Book review: The business leader's guide to the low-carbon economy

14th January 2013

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The business leader’s guide to the low-carbon economy

Larry Reynolds / Gower / Hardback £60 / ISBN 978-1-4094-2351-5

This is a readable and engaging book, peppered with examples from companies, big and small. Larry Reynolds’ argument is that climate change is a fundamental issue of business risk.

The likelihood of dangerous climate change is high and the impact is high; the only uncertainty is timescale. While businesses can’t predict the future, they can strengthen their understanding of what might happen and arm themselves for change. Reynolds paints four pictures: of a world where present trends continue (gloomy); of conflict (even gloomier); of technology to the rescue (an optimistic view of top-down change); and of “less is more” (where society’s consumption patterns change). He highlights and explores the implications for businesses in each scenario.

Although apparently targeted at business leaders, the book’s primary audience seems to be those who are seeking to influence senior management teams, and there’s also a strong UK bias to the examples. This means that some key aspects of business leadership are largely invisible.

A lot of ground is covered and inevitably some depth is lost – the emergence of new corporate partnerships with not-for-profits is mentioned only fleetingly, for example.

Reynolds is also too quick to conclude that rapid moves to a sustainable business model are necessarily destructive.

Business leaders will need new skills to adapt their organisations to face the risks Reynolds describes. If this book can help to inspire action, then it will have proven worthwhile. And, in the mean time, the author has done a good job in providing a readable survey of the terrain.

Review by Mike Peirce, director of strategy and communications at the University of Cambridge programme for sustainability leadership


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