Five terrific books to inspire, instruct and deepen your commitment to sustainability.
By Francesca Rheannon
Ah, August. The one month when many of us finally have a little time to kick back and catch up on all that reading that we never could find the time to do during the rest of the year. For #susty aficionados – as I hope you are – there are rich offerings to inspire and guide you so you can hit the ground running, come September.
They include several exciting new approaches to solving the mounting crisis of global governance, a guidebook for social entrepreneurs, and a memoir/how to book for going off the consumer grid.
Just Business: John Ruggie
In Just Business: Multinational Corporations and Human Rights (Norton), John Ruggie tells the riveting story of how he developed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to accomplish what many thought would be impossible: bring formerly warring parties together to hammer out a broad agreement on the issue.
When he was appointed UN Special Representative on Human Rights in 2005 (he served until 2011), Ruggie faced a daunting task: how to bring NGOs, who insisted on mandatory international agreements on human rights, together with multinational corporations, who would only accept voluntary guidelines, to agree on a guiding framework to “protect, respect and remedy” the human rights of communities, workers and other stakeholders impacted by the activities of global corporations. His goal was to:
…move beyond the mandatory versus voluntary dichotomy to devise a smart mix of reinforcing policy measures that can achieve cumulative change over time and achieve large scale success...
Ruggie’s aim in Just Business is to walk the reader on his path in going from conflict to cooperation. Case examples illuminate the journey: the Yanacocha gold mine in Peru, Nike's supply chain abuses, Shell’s impact on communities in Nigeria and Internet companies like Google turning over information to governments.
But he also aims to draw the broader lessons of his experience as a UN Special Representative: to show how “principled pragmatism” can create “a more just business in relation to human rights” by “finding ways to make respecting rights an integral part of business.” Ruggie wants the “power of norms” like the Guiding Principles to supplant the “norms of power” to make human rights embedded in governance on the state, corporate and international levels.
Just Business makes a compelling case – and reading for that goal.
The Quest For Security: Joseph Stiglitz and Mary Kaldor
The issue of governance to remedy the devastating costs of globalization is also taken up by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and collaborator Mary Kaldor in a new book they co-edited, The Quest For Security: Protection Without Protectionism And The Challenge of Global Governance (Columbia University Press).
In chapters covering several issues from social protection (like medical care, education, income security), protection from violence, environmental protection and global economic and social governance, contributors (including Stiglitz) wrestle with the same problem posed by Ruggie: the erosion of protections in nation states by the power and reach of global corporations.
They argue that “globalization has increased the scale and velocity of risk” at the same time that it has eroded the ability of nation states to reduce risk. One example that both Ruggie and Stiglitz cite are international trade agreements that expose countries to predatory business practices while hampering efforts at defense by threatening lawsuits in trade tribunals.
In his essay for the book, Jose Antonio Ocampo calls for global solutions to global problems, saying they are a prerequisite for creating “democratic spaces of a global character,” also what is addressed in our next pick for your summer reading.
Green Governance: David Bollier and Burns Weston
The enclosure movement in England in the early years of the Industrial Revolution furnished the example for what came to be called “the tragedy of the Commons.” It is the notion that what is used by everybody is protected by nobody.
In Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and The Law of the Commons (Cambridge University Press), Bollier and Weston turn the formulation on its head to deplore the “tragedy of the market,” where privatization goes so far as to destroy wealth, instead of create it – the destruction of a liveable climate, of fertile soil, of potable water, or breatheable air are all examples of this, affecting not just people but also the health of business.
The authors propose “a new template of environmental protection based on the new/old paradigm of the commons and an enlarged understanding of human rights.”
They call this understanding “green governance.”
To this end, they also argue for an “ethic of integrated global and local citizenship” founded on transparency and accountability, with a new Commons Sector to balance and complement State and Market. Only then, can we evolve the legal and normative structures to promote and safeguard “respect for nature, sufficiency, interdependence, shared responsibility and fairness.”
The Art of Social Enterprise: Carl Frankel and Allen Bromberger
Bringing all this down to the practical level is Carl Frankel’s and Allen Bromberger’s book, The Art of Social Enterprise: Business As If People Mattered (New Society). Frankel is a “serial social entrepreneur”, while Bromberger is an attorney in social entrereneurship.
On one level, the book is a how-to guide on the mechanics of social entrepreneurship, covering the start up phase, strategic planning, legal structures (including new ones like the benefit corporation), and how to confront the inevitable challenges.
But the authors have a higher aim: to present the case for social entrepreneurship as a model of business practices and ethics that can be applied to any company. They call for a new paradigm for business based on cooperation, where companies incorporate their obligation to a broad range of stakeholders, including all the people of the planet and the natural environment, into their DNA.
While the concept is not new, The Art of Social Enterprise straddles the worlds of theory and practice in a way useful to social and mainstream entrepreneurs alike.
The Good Life Lab: Wendy Jehana Tremayne
Finally, all change begins at home and that’s as true for changing the world as for, say, changing exercise habits.
The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living (Storey) is a memoir/guide written by a former creative director in a Manhattan marketing firm who left her Adwoman post to drop out of consumerism and drop into a self-sufficient lifestyle with her partner on an off-the-grid homestead in – of all appropriately-named places – Truth and Consequences, New Mexico.
The title harks back to Helen and Scott Nearing’s book, first published in 1954, a pioneering work for the back-to-the-land movement. But The Good Life Lab adds the innovative spirit of the contemporary free-wheeling Maker culture, where creative invention is unleashed, goods are re-purposed, knowledge is shared, manufacturing is do-it-yourself and resilience is the goal (along with fun.)
Tremayne’s book also goes beyond how-to to express a deeper purpose: to show that another way is possible, one that must become more mainstream if we are to survive and thrive. She contrasts the Maker sensibility with the Single Bottom Line, arguing that the former shows that economic activity can operate more responsibly when free of the mandate of profit:
Individual makers are directly connected to outcomes. Free of the mandate of profit, they make decisions differently. Individuals have the luxury of considering life. A fundamental question we must ask is, ‘Who has the power to make decisions that impact us all?’”
Coincidentally, that is the fundamental question all these books are posing and seeking to answer.
Whether it is the “practical pragmatism” of John Ruggie, the global governance of Stiglitz and Kaldor, the “green governance” of Bollier and Weston, the social entrepreneurship of Frankel and Bromberger or the individual commitment to act responsibly Tremayne celebrates, hopefully you'll find enough inspiration, enlightenment and guidance in these books to continue your journey of becoming a better citizen of Planet Earth with zeal and passion.