will be appearing by telepresence from Washington, D.C.) In Chicago, we will be joined by David Baum, president of the Baum Realty Group, Jim Davis, executive director for sustainability at SAP, Donna Ducharme of the Delta Institute, Rich Lechner, Sonia Medina, U.S. country director for EcoSecurities, C. David Myers, president for building efficiency at Johnson Controls, and Richard L. Sandor, chairman and founder of the Chicago Climate Exchange, among others. To register for either event, or obtain further info, visit the State of Green Business website. We’ll be talking about these topics:

Carbon Management After Copenhagen: How are companies considering carbon now that the Copenhagen summit is behind us? Hear how companies are viewing carbon as a strategic issue, implementing sophisticated new accounting schemes, realigning their products and processes, and preparing to compete in a low-carbon economy.

Green Marketing in the Age of Radical Transparency: In a world in which vast amounts of information are available about companies and products, the rules of green marketing have changed. Today, companies must respond to green ratings and rankings from websites, media companies, nonprofit organizations, and big players like Walmart. In a world where consumers have unparalleled access to data about products and companies, how does a company truly be seen as green?

Can IT Solve the World’s Problems? The information technology sector is responsible for 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but its impact on the other 98% is growing rapidly. Hardware, software, and service providers are creating new products and services that are enabling large and small companies to better measure and manage their environmental impacts.

When Green Business Meets Cleantech: It used to be that green business and clean technology were separate realms. No longer. Today, the two are converging, as global companies and start-ups alike are harnessing clean technology as the foundation for a new generation of green business opportunities. The result are some unlikely corporate players and alliances.

On a personal note, it’s been about a year since I began working with The Energy Collective and Greenbiz. Robin Carey at TEC and Joel Makower and Pete May at Greenbiz are great partners, and their support for my writing makes this blog possible. So, thanks guys!

Marcal CEO: We’re greener and better

Stopping by the supermarket today, I discovered something unusual: an environmentally-preferable product that costs less and performs as well as its competitors.

Marcal Small Steps paper towels are not only made entirely from recycled paper. They sell for less – in some instances quite a bit less – than paper towels made mostly from trees by the industry giants.

Greener and cheaper

Greener and cheaper

Here’s how the consumer’s choices look, measured from cheapest to most expensive, in terms of dollars per 100 paper towels: [click to continue...]

The evolution of laundry detergent

“People are very entrenched in the way they do their laundry,” says Adam Lowry, the co-founder and chief “greenskeeper” at Method. And that’s a problem, as we’ll explain in a moment.

Method is an eight-year-old company that makes “environmentally-friendly cleaning products that are safe for every home and every body.” Started in a San Francisco bachelor pad by Lowry—a former climate scientist!—and his friend Eric Ryan, privately-held Method now has more than $100 million in annual revenues, about 100 employees and a good deal of buzz for its style as well as its green products. Although Method was the first company certified as a Cradle to Cradle company in the U.S., it’s probably better known for its packaging aesthetic than for its commitment to sustainability.

methodimages

“If your brand position is, hey, we’re the green alternative to the toxic stuff, and everyone else offers green products, you’re no longer differentiated,” Lowry says. “It’s also not very interesting.”

“We’re trying to create broad appeal, way beyond the green consumer, for products that have ‘green’ as one of their qualities,” he says. “There have been far to many green things that have been designed to be green, and they suck.”

Lowry spoke today at the Greener By Design conference in San Francisco, hosted by my friend Joel Makower and run by Greener World Media. (I’m a senior writer at Greenbiz.com, a GWM media property.) He’s an interesting guy—34, with a chemical engineering degree from Stanford, who worked for the Carnegie Institution before starting Method.

Method is at the forefront of changes sweeping the home cleaning business. (No pun intended.) Premium brands like Method, Seventh Generation and Restore are growing. The big players in the industry, meanwhile, are introducing green brands, like Clorox’s Greenworks and SC Johnson’s Nature’s Source. All tend to talk about themselves as plant-based, biodegradable, natural, non-toxic, chlorine-free and the like. I confess, I can’t even begin to sort out the competing green claims.

