Carlson School of Management building with green, red and orange trees in the fall.

Professor Alfred Marcus Explores Success in Sustainability in New Book

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

In the movie Field of Dreams, a whispering voice tells the main character, “if you build it, he will come.” When it comes to products and services in the sustainable space, Professor Alfred Marcus has found building it is only part of the equation. Numerous others factors–including luck–determine who and what succeeds.

Marcus lays out these factors in his new book, Innovations in Sustainability: Fuel and Food (Cambridge University Press). Through a series of case studies that share the stories of closely related companies competing in such areas as solar power, electric vehicles, and healthy foods, among others; Marcus reveals the challenges and obstacles sustainable innovations face.

“Sustainability is not necessarily privileged because it has a strong moral claim as a business proposition,” said Marcus, the Edson Spencer Endowed Chair in Strategy and Technological Leadership. “Just because we put a sustainable label around something does not mean we’re going to have instant success. If it’s going to succeed within this business space, all of the skills of shrewd business people have to be applied.”

Marcus has structured the book like the life cycle of a business, from innovation and initial financing of start-ups to existing businesses making the transition into the sustainability projects. Within each chapter he encourages readers to think about the challenges that lie ahead.

"Part of my motive was to try to understand to what extent companies that entered the sustainable space succeeded in making money and what extent did competition motivate them and to what extent did government promote or discourage this,” said Marcus.

Marcus says he wrote the book with a broad readership in mind.

"Whether you’re in a large Fortune 500 firm, are someone with an idea, or are in government making policies that impact the firms trying to solve social problems, I think you’ll find these stories both interesting and valuable.”

Among the competitors Marcus examines in the book are Tesla and Better Place, Toyota and General Motors, General Mills and Kellogg’s, Pepsi and Coke, and Whole Foods and Walmart.

Learn more

Watch Marcus discuss the book: