San Diego Union Tribune story by Morgan Lee
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Originally posted at http://m.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/dec/11/nurturing-green-avenues/.
With each passing year, the CEOs of major corporations grow more interested in the relationship between the environment and profitability. And when it comes to going green, they often aren’t sure where to start or what comes next.
La Jolla-based Malk Sustainability Partners helps companies uncover new efficiencies, minimize regulatory risk and capture new revenue in an environmentally sustainable way.
In two years, the six-employee consultancy has built a client portfolio that stretches from the West Coast across Asia. They include Union Bank; Bakrie Telecom, one of Indonesia’s largest mobile network operators; Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei; and California-based Marvell Technologies.
Managing Partner Andrew Malk says environmentally savvy consumers, empowered by new technology, are in many cases driving corporate change by tracing what exactly goes into products and services.
Corporations, he says, also have become keenly aware of the limits of the world’s finite resources as they plot their own futures.
Q: Can you describe what motivated your journey from NGO work in the late 1990s to what you do today? Is the business community in a better position to effect change than nonprofits or regulators?
A: In 1995, I went to work at the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington. I worked on a project to set up independent monitoring of the world’s primary forests. It turned out that IKEA was keenly interested in our work because, for the first time, they could figure out how to avoid sourcing their wood products from virgin forests. IKEA’s response convinced me of the vital role business plays in solving global environmental challenges.
The business community largely creates the choice of goods and services available in the economy. They have the power to offer better choices for the environment.
Q: Among consumers, there is often a disconnect between perceptions and the true impact of a business or industry on the environment? What’s your advice to time-pressed consumers who want to make informed choices?
A: I totally agree that we are asking too much of the consumer. Making the right environmental choice is often more challenging than making the right nutritional choice or figuring out the true dollar value of a product. There is a movement to consolidate certifications and ratings to simplify things. But already you can go to user-friendly websites such as
Q: What are some of the best businesses when it comes to being up-front about their carbon footprint and other impacts?
A: When it comes to being transparent about carbon footprints, a few notable companies are IBM, L’Oreal and UPS. In terms of companies with a significant presence in San Diego, HP, Qualcomm and Johnson & Johnson are leaders. These companies audit and publish their greenhouse gas emissions performance through forums like the Carbon Disclosure Project.
Q: Why are businesses like Google getting into energy research and the sourcing their own energy? Will all large businesses eventually have to generate some of their own electricity?
A: Last month Google announced that it is slowing its investment in renewable energy research, realizing that other companies are better positioned.
Still, Google and many companies are particular about where they source their energy. They see major changes coming in the energy market and want to be prepared. They are also sensitive to how much they are using, and reliability is another concern.
The large utilities generally do a good job of providing power, so I don’t think big businesses will have to generate their own. Still, if the utilities don’t meet these companies’ appetite to buy renewable energy like solar power, then the companies may need to find other sources.
Q:Big data centers and the so-called cloud sourcing of information require a lot of energy. Are those impacts being forgotten?
A: IT companies are dematerializing lots of previously physical products — CDs, books, movies — removing the production, shipping, and other life-cycle impacts.
Taking Google again as an example; yes, they consume as much power as an industrial user. But if one stops to consider how they are on track to supplant millions of Yellow Pages, replace many maps, and host email accounts that substitute for a tremendous amount of faxes, mail and shipping, the true impact may be positive.
The fact that Google has committed to disclosing their annual energy use is great. They know that when people are watching, the company will be even more motivated to shrink its energy demand and hopefully influence peers to do the same.
Q: Do you see hard evidence of a shift in board-room thinking about sustainability? Is there a telling example you can share?
A: We still have a long way to go, but yes, absolutely. From GE, to global banking giant HSBC, to consumer goods leader Unilever, CEOs at many of the world’s largest companies are equating the importance of corporate sustainability to traditional areas of strategy and performance. I’ve spoken with Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, who has driven a new corporate vision to halve the environmental impact of their products. This adds up because 2 billion people a day use Unilever products.
Q: Much of your work is in Asia. What distinguishes attitudes and motivations in the business community in Indonesia or China from corporate-think in California?
A: Multinationals and large domestic companies in Asia are waking up to the value of sustainability-driven opportunities. In many cases this is actually a direct result of increasing Western interest in sustainability. My partner, Zach Goldman, points out that many Asian companies are suppliers to Western corporations that are setting stricter environmental requirements for their supply chains. As the bar moves higher, Asian companies must improve their environmental performance or risk losing some major accounts.