Method, though, was the first cleaning company to introduce a triple-concentrated laundry detergent back in 2004. That was a simple and very good idea—it reduced packaging, appealed to retailers because it saved shelf space and shipping costs and was easier for consumers to shlep home. At first consumers balked—they weren’t sure they were getting enough detergent for their money—but with a big push from Unilever, which introduced a product called Small & Mighty All, and an even bigger push from Wal-Mart, the idea caught on. Now most laundry detergents are compacted.

“We thrive by making the market change and getting our competitors to follow our innovations,” Lowry says. “You now can’t buy at Wal-Mart or Target a non-concentrated laundry detergent.”

Even so, there’s lots of waste in the laundry biz. Most customers fill the cap on the bottle to the brim. More is better, they figure. Lowry says Method would like to find a way to get people to use only the detergent they need, and to deliver it with less packaging.

“We have a quandary.” Lowry says. “We make a lot of plastic bottles. I’d rather make a refill system.”

If consumers were willing to bring their empty containers back to the store and refill them, they could eliminate the packaging associated with each purchase and, presumably, save money. Restore is trying out a refill system for its products in cooperation with Whole Foods Markets in the Midwest. (Here’s a link to the Restore website that explains how it works.)

The problem is, it’s inconvenient. “If you don’t bring consumers along with you, the most wonderful innovation is useless,” Lowry says. Plus have you ever seen how much coffee is spilled on the floor in supermarkets where people grind the beans themselves? The aisles could get pretty sticky once people start dispensing laundry detergent.

Method is working on the next big idea in laundry detergent, Lowry tells me, but he won’t say much more than that. “It will bring fundamental change to the category,” he says. He will say that when he thinks about the future of laundry detergent – and it’s a good thing someone is – he sees an evolution from plastic bottles to a refill model to a subscription model to a service model.

“We want to get paid for cleaning people’s clothes, not for selling liquid. The business model has to change,” he said.

No, I don’t know what he’s talking about either, but one can envision a smart washing machine that would dispense exactly the right amount of detergent and no more, then clean your clothes, separate the rinse water from the detergent and the dirt, and then  recycle the water and detergent and do it all over again. A closed-loop system, if you will.

“When I think about Method in the future,” Lowry sats, “I want to be able to revolutionize every product category in which we compete.” Continuous improvement is the name of the game. Method is worth watching. And it’s clearly about a lot more than pretty bottles.

photo4

Blogging for fun and profit

This blog began as an experiment on August 10, 2006. Soon it grew into a habit. Now – some 341 postings and too many words to count later — it has become a (small) business, I’m pleased to say.

I liked blogging from the get-go. I felt liberated from the constraints of space (always a problem, even when writing magazine-length stories for FORTUNE), freed to speak in my own voice (i.e., no editors), and able to publish immediately. The audience for this blog has always been small, but it has also become global, drawing readers from more than 30 countries, at last count. When I write about economic development in Rwanda or the Indian wind-power firm Suzlon, readers in those places find me, thanks, I suppose, to the magic of Google. This blog also has connected me to readers in a way that was never possible in the print world. It has not generated as many comments as I’d hoped it would, but it brings me a fair amount of feedback via email.

In the last few days, I have signed contracts with two websites that will carry the blog, as they have been doing for a while. The first is GreenBiz.com, which is led by Joel Makower and Pete May, and the second is The Energy Collective, a site founded by Robin Carey and Jerry Bowles. They’re well worth checking out.

I’ll be a senior writer at GreenBiz.com, which has established itself as the premiere website for business people looking for ways to make their companies more sustainable and profitable. I’m excited about working with GreenBiz.com for many reasons but a big one is the opportunity to work with Joel who, as many of you know, has been thinking, writing, speaking and consulting about business and sustainability for more than 20 years, long before the topic became chic. The AP described Joel as “the guru of green business,” and his smart and readable book, Strategies for the Green Economy, has been praised by such thinkers as architect Bill McDonough and William K. Reilly, the former EPA administrator. Joel is chairman and Pete May is the CEO of Greener World Media, whose online properties include GreenerBuildings.com, ClimateBiz.com, GreenerDesign.com, and GreenerComputing.com, as well as GreenBiz.com.

