Sustainability Handbook: The Complete Management Guide to Achieving Social, Economic, and Environmental Responsibility, The

The Sustainability Handbook
William R. Blackburn
Release Date

Out of print


The Sustainability Handbook: The Complete Management Guide to Achieving Social, Economic, and Environmental Responsibility covers the complexities, challenges and benefits of sustainability as it is pursued by corporate, academic, government and non-profit organizations. It provides a blueprint on how organizations of all sizes can reach or exceed economic, social and environmental excellence. The handbook offers a wide variety of practical approaches and tools, including:

  • A model sustainability policy for organizations;
  • Summaries of sustainability codes and tips on how to select them;
  • Practical guidance on structuring the organization for sustainability and gaining support from management;
  • Overview of key sustainability trends and suggestions on how to use them in strategic planning; and
  • Extensive collection of sample metrics.

William Blackburn has worked in the area of corporate sustainability for several decades and is a popular lecturer on the topic. He successfully led sustainability initiatives within a major global corporation and continues to provide guidance on the topic to companies, universities, governments, standards bodies and non-profit firms around the world.

About the Author

For over 30 years, William R. Blackburn has been involved with the management of global programs on environment, health, and safety (EHS) as well as on programs on sustainability as that concept has emerged. He is a frequent lecturer around the world on these topics.

Until 2003, Blackburn was vice president and chief counsel of Corporate Environment, Health, and Safety at Baxter International Inc., a global manufacturer and distributor of medical products based in Deerfield, Illinois. As a sustainability leader at Baxter, Blackburn led efforts pioneering effective sustainability performance metrics; transparent sustainability reports; innovative management standards; unique environmental cost and income statements; and sound emergency response programs. Baxter’s operations received over 300 external awards for EHS excellence while Blackburn guided the company’s program. Prior to joining Baxter in 1978, Blackburn was employed as the general counsel at Clinton Bogert Associates, an environmental engineering firm based in New Jersey.

Today, Blackburn continues his work on EHS and sustainability issues as the president of a consulting firm, William Blackburn Consulting, Ltd. His firm advises organizations on the performance, structure, strategy, planning, and development of programs related to sustainability, EHS, and crisis management/emergency response. His clients include: large, small, and struggling companies; nonprofit organizations; local governments; trade and professional associations; and multi-stakeholder coalitions.

In 1973, Blackburn received his J.D. in law from the University of Iowa and three years prior, in 1970, he received a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University. He received law licenses in the District of Columbia, Illinois, and New Jersey and a professional engineers’ license in New Jersey.

Blackburn serves as: a member of the management team of the Stakeholder Council, Global Reporting Initiative; an expert delegate on the Working Group on the Guidance on Social Responsibility of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 26000); a vice chair of the American Bar Association’s Subcommittee on Sustainable Development within the Section on Environment, Energy, and Resources; and a member of the board of advisors for the Environmental Management Program and Center for Sustainable Enterprise, Stuart Graduate School of Business, Illinois Institute of Technology. He is a former chairman of the Chief EHS Officers Council of The Conference Board, a U.S. business association.

For more information on Blackburn and his firm, visit his website at, where a detailed table of contents for the book and a model syllabus for a college-level course can be found. Alternatively, contact him at

Book Reviews

"This is a truly comprehensive review of sustainable development as it relates to organizations large and small. This book will help managers to think about the impact of their business on the people they employ, their customers, their shareholders, the environment and society at large. It also puts the many tools and guidelines in a context which allows for thoughtful selection."
- Sir Mark Moody-Stuart
Chairman, Anglo American plc
Former Chairman, Royal Dutch/Shell

"By far the best book on sustainability I have read in the last ten years. The book is unique in that it goes well beyond making the business case for sustainability. It is filled with practical techniques, tips and tools to 'operationalize' these concepts into the plans, programs and performance of any organization. Great advice for both the seasoned veteran and energetic newcomer on action steps for driving continuous improvement in an organization's economic, social and environmental performance."
- George Nagle
Senior Director - Environment, Health & Safety Strategies and Outreach
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company

"Blackburn is a powerful voice for a common-sense approach to sustainability. He presents a strong social and business case for adopting sustainable practices, and demonstrates its significant contributions to individual and corporate well-being. It’s practical, clear, comprehensive, and compelling."
- Scott Charon
Project Manager, New Product Development
Advanced Concepts and Materials
Herman Miller Inc.

"Bill Blackburn is a recognized expert and leader in the environmental arena, including on sustainability and corporate responsibility. Bill's career as head of EHS at Baxter Healthcare makes him particularly qualified to comment on how companies should and will manage towards sustainability and ensuring that their behavior on social, economic and environmental matters is responsible. Bill's new book, The Sustainability Handbook, is a good read for any environmental legal practitioner or business manager, and certainly will add to their understanding of the relevant issues."
-Vail T. Thorne
Senior Environmental, Health & Safety Counsel
The Coca-Cola Company

"Bill Blackburn has long been involved in this work. He has made a real difference in his company and has had a positive impact on many others. There is a lot of material on the subject, but coming from an experienced, passionate, successful leader makes this a worthwhile read."
- Elizabeth C. Girardi Schoen
Sr. Director EHS Strategic Partnerships and Planning
Global Environment, Health and Safety
Pfizer Inc.

