Green Consultant Boosts Efficiency and Profits
“Being environmentally responsible is not just about meeting the regulations and complying with the laws anymore, but that you’re actually setting the bar for other industries in your sector, and that you’re using good environmental management to expand your business and to make a profit. As an environmental consultant, I help you find a new way to innovate and become the most efficient, to squeeze every dollar that you can out of what you’re earning,” says Molly Long, president of A.W.E. Consulting.
In Part 1, we spoke with Long about her experience with the laws, rules, and regulations of environmental management. Part 2 discussed her role as an environmental auditor for ISO 14001 compliance. Part 3 focuses primarily on Long’s job as an environmental consultant, helping businesses become highly effective and sustainable.
BPGL: With the inauguration of President Obama, the nation is turning toward green jobs both to help us out of this economic slump and to improve the environment. As an environmental consultant, you’re already engaged in a green job. What does this part of your job entail?
LONG: As a consultant, I help my clients assess what they are doing right, what they are doing wrong, and help them figure out where they can improve. Plus, I offer any service that another environmental consulting or engineering firm can offer, such as permitting, training, compliance assessments, and environmental remediation projects.
BPGL: So, if I were to hire you as an environmental consultant for my business, what exactly would you do?
LONG: I would come in and clean up your environmental management methods, whether they are based on ISO 14001 or not. I would make sure you’re compliant with laws and regulations. But much more than that, I would help you go beyond compliance and turn what you’re doing environmentally into something positive for your business.
When I consult, I ask questions like, “How do you use your resources?” “How do you make sure that your people are doing the right job and that they’re competent to do it?” Every time an employee has an error, it costs you money. So it’s about error-proofing and looking at ways to improve, streamline, and increase efficiency. And that makes a business truly sustainable.
When it comes to consulting, I also believe in that age-old philosophy that it is better to teach someone to fish than to just give them a fish. Many consultants are looking for ways to ensure they can continue to consult. But at the end of the day, a consultant is not a member of the organization and does not share in the accountability for its success. I feel it is crucial for people to have the tools they need to be successful going forward without a consultant. This is a pretty unorthodox philosophy for a consultant.
BPGL: How are A.W.E.’s consulting services different from traditional consulting groups?
LONG: Traditional environmental consulting focuses on how to keep a client “out of trouble and under the radar for regulation.” This is based on the wrong-headed concept that meeting the law means your business is operating as well as possible. The ultimate goal in this philosophy is being able to get out of having to obey the law at all — it has nothing to do with doing what is sustainable.
For example, fluorescent bulbs have mercury in them, so they have the potential to pollute when they are disposed of, and they are regulated by the EPA. There is a market for recycling the mercury from bulbs, so rather than disposing of them and letting the mercury go into the ground, the mercury can be recovered and reused. Some lighting companies came out with “green” bulbs. These lights still have mercury in them, but it is better protected, so that the mercury will supposedly not come out when the bulb is broken. As a result, direct pollution for mercury releases from broken bulbs is reduced.
BPGL: That sounds like a great innovation.
LONG: It is a great innovation, but it has an unintended consequence. Now people throw these “green” bulbs in the trash, and the mercury isn’t recovered. It’s a disposable mentality driven by the desire to avoid regulation, rather than the desire to do what is environmentally sustainable. The problem is that now the market for recovered mercury is weakened because people would rather throw away their bulbs than separate them for recycling. The company that chooses to dispose of their bulbs rather than recycle them may think they’re saving money related to compliance and disposal costs, but in reality, everything becomes more expensive, because we have to use fresh resources to make the bulbs rather than using recovered mercury.
This is just one example of where “disposable thinking” has led us astray. In order for a business to be truly sustainable, they have to look at environmental management as more than just a cost center. Instead of thinking about minimizing disposal costs, they need to expand their concept of what is a “product” and help develop and expand the markets they can sell to. The philosophy here might be best expressed as “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” I believe it is crucial for consultants to be able to use their knowledge and experience to help their clients think outside the box so they can have an environmental edge over their competitors.
BPGL: What you’re doing is in line with what we profess at Blue Planet Green Living, which is that you can help to save the planet and be profitable at the same time.
LONG: You have to make money; otherwise it’s not sustainable. You can’t just do the right thing one time and leave it alone. It has to be something that you do over and over again, and that has a pathway for improving on what you’ve already done.
BPGL: So, for example, as you improve your business and streamline operations, you also create less carbon.
LONG: You create less carbon. You create less waste. You put fewer pollutants in the water. You use fewer raw materials. You use less energy. There are incredible metrics related to how sustainable businesses not only protect, but improve, the environment. But people don’t know how to tap into them, because they are focused very narrowly on compliance or the performance of an individual process.
A lot of companies never make the connection between what they’re doing to protect the environment and save energy costs and their global carbon footprint or the positive impact on their local community. I’m there to help them see that bigger picture, how everything plays together. I help them learn how to recognize the aspects of their operations that are truly “green.”
I’m a wildlife ecologist by degree. And ecology is the science of how everything interacts with everything else. There’s no one thing that you can do that’s not going to affect other things. So you have to look at everything in the system, because everything that you do inside the system is going to have far-reaching effects throughout that system. That’s my approach as I’m looking at the bigger picture.
BPGL: As a consultant, how do you motivate companies to consider complying with ISO standards?
LONG: I strongly encourage adopting the environmental management style described in the ISO 14001 standard. The standard is actually quite simple. The thousands of regulations out there can be distilled into simple concepts. And that’s what the standard does. One of the biggest problems that we have when folks start doing the standards, is that they approach it from a regulatory mind frame, like, There are going to be these thousands of requirements we’re going to have to do!
But the reality is, it’s very simple. You do whatever is efficient. When something’s not working, you recognize what’s not working. You don’t just correct the symptoms that are visible, but you actually try to discover the root cause of why it did not work, and fix it so that it doesn’t happen again. You prevent the recurrence of the problem.
BPGL: There are so many laws and regulations, and it seems new ones are created all the time. That’s got to be a huge problem for companies.
LONG: If you’re doing environmental management now because you’re reacting to a new law or laws and regulations that apply to you, how do you figure out what you need to do? Let’s get that out of the way and figure out who’s going to do what, when is he going to do it, and whether we’re doing it right or wrong. Then we can work on setting up things that will help you get to the point where laws and regulations are moot, because you’re so far beyond that now, and compliance is not really an issue for you.
It’s a matter of moving forward so that you can get away from those thousands and thousands of individual laws that apply to you, and work on the basic concept of, We’re not going to pollute. We’re complying with everything we need to. And we can get better. We’re always getting better. Those are the three basic things that everybody wants to work on. I’m trying to distill all of these thousands of individual laws they’re setting, with individual parameters for everything.
It really comes back to one simple thing, which is that we don’t want to pollute. We don’t want to make the environment worse than it is. And if we can, we want to try to be of benefit to the environment, not just to protect it, but actually to be a benefit to it, to make it a better environment than we found when we got here.
NOTE: Long, of A.W.E. Consulting, Inc. writes about ISO 14001 in her blog, Show Me the Shall. She will be teaching an introductory ISO 14001 course March 11-12 in Chicago. For more details, or to register for the training, visit A.W.E. Consulting or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Customized training sessions are also available.
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