Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Net Impact Session 5: "Green to Gold: For Profit Business Consulting"

This session was packed. I mean packed. There must have been close to 200 people in the room designed for maybe 170 or 180. With an event attracting current and future MBAs that may have a leaning toward consulting, and two members of the BGI community on the panel, can they be blamed? I snapped this image of a fallen leaf's shadow on the sidewalk near CVS in Belmont, MA.

As with some of the other events (some written about already, some yet to come) I was disappointed that the time left for these ~200 people to engage with the panel was limited to 5 minutes at the end of an hour-and-a-half session. The best learning comes when the lectures stop and the conversation starts. It was a missed opportunity

Here's an overview of the session.

Moderator Intro:
Large consulting firms, like McKinsey, PriceWaterhouseCoopers etc. are getting into the game. Boutique firms like Natural Logic were the founders in this space and may be swallowed up over the next few years by the big boys.

Services range from management consulting, organization re-engineering (supply chain, etc.), communications (brand, values), and technical areas (environment, waste management), pretty much all things related to "green".

If you combine tech expertise with MBA, you're better placed to make an entree into this space, which might explain why there were so many people in the room.

The panelists took some time to introduce themselves and provide an overview of what their respective consultancies do

Jessie Alan | Sustainable Business Consulting
Jessie's one of my classmates at BGI, and is a perfect example of the broad background that can bring people to consulting, especially in the sustainability space. Her undergrad degree came from the School of Forestry at Michigan and she was an unabashed non-profit corporation hater before realizing business may have something to say in the drive to a new future.

Chris Callieri | AT Kearney
Chris has been working on Environmental Sustainability for 13 years. He has a background in biology, MA in environmental science in the UK and joined environmental consulting firm called ERM working in Chile developing regional environmental action plans. Studied infrastructure and manufacturing. He went to DC, working with ERM and the World Bank to define guidelines for regions. AT Kearney is a general management consulting company. In sustainability: helping clients understand "what it means to them". Is it about growing revenue, containing costs, building brand equity, etc?

Benjamin Privitt | Natural Logic
Benjamin took a winding path included media production and theatre to get to sustainability consulting. NL is a strategic consulting company. Clients are corporations and municipalities. In its 10th year, NL is small and growing with a CEO that has been doing this work for 35 years while the the planet has been doing "sustainability" for about 4 billion years. NL specializes in integration: work across domains. In natural systems there are no verticals, & the economy is happening as a subset of a natural system. Work inspired by writings of JM Juran. To be in a state of self control, you need three things; know what's expected; have the the tools to know how you're doing; and check the performance against the expectations. Companies need this as well. At Natural Logic, we're here to transform industrial society

Kate Butchart | Saatchi & Saatchi S
Kate was hired by Act Now productions (acquired by ad firm Saatchi & Saatchi at the end of 2008). Saatchi & Saatchi core mission: make sustainability irresistible to all clients, and brought Act Now on to help them get there. Net Impact was the doorway to the sustainability movement. She mentioned Adam Werbach's speech "Is Environmentalism Dead" and the Birth of Blue (Blue: social, cultural, financial and environmental sustainability). I seem to remember "The Death of Environmentalism" by Michael Schellenberger and ted Nordhaus being out a year or so before Adam's speech few years ago too. Wal-Mart received some more lip-time as Kate talked a bit about the PSP program they started.

Question #1 from moderator: How green is green enough?

Chris: No matter what you're looking at, there are no fixed standards yet. What does a company feel comfortable with? Sometimes there are limitations in terms of available data, e.g. carbon footprinting. Clients recognize that this is an evolving path and that they have to define their own important areas of focus. Carbon footprinting: direct emissions vs indirect, where are the boundaries drawn?

Benjamin: You may have discovered that many parts of the discussion are theoretical & general so we try to be concrete. A recent client had a mandate from The Governator regarding expectations for energy & emissions reductions for every building they owned or operated. NL
worked with them to develop a tracking system based on Business Metabolics software (inspiration + backbone for OpenEco at the conference). Use metrics to drive better performance. They allowed their client to measure current emissions & meet expectations of The Governator. It is about using tools to track and drive better performance.

Jessie: James Hanson < href="">BHAG; Backcasting. We find it very helpful to get companies to set big aspirational goals & then break things down to determine how to get there. It's about being realistic, and also being willing to dream as big as you can.

Kate (Saatchi): We do a similar process ultimately transitioning to a sustainable restorative work big fans of small steps AND game-changing platforms, fundamentally starting small then thinking more in the transformative realm, what are we gonna do to create a game-changing platform to put this out in the market.

The Moderator decided to answer the question as well, which was a little weird and Benjamin interjected with some comments to dispute some of the "wild-west mavericky" traits she was describing. Interesting

Kate made a great point about measuring sustainable progress by asking, "what's your spend on marketing vs. actual implementation?" If you're spending 500k on the building and 2M to amplify that, pay attention!

I skipped over a bunch of panelist commentary on questions to get to the audience questions, as I mentioned before, limited to 5 minutes.

Q1 from audience: There are lots of people in the consulting world. How do you differentiate yourselves from Lean + Six Sigma (sus biz consulting seems to be along those lines)?

Chris: Sustainability is not just about all processes. It's about the alignment of economic, ecological, and social objectives. How do these initiatives impact profitability and market share? Sometimes you have professionals focused on detailed Six Sigma, but also need big picture perspective that consultants can give.

Q2 for Benjamin. You mentioned CFOs. Do CFOs need to understand the benefits of sustainability?
The conversation is shifting. We're talking about exposure to financial risk. Some CFOs are getting this message loud & clear. To have the numbers people talking about this wooly environmental concept is critical; it's powerful. It depends company to company how receptive the CFO is to this conversational shift, and yet we're finding that's what's happening

Q3: what was your most helpful experience prior to going into consulting? Was it technical experience?
  • Kate: the ability to ask good questions.
  • Benjamin: data-driven part; synthesize complex/contradictory data; ultimately it's about communication
  • Chris described what MBA students really do: Translate stories into tangible business interests, and collaborating with those who have technical insight
Q4: Are salaries in sustain. consulting lower?
  • Jessie: At my company, we may not be making huge salaries, and we have life-work balance
  • Chris: differential exists - but there might be some degree of shift; many pros in this space come from the social sciences
  • Benjamin: If we're tying our compensation to the enormous financial impact of our work, there's great potential.
  • Kate: Not much elaboration. She mentioned the intangibles of the work, rewarding and powerful.
Many thanks to Dawn Danby for transcribing the notes that led to this post!

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