Book Review: Live Long and Prosper – The 55-Minute Guide to Building Sustainable Brands by Dan Gray

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Maria and I had the opportunity to catch up with Dan at Sustainable Brands last week, where he gave us a copy of his compact but extremely comprehensive book Live Long and Prosper The 55-Minute Guide to Building Sustainable Brands. Dan is a management consultant, sustainability advocate and brand strategist and for this reason he is in the extremely interesting position of being able to work out exactly how to lay out the business case to CEOs and directors of large organisations, which was his principle motivation for writing his short guide.

Dan Gray

Dan Gray

The book was co-created by both Dan and Kevin Keohane, and is an extremely different proposition to the majority of books written about sustainability. It does exactly what it says on the tin, a point I managed to prove to myself by reading it in my lunch hour. However, while extremely compact, it is seriously fully of pertinent insights, and for this reason I can strongly recommend it.

Before taking a look at its contents though, I do believe that there are multiple audiences, more perhaps than the “current and aspiring CEOs and other senior executives and the consultancies that support them” who Dan identifies as the book’s primary audience. The essence of Live Long and Prosper is the case for building sustainable brands, and while Dan does mention that his book should be read by both “sympaticos and sceptics” I do believe he has written one of the best introductions to the concept of sustainable brands for those who are sustainability activists who may not actually have so much experience in the realm of business strategy, branding, business development, business model design and innovation.

This is exactly the point Maria made at the end of our presentation at Sustainable Brands on Holonomics, leadership and sustainable strategies, that those of us who are advocates of sustainability have to be humble, and recognise that the reality of business leaders may be one where they have never thought about sustainability (see Holonomic Thinking: Upgrading Leadership Skills and Systems Thinking for the New Economy). In addition, leadership is in crisis because things are no longer happening as they used to, and so many really are looking for a new model or new way of seeing. It is important when speaking with business leaders to take the care to use a language that they can understand, and Live Long and Prosper provides exactly that language Maria was referring to.

Live-Long-and-ProsperThe next thing I would say about Live Long and Prosper is that each short chapter while eminently readable and, as Dan says, without “fluff, filler or jargon” could easily be utilised as ideation sessions, or themes to be used to explore the nature of sustainability in business. While I was reading the book relatively quickly (I am a sympatico after all), I found myself gaining ideas for future workshops, dialogues and provocations on slides, which was also the secondary aim of the book.

To take just one example, in chapter 6 which explores the way in which we can build sustainable brands, Dan highlights the way in which brands nowadays reflect the business model of the whole organisation, and not just specific products and services. This means that we have to “get under the skin of an organisation as a whole, to uncover what is truly valuable about its services, strategy and culture, and arrive at a brand essence that can be embraced and operationalised by all parts of an organisation.”

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Dan cites Interface and Marks and Spencer a number of times as leading examples of what he calls Level Five Global Thought Leaders, and both companies were also at Sustainable Brands, giving excellent presentations on their progress and initiatives. Nigel Stansfield, Chief Innovation Officer of Interface gave a detailed look at how their Inclusive Business concept is helping to regenerate nylon waste from fishing nets which also benefits the local fishing communities, and his talk is definitely worth watching to supplement Dan’s introduction to the new thinking (see Inclusive Business: Creating a Future Defined by Shared Values and Closer Partnerships).

I absolutely agree with Dan when he writes that sustainability starts with the way in which an organisation treats its own people. As Dan says, “a credible commitment to sustainability can only be built from the inside out” and it is only when sustainable thinking is embedded both within one’s own organisation and value chain that authentic credibility can be achieved. Hence businesses now have to prove their sustainability credentials through what they have already achieved, rather than discussing future commitments.

Ultimately, what we could now be seeing is a move from short-term profit maximisation to long term purpose maximisation. The business case ultimately boils down to the fact that “the single-minded pursuit of profit would appear to produce less of it than if it is seen as the by-product of service a higher purpose”. This means that branding becomes strategic, delivering value in the form of social progress and being authentic – authenticity has to be “baked into everything you do”.

While Dan finishes Live Long and Prosper by stating that it is only a starting point, I do feel it is an excellent starting point for various people:

  • CEOs and executives looking to understand what sustainability means for their short and long-term strategies
  • Consultants and managers who are looking for guidance as to how to make the case for sustainability at board level
  • Sustainability activists who are looking to develop a new language to help them better engage constructively with those in business, especially those involved in marketing, branding, strategy and business development

In this respect, Live Long and Prosper is both an excellent and inspiring read, but also a book not to hold on to but to hand on to someone else who may not yet be fully convinced about the case for sustainability. As Dan says, those who choose to ignore the signs and who are waiting for proof will find that they have already been outcompeted. Sustainability is no longer about adding cost to products, but about disruptive innovation and long term survival, both of the organisation and of course ourselves on a planet with limited resources, and there is no better compact book which succinctly makes the case as well as Live Long and Prosper.

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