Besides blogging, I’ll be providing exclusive content to GreenBiz—a monthly podcast with leading thinkers and doers around the topic of business and sustainability. I’m also going to help Pete and Joel with events like their Greener By Design conference, which this year will be held in San Francisco on May 19-20.

The Energy Collective has a different focus and business model. It aggregates the work of leading bloggers who write about energy policy and technology, rather than hiring a staff of editors and writers. Bloggers like me have signed up with Energy Collective because it gives us access to a broader audience, and Energy Collective gets lots of ideas and words at a low cost. I’ve agreed to be one of four members of the group’s ‘Bloggers Board.’ The others three are “WattHead” Jesse Jenkins, of the Breakthrough Institute; nuclear expert Dan Yurman; and economics Professor John Whitehead, whose site is called Environmental Economics, of Appalachian State University.

“Our goal with The Energy Collective,” Robin says, “is to create a vibrant, back-and-forth discussion between the smartest people in the world about energy and the environment, and in so doing, find new solutions and common ground.”

At Energy Collective, I’ll help recruit other bloggers to the platform, provide regular comments and host webinars for the company. I’ll also do some exclusive podcasts for the site. I’m looking forward to working with Robin, who I met for the first time early this year in Abu Dhabi, of all places, because she is a world-class expert in social media. She and Jerry also started a popular blog aggregation site called Social Media Today, and so I am counting on them to guide me through the worlds of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like.

Beside blogging, I am speaking, writing and consulting, organizing next months’ Brainstorm Green conference for FORTUNE, and generally staying a lot busier than I expected to be when I left the staff of the magazine at the end of last year. I will soon let you know about another new-media venture that I’ll be devoting lots of time to in 2009.

A new green sheriff in town

Coca Cola Enterprises claims its aluminum cans contain more than 50% recycled content.

Clorox claims its Greenworks all-purpose cleaner is made with plant and mineral-based ingredients.

And GE claims its compact fluorescent lightbulbs use up to 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than standard bulbs.

How do we know that those claims are true?

The fact is, we don’t. My experience tells me that the risk of exposure and embarrassment is enough to deter any big brand-name company from lying about the environmental attributes of its products. But there’s lying, and then there’s telling a selective truth or merely leaving out inconvenient facts.

What we need is a reliable, independent and trusted source to analyze such claims, the way websites like Politifact separates truth from fiction in the political arena. One organization that could emerge as a standard-setter, fact-checker, product-tester and verifier has been around for more than a century—Underwriters Laboratories. These are the people who test thousands of products to make sure they meet strict safety standards. Last month, Underwriters Laboratories launched a new subsidiary called UL Environment. It’s intended to help industry and the public make sense of the “green” claims that are flooding the marketplace.

Think of UL Environment as the new green sheriff in town.

“There’s a lot of greenwashing out there,” says Marcello Manca, who is vice president and general manager of UL Environment Inc. “We want to get rid of some of the confusion.”

I spoke by phone with Marcello, who’s based in Milan, Italy. He’s an Italian who got an engineering degree from the University of Nevada, spent 13 years working in Nevada and California, and then returned home to Italy. The president of UL Environment is Steve Wenc, a Chicago native now based in Geneva. UL has 66 offices, clients in 104 countries, 127 inspection centers and it employs about 5,000 engineers, scientists, chemists and technicians. A nonprofit that oversees a group of for-profit subsidiaries. UL is paid by the manufacturers of the products it tests and certifies.

Marcello told me that UL Enviromnent initially plans to focus on two categories, building materials and consumer goods. The company intend to begin by verifying environmental claims about energy, water use and recycled content.

“One of our employees recently purchased an all-natural mattress for his newborn child because he didn’t want his son to be exposed to chemicals,” Marcello told me. But because manufacturers of products ranging from household cleansers to children’s toys are not now required to disclose their ingredients, claims like “all-natural” are hard for consumers to verify.

UL Environment also hopes to establish standards for sustainable products, working in an open and transparent manner with manufacturers, retailers and NGOs. This, too, will require the cooperation, and financial support, of manufacturers, many of whom are existing UL clients.

