Leigh Baker | November 20, 2023

Bill McDonough is the co-author of the awesome regenerative business design books Cradle to Cradle and The Upcycle. He’s also co-founder of the not-for-profit Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute. He’s been making BIG sustainability projects happen in BIG businesses for decades. And one of the skills he uses is pitching.

In several of his Youtube videos – including this conversation with Joel Makower – McDonough tells a story about how he convinced the Ford Motor Company board to spend big on an environmental project. It’s a fascinating tale of expert influencing.

As I listened to it recently, I recognised a pitching pattern from a marketing bestseller – Oren Klaff’s book PITCH ANYTHING.  It’s a great structure to listen to (and learn from) McDonugh’s story.

Here’s an excerpt from McDonough’s video describing his pitch. (I’ve done a light edit – so it’s more readable in written form):

9:42 When we did the Ford Rouge – it’s the world’s largest green roof in Deerborn, Michigan – I walked into the board room with just 3 minutes for getting approval for this multi million dollar project. No change in time, no change in budget, right on the money for Ford’s 100th birthday.

I walked into the board room – I went in and I said “I’m an architect and an environmentalist, and the building I’m about to show you is for the birds. This is true.”

The board looked at me like hound dogs trying to read an algebra book… Who is this guy and what is he talking about???

So I said “But you’re fiduciaries and you’re in cars. So let me speak to you in fiduciary and in car. Our green roof and landscape is $13 million dollars.

The one you had budgeted and posted in your books to be spent… was $48 million dollars with 3 chemical treatment plants 4 miles of concrete pipe, chemicals that had to be bought and used all the time, 70 UAW workers standing around at $70/hour praying it doesn’t rain. All underground, all stranded assets ….. that was your design, all stranded assets requiring constant funding.

Look at this. Now you’ve got 10 1/2 acres of habitat for birds at 13 million dollars. We’re saving you $35 million in CAPEX from day 1.

..You’re in the car business. The Ford Taurus coming out of Chicago is at 4% margin. This is the equivalent of giving you an order of $900 million worth of cars.

Do you want it or not?


Perhaps you’re not Bill McDonough – but you can LEARN to pitch

Today, pitching is a learnable skill that regenerative innovators can add to their innovation delivery toolkit. So if you’re into making sustainability projects happen, then it’s well worth studying ways to pitch your projects more powerfully.

Several sustainability masters like Bill McDonough have great examples that you can learn from on YouTube.

And if you leverage today’s known, learnable processes for pitching, you can build your own skills in getting regenerative innovation projects funded. (A great career and life skill to have, BTW.)

One useful set of tools is documented in Oren Klaff’s PITCH ANYTHING – about his approach to getting big deals done. Both this book and his followup FLIP THE SCRIPT are great resources.

PITCH ANYTHING includes a step by step process for writing your pitch PLUS valuable information on how to develop the mindset and the presence to deliver that pitch more effectively.

(Here’s a quick video summary: “Pitch Anything” by Oren Klaff – BOOK SUMMARY)

There’s your pitch – then there’s the way you frame it

I’m systems-oriented thinker and I love a pattern I can follow, so I initially found myself hooked by the formula for the Idea Introduction Pattern.  Klaff’s intro pattern begins like this:

“For [target customers]
Who are dissatisfied with [the current offerings in the market].
My idea/product is a [new idea or product category] …
(invest in the book for the full process)”

But far more important to change-makers is his discussion of FRAMING!

Framing is the skill of presenting yourself and your proposal as the prize – and developing the confidence, the presentation skills and the emotional intelligence to make it work.  This is a fundamental “core strength” for successful innovation delivery – the confidence and capability to communicate.

PITCH ANYTHING includes a step by step process for writing your pitch PLUS valuable information on how to develop the mindset and the presence to deliver that pitch more effectively.

Why study pitching? (and marketing?)

We’re well into the third decade of the 21st century. We have all the technology – ancient and modern – that we need to create a prosperous, regenerative future. Today, that technology increasingly commercial and rewarding.

The real game is turning those solutions into products, services and practices that are widely adopted by industry and business more broadly, so that they’re increasingly available to individuals and communities.

The current challenge is engaging people in industry – and business more broadly – in taking on and scaling those solutions to their benefit.

As a species we’ve been studying how to sell each other products, services and ideas to each other for many centuries. In the most recent 50 years, neurobiology has started to sort the myths from the biological realities, pushed along by online marketing.

You might get this particular marketing book – or you might explore the marketing section of your local (or online) bookshop for resources. Or check out podcasts and online training resources.

If you want to make more difference, more quickly then it might be time to “Use the force – and turn it to the light”.