“Thriving in Perpetuity”

The title of this post, “Thriving in Perpetuity”, will sound familiar to regular readers of this blog. I use it in many posts, because it is provides the most useful definition of what Sustainability is actually about, in a manufacturing context. “Thriving” is from Adam Werbach’s Strategy for Sustainability [1]Werbach’s book also provides a goodly number of insights and ideas that are useful for manufacturers who choose to pursue Sustainability. This post discusses some of those ideas. — C.H.

Strategy for Sustainability

Adam Werbach

Adam Werbach is an interesting guy. At age 23, he became President of the Sierra Club, the oldest and largest environmental organization in the U.S. He has also served on the international board of Greenpeace. So, to call Werbach an environmentalist is an understatement, at best. But Werbach is also a pragmatist, who recognizes that business is the only institution with the scope and resources to make Sustainability a global reality [2] . Today, Werbach is Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi S, the global advertising and communications giant’s Sustainability practice.

Here are some ideas from Strategy for Sustainability:

Thriving in Perpetuity

“… being a sustainable business means thriving in perpetuity. In this business context, sustainability is bigger than a public relations stunt, bigger than a green product line, bigger even than a heartfelt but part-time nod to ongoing efforts to save the planet. Imagined and implemented fully, sustainability drives a bottom-line strategy to save costs, a top-line strategy to reach a new customer base, and a talent strategy to get, keep and develop employees, customers and your community.” [3] (Italics mine. –C.H.)

STaR Mapping

Werbach suggests that businesses use STaR mapping to formulate their strategy for sustainability. STaR mapping studies trends and anticipates changes in Society, Technology and Resources. I like this approach because STaR mapping provides a zoomed out  [4]  set of inputs for the SWOT analysis that is often used to drive strategic planning. [5] Chapter 2 of Werbach’s book discusses STaR mapping.

Steering True North

Sustainability — thriving in perpetuity — focuses on the future. Since predictions of the future are generally unreliable, it is necessary to navigate the future in the same sense that early sailors navigated the seas. The sailors found the best charts they could, they located north by compass or by the star, and they paid close attention to the wind and the waves. Like those sailors, today’s manufacturers need a true north — a North Star goal — in order to navigate the future. Werbach says [6] “a North Star goal is an overarching business goal that has these characteristics:

  • “It is optimistic and aspirational.
  • “Your organization can achieve it in 5 to 15 years.
  • “It applies across the enterprise.
  • “Every employee can personally act on it.
  • “It connects to the core of your business.
  • “It drives excitement and passion in your organization.
  • “It serves a higher purpose than business profitability.
  • “It solves a great human challenge.
  • “It leverages your organization’s strengths.”

Werbach offers thoughts on how to find and set your North Star goal(s). My personal view is that a North Star goal should be closely aligned with your vision statement.

Execution – The TEN Cycle

In order to execute a strategy anchored to a North Star goal, Werbach proposes a cycle consisting of three ideas: Transparency, Engagement and Networking.

Transparency — complete openness with information — is at the core of the TEN cycle. Many of us regard performance information as something to withhold, especially from competitors and other entities that might use that information to our detriment. Werbach argues that transparency provides a basis for finding weaknesses to which the organization and its leadership may be blind. It is also true that, in the internet age, it is increasingly difficult to withhold information of any kind.

Engagement — extensively involving employees and other stakeholders — adds the commitment and passion of many to pursuit of the North Star goal. Everybody is in favor of engagement. Few really know how to do so. Werbach presents some useful ideas.

Networking — reaching out to other organizations that relate to your North Star goal — adds other perspectives and generates inputs. For smaller firms, I think this especially important. Werbach mentions partnering with environmental NGOs [7]. I’m more inclined toward trade organizations. [8]


The pursuit of Sustainability is strategic; hence each firm needs its own customized approach, reflecting that firm’s strengths and aspirations. There is no one-size-fits-all. Werbach’s book provides thoughtful ideas that may — or may not — contribute as part of your firm’s approach.

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated. Click on the title of this post to open the comments section.

Chuck - Sedona
…  Chuck Harrington

. — When it is time for your firm to seriously pursue Sustainability, contact me.


Note: This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published on Wednesday evenings.

A .pdf version of this post is available at: http://app5.websitetonight.com/projects2/4/9/9/4/2164994/uploads/Blog_Post_-_Thriving_in_Perpetuity_-_23_August_2012.PDF 

[1] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press, Boston (2009)


[2] Paul Hawken introduced this idea — that only business can actually make Sustainability a global reality — in his The Ecology of Commerce. Hawken’s book is essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in Sustainability.


[3] Werbach, ibid, page 9.


[4] “Zoomed out” refers to a wide angle, longer term view of matters and conditions. See Green and the Zoom Lens Mind, this blog: http://blog.jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/02/22/green-and-the-zoom-lens-mind.aspx


[5] Regarding SWOT analysis: I’m wary of the “present tense” view that SWOT analysis often takes, and I’m wary of any organization’s ability to be sufficiently objective in identifying strengths and weaknesses.


[6] Werbach, ibid, page 72.


[8]For more on extending the scope of trade associations, see On Joint Actions, this blog: http://blog.jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/07/25/on-joint-actions.aspx