“We’re taking a very pragmatic approach,” Marcello says. “Our intention is not to make the world perfectly green from the outset. We know that’s Mission Impossible.”

Finally—and this gets really interesting—UL Environment would like to take a broad look at company operations. So, for example, if a product claiming to be “green” is made by a supplier in China who pollutes a nearby river or the air, UL Environment could decide that the product failed to meet its standards.

“There is a school of thought that says that you cannot build a green product unless you are a green company, too,” Marcello says.

What’s intriguing about all this is that standards are enormously important to business. Think about how the organic standard has affected the food industry. Or how the Energy Star rating has driven appliance-makers to sell more efficient dishwashers or refrigerators. Or consider the impact of the LEED building standards on the real estate industry. An array of sustainability standards has the potential to drive green business practices deep into the economy.

Of course, that makes it sound simple, and it’s not. Devising standards and getting them recognized is a long and complex process, requiring value judgments. As my friend Joel Makower is fond of asking, “How green is green enough?”

What’s more, Marcello says: “Doing it right is expensive. Doing it right takes a lot of passion.”

UL Environment will have to convince manufacturers, retailers and consumers in the midst of a global recession to invest in environmental claims verification and sustainability standards. It won’t be easy. But it will worth watching closely.

Brainstorm Green 2009

Not long ago, Big Business and environmental activists were sworn enemies. No more. Today, companies and NGOs come together to work creatively around a variety of issues—from climate change to recycling to protecting the Amazon, from cleaning up dirty businesses like gold mining and to “greening” professional sports. One place they literally come together is at Brainstorm Green, FORTUNE’s conference about business and the environment, which will be back on Earth Day, 2009.

Helping to create Brainstorm Green was a highlight of my 12 years at FORTUNE, and I’m pleased that I’ll be back this year, co-chairing the event with my colleague Brian Dumaine, FORTUNE’s global editor. The program for this year’s Brainstorm Green is still a work in progress, but a group of us got a draft agenda down on paper last week and I’m confident that it will again be a lively, exciting, information-packed event. The theme, once again, will be: How can business help solve the world’s biggest environmental problems?

We’ll discuss and debate climate change regulation, “clean coal,” nuclear power, electric cars, the smart grid, investing in green, renewable energy, sustainable consumption (if there is such a thing), carbon finance and too many other topics to list here.

What makes Brainstorm Green special is the diversity of the crowd. This year, we’ll again hear from many of America’s most important environmental leaders, including Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense, Glenn Prickett of Conservation International, Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy (who was there last year on behalf of Goldman Sachs), David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Mindy Lubber of Ceres and Mike Brune of Rainforest Action Network. At least two dozen CEOs of big and medium-sized companies have agreed to speak, including Shai Agassi of Better Place (the electric car company), Ray Anderson of Interface, Carl Bass of Autodesk, David Crane of NRG Energy, Jeff Hollender of Seventh Generation, Fisk Johnson of S.C. Johnson, Donald Knauss of Clorox, Mike Morris of American Electric Power, Ralph Peterson of CH2M Hill, Jim Rogers of Duke Energy and Tom Werner of SunPower.

Other companies sending speakers include Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Mars, Intel, Boeing, McKinsey, the private-equity firm KKR and architectural firm HOK. That list is sure to grow.

We’ll also be joined by speakers whose ideas are shaping the sustainability debate. I’m looking forward to spending time with Paul Hawken, whose books have shaped much of my own thinking about business and the environment. The dynamic Van Jones, who is profiled in the current issue of The New York by Betsy Kolbert,  will talk about green jobs. The always-inspiring Janine Benyus, who spoke last year, will be back to show us how biomimicry works in practice. My friend Joel Makower, the guru of green business and author of Strategies for the Green Economy, will return as well.

Venture capitalists from some of America’s top firms and entrepreneurs touting exciting startups will round out the group. We’re hoping to attract senior officials from the new Obama administration as well.

You can find a full list of speakers on the Brainstorm Green website. That’s also the best place to propose new speakers or to sign up for the event. (FORTUNE screens all participants.) We’ll meet in a beautiful setting—the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, CA, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of you blogreaders there.