"Bill's been there…in the trenches and in the boardrooms. He's fought the tough battles and won the really important ones. His intellect and passion are profound. A reader will find his coverage of the sustainability subject well researched, well organized, and clearly articulated."
- Roberto Piccioni
Senior Manager
Corporate Environment, Health & Safety

"Bill fully understands maintaining a sustainability operating and management system, from an experienced and practical experience. His style helps the reader understand the impact of sustainability now, and for the future, and the path to pursue it in reality. This Guide is long overdue!"
- Erin Elizabeth Kreis
Manager, Corporate Relations
General Motors Public Policy Center

"Blackburn has produced an impressive and comprehensive work on sustainability and business practice. The book is deep and wide, and contains numerous insights into how corporate environmental and social responsibility is being internalized by many companies and can be profitable for many others. A real first in the literature."
- Dennis J. Aigner
Professor of Economics
Paul Merage School of Business
University of California, Irvine
Former Dean, Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara

"This book is an essential guide for practitioners who are trying to wade through the myriad of terms, frameworks, claims and counter-claims about the importance of sustainability initiatives. Blackburn has hit a home run with this book. He tells us what sustainability is, why organizations should pursue it, and how they can approach it to improve their chances of long-term success. It is full of useful checklists, model language and frameworks and strategies for implementation. The book is a valuable reference guide on many levels—both to academics and practitioners who are new to sustainability as well as to the well-seasoned sustainability professional."
- Mark A. Cohen
Justin Potter Professor of American Competitive Enterprise
Owen Graduate School of Management
Vanderbilt University

"Bill Blackburn cogently explains the concept of sustainability, dispelling the myth that it is just a 'feel good' idea irrelevant to long-term performance. He describes a structured approach whereby companies and other organizations can create a 'sustainability operating system' that integrates other management systems and produces real long-term value for shareholders and stakeholders alike. This book is a 'must read' for company and institutional managers and their attorneys."
- Robert B. McKinstry, Jr.
Maurice K. Goddard Professor of Forestry and Environmental Resources Conservation
Penn State School of Forest Resources

"This handbook provides a wealth of information and practical ideas on how to translate sustainable development into the day-to-day operations of corporation and other organizations. Building on more than 25 years of management, consulting and legal experience, Bill Blackburn has provided an invaluable resource for adding value—environmentally, economically and socially sustainable value—to any organization’s work."
- John C. Dernbach
Professor of Law
Widener University Law School

"The Sustainability Handbook is the first complete, practical book about sustainability for all types of organizations. Corporations, NGO's and government agencies alike will find the tools invaluable in their efforts to achieve economic, social and environmental responsibility."
- George P. Nassos
Director, MS in Environmental Management Program & Center for Sustainable Enterprise
Illinois Institute of Technology – Stuart Graduate School of Business

"A very complete and detailed account of how to remove the difficult concept of sustainable development from the confines of the international forums and academia and make it a valuable tool to help ensure a more just, equitable, and environmentally safe planet."
- Alberto Ninio
Lead Counsel, Environmental & International Law
Legal Vice Presidency
The World Bank

"For many years, Bill Blackburn has been tracking and implementing social, economic and environmental corporate policies and procedures and reporting on the results. The clarity and practical wisdom in this book will provide invaluable help for any manager facing the many inherent challenges of sustainability."
- Joan Bavaria
Trillium Asset Management

"Blackburn's tenacious and relentless focus on results and his readiness to adopt and apply new thinking allowed him to achieve much over his years as a leader in the EHS field. His book will be a valuable resource for others who really do want to make a difference. It is full of ideas that will make you think and act differently. Read it, if you care!"
- Brian Kraus
ERM Certification and Verification Services

"Blackburn writes from practical experience, not theory. His sustainability vision at Baxter propelled the company forward as a responsible corporate citizen and also brought environmental accounting to a new level of excellence. Written in plain English, this book is a must for practitioners struggling to define what sustainability is all about for their business management."
- Richard MacLean
President - Competitive Environment, Inc.
Executive Director - Center for Environmental Innovation
Principal - MacLean, Marsh and Associates

"Blackburn has set a new standard of excellence in the business and sustainability literature. This probing, comprehensive volume reflects the pioneering role the author has played both within and outside the private sector in making sustainability thinking integral to contemporary business. With rigor, creativity and authority, The Sustainability Handbook charts a course toward high levels of social and financial performance that no company—large or small—can afford to ignore."
- Allen White
Senior Fellow, Tellus Institute
Co-Founder and former CEO, Global Reporting Initative
Co-Founder & Director, Corporation 20/20

"With all the short-term results, Blackburn opens the reader's eyes to the long-term risks and opportunities that lay in wait. Readers will strengthen their organization's operations and relationships by following the advice in this book."
- Ernst Ligteringen
Chief Executive
Global Reporting Initiative, Amsterdam

"Blackburn is a uniquely qualified author. This book is told from the perspective of one who has both led a successful sustainability initiative within a major global corporation as well as worked closely with global multi-stakeholder NGOs like CERES."
- Mindy Lubber
Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES)