Book Review: The Necessary Revolution

March 22nd, 2010 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Review of The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World by Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley (Audio CD Version Reviewed) The hardcover print version is 416 pages, published June 2008.

The transition to a society with zero waste and no new consumption of resources is exactly the revolution that is necessary. The Necessary Revolution is a realistic look at this change, pointing out the ways companies and organizations are moving in the right direction already.

As the back matter of the book promises, it is “brimming with inspiring stories,” that “reveal how ordinary people at every level are transforming their businesses and communities.” However, while the book does present some strategies, it is much less a “how-to” manual, only delivering in a limited way on its claim that it “contains a wealth of strategies that individuals and organizations can use—specific tools and ways of thinking…” Nonetheless, it is certainly a good read, well-written and full of lively innovative stories.

The book starts by giving us a concise description of the worsening social and environmental problems we face such as a widening gap between rich and poor, that our automobile production on the planet has been four times that of the number of humans, depletion of water supplies, wetlands, fish populations, topsoil and other resources, and increasing Carbon Dioxide emissions to the current tune of seven million tons per person in the United States. One third of the world’s forests disappeared last century.

Without dwelling on the dark side of the industrial revolution, The Necessary Revolution declares that the Industrial Age must end because “its consequences are not sustainable,” that is, they are not viable, profitable or life-sustaining in the long-term. The authors say that “Our habits shape how we face the need for change,” and that “we don’t yet have the global concept that we all live in the same boat.” Then they go on to share various examples of organizations that do have this concept as an underlying theme. They also give interesting examples of various civilizations that have been overly successful like ours and therefore faced extinction or economic decline. Iceland six centuries ago, a pastoral culture, overgrazed its lands. They were able to change their methods by first changing habits and concepts of how to succeed. There are also examples of civilizations that failed such as the Mayans of South America, who before 1000 A.D. had the most sophisticated culture of the Americas, but their system collapsed due to mismanagement of their farmland and deforestation, much like our civilization is doing today.

The country of Bhutan has changed their measure of national success from Gross Domestic Product, to a Gross National Happiness Index that measures quality of life, citizen health and other factors ahead of consumption. It turns out that after this change, not only were the people happier, but the country’s major companies were more profitable as well. The Necessary Revolution asserts that evolving human interactions and applying new research and methods for changing our ideas and actions will solve our predicament. By applying systems theory, the study of how people or parts of a system work together to produce a synergistic result; employing Industrial Ecology whereby the waste for one use becomes the supply of another; and using value chain analysis to add quality and eliminate waste from the processing of products at each step along their path to the final user, we will gradually develop an increasingly more sustainable culture.

Businesses will want to change because whenever waste is cut, money is saved. Also, earth-friendly products are in higher and higher demand. The importance of dialog and sharing of ideas is emphasized, but tempered by the message that real change counts more than good conversations. What is necessary is personal and organizational commitment to change through better teamwork.

The Necessary Revolution recommends to “Start with the backbone, with redesigning the mainstream backbone functions that represent the core work of your organization. These typically include Product Design, Development, Provisioning, Production, Marketing and Sales. A focus on sustainability in these areas will bring significant rewards and improve performance.”

The Necessary Revolution, more than anything else, is inspiring because it offers examples of people and organizations already surprisingly far down the path toward complete sustainability. Read an interview with the primary author, Peter Senge in Business Week. It is not a “how-to” manual, nor a comprehensive reference, because the print version has a limited index. However, The Necessary Revolution will get you and your team thinking creatively and motivated to make changes with questions such as, “What if we had no waste dumps? What if we decided to recycle everything? What if we could create a world more in-line with our values rather than moving to sustainability out of fear that we have to do something before we destroy ourselves.”

What if…

Do you think it’s possible? How?



  1. Hopefully such a revolution would promote the creation of higher quality products over the disposable products we tend to have today. However, with technology moving as fast as it currently is, it would be a shame to curb that kind of development.
    New power sources could potentially be implemented still to maintain growth.

  2. Good points and thank you for stopping by “LCD.”

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