Smart books for troubled times

What book best explains the today’s world of business — the credit crunch, housing bust, diving dollar, etc.? That’s the question that reporter Frank Ahrens of The Washington Post put to some biz luminaries, resulting in a lively story in today’s paper.

Interestingly, my friend Nell Minow (of The Corporate Library and movie mom fame) and my former college classmate Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. recommended the same book, David Copperfield, and cited the same quote, the advice given by Mr. Micawber to David:

‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.’ Following that advice will protect you from the worst of economic upheavals.

Ah, yes. In a similar vein, Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the FDIC, recommended a novel, So Big, by Edna Ferber, about a frugal mother and spendthrift son, and wrote:

The shift in values from mother to son can also be viewed as allegory for our own nation’s continuing cultural shift. We have moved away from the values of thrift and financial security held by our Depression-era parents to that of overuse of credit to fund lifestyles we cannot afford, that have not always brought happiness, and — in the case of the foreclosure crisis — that have caused dislocation and despair.

True enough. Frank’s story got me thinking about what book I’d recommend if I were asked to select a single volume that explains the beat I cover–the world of green business, corporate responsibility and capitalism, for better or worse. Many come to mind but my pick for the most recent book that best captures what’s going on in business (and elsewhere) today is the latest from one of my favorite business writers, Paul Hawken. It’s called Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming (Viking 2007).

In Blessed Unrest, Hawken, whose previous books, Natural Capitalism and The Ecology of Commerce, have shaped much of my thinking about business and the environment, takes on a much bigger topic–the vast array of very loosely networked environmental and social justice organizations, operating in every corner of the globe. They have no orthodoxy or charismatic leader, they often operate independently, many are tiny and local, some well-funded and global–and together they are changing the world of business, and therefore the world. Blessed Unrest is a very optimistic book that connects the dots among such disparate people and organizations as Emerson, Thoreau, Gandhi and Martin Luther King; LEED, Wikipedia and the Grameen Bank; Partners in Health, Amazon Watch and Cree Indians who are fighting development of the oil sands in Alberta, Canada. Hawken writes:

This movement’s key contribution is the rejection of one big idea in order to offer in its place thousands of practical and useful ones. Instead of isms it offers processes, concern and compassion. The movement demonstrates a pliable, resonant and generous side of humanity. It does not aim for the utopian, which itself is just another ism, but is eminently pragmatic.

And it is impossible to pin down….the movement defies conventional typologies…Should the idea of using renewable sources to achieve  localized energy independence be categorized as radical, conservative, ecological, good long-term economics or socially equitable?

Hawken’s book, like the movement he’s writing about, is hard to summarize or even categorize. (Although it should be noted that he and his colleagues at the Natural Capital Institute have tried to keep track of what’s going on: See WISER, the World Index of Social and Environmental Responsibility at www.wiserearth.org. It currently lists 109,212 organizations. Amazing.)

In the book, he says:

The massive growth of citizen-based organizations responds to threats that are new, immense and game-changing. These groups defend against corrupt politics and climate change, corporate predation and the death of oceans, governmental indifference and pandemic poverty, industrial forestry and farming and depletion of soil and water….

And they are getting results:

Despite centuries-long practices of despoilation and pollution, almost every responsible corporation in the world is moving away from destructive practices and trying to institute more sustainable ones, and all of them have turned to NGOs to assist, teach, inspire and urge them on.

That, in the journalism biz, is what we call “the nut graf”–the single idea that summarizes the book. To understand how and why citizen groups around the world are changing business, well, you’ll have to read the rest of the book yourself.

Which reminds me–there are a number of promising biz and enviro books coming out this fall that I want to mention. (Disclosure: all three are by authors who are often sources of mine, and who I enjoy a great deal.) Sitting by my bedside are Strategies for the Green Economy by Joel Makower of Greenbiz.com, aka the guru of green business, Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal by the activist Mike Brune of the Rainforest Action Network and Greener Than Thou: Are you Really an Environmentalist? by Terry Huggins, the free-market environmentalist (and no, that’s not an oxymoron) who’s a fellow at the Hoover Insitution at Stanford, and his colleague Laura Huggins.