Crosslands Bulletin

The Sustainability Handbook. 2nd Edition

Author: William Blackburn
Release Date: December 1, 2015
Number of Pages: 799
Binding: Softcover

Publisher Information
Environmental Law Institute
1730 M Street NW
Washington, DC 30036
Phone: +1 202 939 3800

Nine years have flown by since Bill (now he calls himself grandpa) Blackburn wrote the first edition [reviewed here] of his handbook.  “No longer can it be said that sustainability means whatever any individual thinks it means,” he writes in the introduction to the second edition.

Well, that’s arguable.  Still, Blackburn does a convincing job in the first two chapters to explain what the trends and issues have led to in the corporate mindset.  They resulted in “values-driven management.”  Blackburn calls it the “2Rs”: respect for people and other living things; and resources, i.e., their wise use for promoting long-term well-being of the organization and society (including the environment).

Despite the shift in views and attitudes, Blackburn’s methodological explanations of a sustainability operating system — SOS — remains the backbone of the book.  The author describes how a company’s SOS should draw from the most successful features of established management system standards, and from experience.  

The whys and wherefores of an SOS are the reasons to keep the book open on one’s desk.  It is not a volume meant to sit on a shelf.  Aided by an index, missing in the first edition, the handbook is a practical tool of the trade, and the best one.  Everything a manager needs to know is here, from scoping, to prioritization, to deployment, auditing, and reporting.  At the end separate chapters address suitable approaches to sustainability for special organizations: small and struggling companies; NGOs; governmental organizations; and colleges and universities. 

Seven appendices cover 275 pages — a book in themselves.  They support different parts of the main text, and do so in different ways.  While they are not indispensable, they shouldn’t be overlooked.  For example, Appendix 4 contains forms to use for setting business priorities on sustainability topics.  Appendix 5 demonstrates how Blackburn drew up environmental financial statements when he was vp an chief counsel of corporate environment, health, and safety at Baxter International.   Appendix 7 includes a 19-page table with sustainability metrics for companies.

In the final analysis, the second edition of The Sustainability Handbook is not quite as up-to-date as the first was in highlighting the contemporary leaders in the field or in every case in mentioning the most current of events to illustrate one point or another.  No matter, really.  Blackburn’s comprehensive approach to an integrated operating system is still the blueprint of choice for the management of sustainability in organizations of all kinds.

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