“Changing the Game is one of the most important sustainability books of the last years”

It is one of those rare books that changes your view on the world for ever. All developments and new items suddenly fall into a framework. A conflict between stakeholders? An innovative product? A group of competing companies who start to collaborate with governments and NGOs? These are all developments that are characteristic for a certain phase of market transformation. But sometimes certain actions come to soon, or too late or continue for too long to be effective. This unique insight is what Changing the Game by Lucas Simons and André Nijhof offers.

– P+ Magazine (November 2020)


No one ever solved a problem with old thinking: when you get into a hole, you don’t keep digging.

This applies to fixing our broken and destructive economic model, which continues to drive widening global inequality and climate change. In order to build circular, regenerative economies which give back more than they take – both to the planet and to the societies they serve – we need bold new ideas and leaders ready to embrace them. And we need unprecedented collaboration, not least among businesses, if we are to drive change at the speed and scale required. Nowhere is this truer than to protect our world for the next generation: we have just thirty years to keep global temperatures under catastrophic levels. This book provides much-needed fresh thinking and it explains how and when businesses, governments, civil society and other stakeholders can join forces to boost their shared interests and accelerate the urgent change humanity needs.

In 2010, when I took over as CEO of Unilever, faced with a declining business and a world filled with challenges, we decided we would think differently. Business as usual wasn’t going to cut it, and so we launched our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan when no other company had made such far-reaching public commitments to sustainability. We took on damaging short-termism and reoriented our brands to serve a higher ecological and societal purpose than simply the next round of quarterly profits. We knew that sustainability had to become an integrated part of the business and that, in order to make it stick, we would have to work closely with a whole range of stakeholders, including employees, suppliers and customers and also NGOs, governments, international organizations and, crucially, our competitors. More importantly, we saw planet earth as a crucial partner as well.

I don’t pretend it was an easy ride. Nor did we achieve everything I would have hoped for. But I am proud of the many successes we had. We set ourselves the target of improving the lives of an additional 1 billion people, whether through handwashing, nutrition or oral care, and by decoupling our growth from our environmental impact and increasing our social impact at the same time. Of course we had to make some difficult trade-offs, but by sticking to our plan and principles we developed an increasingly attractive agenda for our shareholders who saw a near 300% shareholder return over ten years plus growth well outpacing the rest of the industry industry. This was only possible because a fantastic team of people learned how to think bigger than ourselves. We sought out new partnerships and a higher meaning for our company, and in many ways our experiences are woven through this book.

The authors make clear that the most sustainable companies will be those who move beyond incremental CSR, no matter how well-meaning, to fundamentally put their business to a greater service. It will be those who see the huge opportunities of doing so, recognizing that profit, resilience and longevity derive from giving your business a clear North Star. As the following pages explain, this requires leadership with a clear statement about why your organization exists, a curious and adaptable attitude among your leaders, and honesty when you don’t have all the answers.

Perhaps the most important insight, and the one which still doesn’t come naturally for many C-suites, is that successful and responsible leaders see the degree to which they need others to achieve their goals. Changing your company will, alone, never be enough if the system you are operating in is tipped towards injustice and environmental harm. Don’t just play the game, rewrite the rules, and understand that systems change is a team sport. One of the reasons I have co-founded a new venture IMAGINE is precisely to bring together CEOs and others to drive industry-wide transformation to help create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. Who does not want to be part of that?

I thank the authors for addressing these vital issues. This is a valuable handbook for all those seeking to think bigger. Read it, debate it, test and be sure to put it to good use.

Paul Polman

Co- Founder and Chair of IMAGINE,

Former CEO Unilever


What are other sustainability leaders saying about Changing the Game?


“You cannot be successful in a world that fails. Companies today have the scale, the power and the innovative strength to contribute to a better world. They also have the responsibility to do so. This book shows you how. From understanding why markets become unsustainable, why it is so hard to change it, to what can be done to change the system. This book covers it all and gives the stepwise approach for sustainable market transformation. If you are serious about sustainability, study this work and apply it.”

 Feike Sijbesma, Former CEO of DSM,
designated Global Climate Leader for the World Bank Group, Co-Chair of the High Level Assembly of the group’s Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition and Co-Chair of the Board of the Global Center on Adaptation



“Becoming a systems thinker is perhaps the most important step any of us can take in fighting climate change, poverty, inequality and other global challenges. This book is an excellent resource for those looking to make the shift. The authors take the reader on a journey from understanding our problems in terms of the systems that created them, through how these systems work to what we can do to change them. They also provide inspiring and practical examples of how systemic change can and is being achieved in many of the key industries that shape our societies. We need more systems thinkers to tackle the problems we are facing, and more books like this to train more systems thinkers.”

