By Nikki White
Markets fluctuate. In the past year, I have ridden a market roller coaster in an environmental arena that has seen high peaks, which led to my dream job, and low valleys, which put me among the unemployed.
I was hired as a greenhouse gas analyst a year ago by Clear Carbon Consulting, a small, start-up climate change consulting firm in the Washington, D.C., area. As more companies were becoming interested in reducing their carbon footprint, the demand for Clear Carbon’s services—creating competitive advantages for companies by measuring, managing, and mitigating their carbon footprints—was also increasing. Among the first full-service carbon consulting firms in North America, Clear Carbon Consulting became a leader in corporate and product-based carbon footprints, having successfully completed multiple- year projects for clients that include Walmart, News Corporation, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and nearly 50 other companies and NGOs.
Clients engaged Clear Carbon to help them implement practical solutions that would also create a return on their investment. Much like an auditor for various environmental issues, Clear Carbon looks within an organization for waste and excess spending on utilities. Many clients were able to see at least a 10 percent reduction in their utility usage in the first year, just by institutionalizing behavioral changes. In several The cases, minimal capital expenditures on energy efficient equipment were all it took to realize significant savings.
One of the best examples of cost savings occurred within a company that we determined could save more than $400,000 a year just by turning off their computers overnight. The cost of this analysis was minimal and has the potential to save the company millions of dollars in just a matter of years.
The United States is falling behind many developed countries on climate change initiatives. Some U.S. corporations are forced to measure their carbon footprints in order to do business in foreign countries. These foreign influences, the threat of U.S. carbon cap and trade policies, and the interest in carbon offset purchases in early 2008, drove the carbon consulting business to an all time peak. Many consulting firms needed very little marketing to keep their businesses thriving. Companies were calling us, and we had repeat business with all of our current clients. Things were good. Very good.
When Wall Street has problems, however, they can compound on environmental firms. Any market changes are felt especially quick at small firms. Clients began to delay consulting work when financial futures were in question. Proposals stopped coming though the door and projects were suspended indefinitely because of budget cutbacks. Though environmental professionals are able to save corporations millions of dollars in operating costs—something companies should value in an economic downturn— decision makers often view environmental efforts as a luxury good.
At Clear Carbon, the economic crisis hit home in October. After a long list of clients decided to postpone or cancel environmental analyses that could have saved them money, I was laid off.
Measuring and managing a corporate carbon footprint can be an easy way for companies to save money in hard economic times. Hopefully this avenue to increased profitability will become more evident and prove the important role that environmental professionals play in a company’s bottom line.
Niki White is a PERC enviropreneur fellow and was a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton, focusing on water, auditing, energy, and emergency management with various government clients. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.