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Browse Billy's Book Bag - July Edition

Three books Genii Earth CEO Billy Afghan recommends you consider reading and why.

  1. Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than they Take

By Paul Polman & Andrew Winston  

Published October 2021 

What are the qualities of the most successful companies for the times we are in, and what are the qualities of the leaders that lead them? Polman and Winston present a most compelling case study for how to transition organizations, not just to net zero, but rather to a net positive future. This book is the story of how, together, they lead the recreation of Unilever from 2011 to 2021 to have one of the most integrated business plans in the world that links sustainable and equitable business operations to performance and growth. 

Polman, the former CEO of Unilever and Andrew Winston, a sustainable business guru, outline the core principles and cutting-edge strategies they and other pioneering companies are using to help address the world’s problems rather than to contribute to them.  Their big message is that businesses must step up and help reverse the damage that they have been creating and benefitting from for hundreds of years. 

They begin with how Unilever barely escaped a hostile takeover by Kraft Heinz, seven years into their ambitious strategy, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP).  Unilever executives stood to make huge profits over market value in the takeover.  Instead, they resisted and in doing so, many unexpected allies came to their side. This was a test of Unilever’s principles that are at the core of their USLP.  Unilever is intent on operating for the benefit of the many groups of people it touches, in service of a better world. The authors assert that net positive companies stick to their values of caring for all stakeholders, not just the shareholders, and that this is truly good business.   

Beyond just strategies, they address the leadership capacities fundamental to building the net positive organizations of the future and the leaders who must create workplaces where people want to bring their best selves to serve a shared purpose. 

I loved every page in this book! If you are looking for examples and case studies of what good looks like, look no further. The Unilever story hits on all the key points: integrate sustainability with strategy, focus on improving the lives of everyone you touch, take ownership for all the social and environmental impacts, build partnerships to drive transformative change that no one organization can ever do alone.  


2. The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations 

By Daniel Yergin  

Published September 2020  

Have you ever wondered why it is that the fossil fuel industry is so pervasive in its influence and so critical in its role across the globe? Yergin applies his deep knowledge of the energy industry and world politics into this epic telling of the last 100 or so years of how the exploration and possession of fossil fuels directly influences geopolitics, social stability and instability across the globe.  

Yergin tells an intricate tale of the geopolitics of fossil fuel weaving its way through the United States, Russia, China, and the Middle East. 

This book read like a gripping spy story with lots of details about where and how private meetings with powerful people occurred that ultimately turned the tide of politics and energy in one direction or another. Yergin ends by pointing to the changing narrative around energy, electricity, and climate change and poses questions about how this may affect the geopolitics of tomorrow. 

Although I was compelled by the story he is telling about the history of energy around the globe, I found myself wishing Yergin had provided more analysis rather than only neutral narration. I would have appreciated his reflection on the role fossil fuels have played in the current condition and geography of the planet. This book came out in 2020, early in the pandemic, before the Russia/Ukraine war, and before the unprecedented fires, floods, dramatic weather, water and power shortages we have had over the last couple years.  In the next revision, I would like to see the last chapters re-written to look at why powerful governments need to move more quickly away from fossil fuels. 

3. Our Changing Menu

By Michael P. Hoffman, Carrie Kolinka-Loehr, and Danielle L. Eiseman 

Published March 2021 

Are you interested in learning how climate change is affecting the foods you eat and how your choices are affecting what’s available? The authors unpack in detail the origins of the average dinner menu and how these foods are being impacted by climate change. They start with beer, wine, and spirits, then the many ingredients that make up salads we love to eat.  They cover main dishes including meats, spices, grains and other starches, completing the story with desserts, coffee and tea. 

Each menu item is broken down by where it grows, and how climate is affecting its availability, flavor, and very existence. The authors demonstrate how certain plants can only grow in certain climates and in certain locations, from grapes for wine, agave for tequila, and saffron for cooking.  

Although the book points out a deeply changing horizon for our food sources, it also points to what growers, businesses, and scientists are doing to address these changes and to improve our changing food supply.  Finally, the authors point to what we each can do to help address the increasing food crisis, including getting more climate-change literate, talking more about climate change, moving toward a plant-based diet, reducing food waste, and appreciating and supporting the people who provide the menu.  

This book is an eye-opener for how dependent we are on multiple sources of foods we take for granted every day. As covid pointed out for many of us, even a short-term disruption can change things dramatically. Climate change changes everything. This book is a call to action for each of us to take a good look at what we can do to mitigate, and in some cases, embrace the effects of climate change on our ever-changing menu.  

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