How do you see the field of environmental consulting developing over time? Will it merge with mainstream management consulting firms? AW: In terms of where I see the environmental consulting field going, we are experiencing interesting times right now. Merges are happening at the big firms. I have a partnership with PwC. All of the big four accounting firms have substantial sustainability practices that they have invested in. A couple of them have been buying some of the niche environmental consulting firms pretty aggressively including PwC. They are kind of rolling out some of the niche firms and you’ve got McKinsey, Monitor, Bain, all working on this as well so there is quite a bit of supply in sustainability consulting. I think the future for it is much like the future for corporations where the sustainability needs to be integrated to the core business. I think that is starting to happen at the consulting firms, just as it is starting to happen in businesses.
Green to Gold is your seminal work on corporate sustainability and it presents a
business case for going green. What was the impact of the economic Q4 well-argued downturn since 2008 on the corporate sustainability movement?
AW: Well, that is an interesting question and that’s why I wrote a second book, Green Recovery, which came out in 2009. It was a quickly written book, a short manifesto about the benefits of going green even in hard economic times. The logic that I was putting out there, and I do believe this, is that green is not expensive – that is always the myth perceptions – that green is actually one of the ways out of hard economic times because green fundamentally is about doing more with less so it is about saving money. In a large part there are very quick ways to save money and companies are finding ways to save billions in things like upgrades in facilities for heating and cooling and lighting and waste and IT systems. There’s all this work being done to help you save a lot of money and this helps you get out of hard times.
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That said I think what’s happened in the recession is that there’s almost been a kind of longer postrecession hang-over where there’s the sense that companies are very, very tight on money. It’s kind of strange because corporate profits have actually risen quite fast since the federal stimulus. If you look at all the numbers of corporate profits, jobs, farm payroll, non-farm payroll...etc., all were going down precipitously during 2008 and 2009 and then the federal stimulus started and all of them started to turn up – it’s pretty classic Keynesian economics. And so companies are more profitable than ever yet I always hear that companies budgets are very tight for everything including sustainability and that they’re trying to hit their Wall Street driven growth targets. I think sustainability in particular often faces this big burden of having to prove its worth. It’s what I call “guilty until proven innocent” within companies. Unfortunately, while sustainability can prove itself on a whole host of things that create values quickly, there are many aspects that have intangible values or longer term values that we don’t have very good systems for measuring. That makes it difficult sometimes to try and prove the case and as a result sustainability is not given a lot of resources. That was true before and it is even more true today.