 Luke Disney, CEO Just-BI, former Executive Director of the INSEAD Social Innovation Centre, former Executive Director of North Star Alliance



“Sustainability has to become hardcore business. And that will only be possible if our economies transform towards a more inclusive form of capitalism. This book aims to do exactly this. It challenges the reader to zoom out, look at the bigger picture and understand the systems at play. Once you have those insights, systems can be changed one step at a time.”

Jan Peter Balkenende, Professor of Governance, Institutions and Internationalization at Erasmus University, Chairman of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition and Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands



“This is a terrific book that helps us understand what we have to do to respond to the climate crisis. It is a thoughtful analysis of the role that businesses can play if they are serious about becoming sustainable. There is much practical wisdom here.”

 R. Edward Freeman, University Professor, The Darden School of Business, University of Virginia



“We need less talkers, we need more do-ers,’ say the authors of Changing the Game. I could not agree more! Happily, this book gives plenty of practical actions to help build a more sustainable world.”

Professor David Grayson CBE, Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility, Cranfield School of Management and Chair of the Institute of Business Ethics



“In Changing the Game, the authors present how to change the rules of an existing game. This is powerful and much needed. The question is how this relates to exploring how we at the same time create a radically different multi-dimensional value creation game. Both are important to move deeper into the Anthropocene.”

 – John Elkington, Founder & Chief Pollinator at Volans, pioneer of the global sustainability movement



“Please give yourself permission: You truly can be a changemaker who frees society from any of its many stuck, unsafe systems by birthing its socially and environmentally healthful replacement. Changing the Game, written by top social entrepreneur Lucas Simons and Andre Nijhof, spell out in simple, practical terms the steps required.”

Bill Drayton, Founder and CEO, Ashoka: Everyone a Changemaker



Changing the Game is a well-researched and practical guide to the greatest challenge that we face as a generation: the environmental, social and economic sustainability of our planet. As the authors quote, “We cannot be successful in a world that fails”.

Einstein famously said that to solve the problems of the world in 1 hour, one must first take fifty-five minutes to understand them. This is what authors Lucas Simons and Andre Nijhof do in their book. They bring to light the hidden rules, incentives and behaviors that lock us and our market sectors into producing unsustainable results. Results that, if left unchecked, will take us beyond the environmental and social limits we are already breaking.

Having understood the dynamics of unsustainability, the authors describe a 4-phase approach to how every individual and organization can act (and have acted in some cases), to break the gridlock and achieve sustainable outcomes. With this book you can diagnose the phase your market sector is in and then define the strategy you should take, to recognize incentives and change behaviors towards sustainable financial, social and environmental outcomes.

A key to the success of this book is the candid but respectful tone the authors use. They clearly state that we cannot change the rules of human behavior: people and groups will tend to pursue short term goals and personal interest and this has to be part of our expectation. You can’t blame the players, you have to change the incentives and the underlying rules of the game that generate negative outcomes. For example, expert contributors to the book describe how clothing manufacturers currently have the incentive to produce more clothes, as cheaply as possible. The search for ever cheaper production leads to exploitative labor practices. Companies selling the clothes, and consumers buying them, don’t see the consequences. Even for those who understand, finding alternatives and solutions across value chains and countries is complicated.

The book lays out a path to sustainability mapped out in 4 sequential phases. These phases are an abstraction of how the best examples in the industry have evolved and provide a blueprint we can follow. This evidence-based approach makes practical sense and allows you to identify where things stand today in a given sector, what the next step is, and how you and/or your organization can contribute to moving things forward.

Returning to the example they provide from the textile and garment industry: accidents or scandals provoked by exploitative labor practices force companies or governments to adjust their practices. More sustainable business practices become a competitive advantage and at a certain point, industry standards are developed that over time become national and international laws. This book clarifies how this process evolves in different market sectors and describes the detailed actions that can at each point, breaking the underlying incentives and “rules” that govern unsustainable practices.

In their book, Lucas and Andre meet you where you are in the world of sustainability – unaware, anxious or exasperated – and guide you to a place of understanding, conviction and action. If sustainability is the greatest challenge for our generation, then this is a guide we all need.

We read this book from the perspective of management consultants and leadership coaches. Our client’s face a future full of uncertainty and constant change, full of great opportunities but also pitfalls and threats. We see the process and strategies of market transformation, as described in Changing the Game as the map to navigate this unknown territory.”

– Helena Wygard , Analycia Perez Mina, Adriana Kocornik, BeWater consulting



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