As I noticed once again today, the most interesting and beautiful site on the drive across Kansas is the wind farm somewhere between Salina and Burlington. The expanse of hundreds of wind turbines always takes my breath away; today I stopped to take pictures. The timing was funny; I passed it right after listening to a podcast on the latest trends in sustainability initiatives. It got me thinking in general about what consulting firms can do, as well as what specifically we can do at Thought Ensemble, related to the environmental aspects of sustainability.

The most relevant decision Jim and I have made to date that will positively impact the environment is the decision to operate virtually. The reasons for this are numerous – we believe the experienced people we hire can operate more productively and at a lower cost to our clients using this model. The environmental benefits here are obvious: by operating out of home offices, we not only save on the environmental costs of another building, we significantly reduce the amount of time we spend in our cars.

That leaves two other areas where we directly impact the environment: travel and paper. Consultants are notorious for gluttony in both. Travel can be reduced, but not eliminated – the type of work we do will take us around the city, country and globe. Some of our work is much more effective in person – facilitating strategic planning workshops, for instance. But we can and will minimize this travel as much as makes sense; and coordinate in and out of town travel to maximize trips. I have noticed people are generally very open to working around a schedule when you let them know when you’ll be in their suburb or traveling to their city. People are also getting much more comfortable with teleconferencing and video conferencing, and those options can work well for some types of meetings.

The other area where we can make some bigger changes is in our use of paper. This is a cultural change, for consultants and our clients. Since we are in the business of strategic planning, our “product” is generally published on paper. Consultants joke about valuing reports based on cost per page, which drives longer reports. When I began doing this type of work, green wasn’t even discussed. Each week, we prepped long reports for the executive committee meetings, team meetings and phase completions. It sometimes seemed that the objective was to generate so much analysis that the executives had to believe you. The most significant waste of paper often comes along the way when printing and reviewing drafts. I’ve had clients who wanted draft versions of a 150-page final report color copied, printed and bound for ten in multiple meetings leading up to the final review.

When Jim and I built our Thought Ensemble writing format, we talked about how to minimize paper and then created a format that minimized pages, maximized content on each page, referenced external content versus including it all, and supported double sided and multiple pages per page printing. That’s the first step, but the better solution is to move to more electronic forms of presentation and we have some ideas to get there as well. For now, people like to have a report they can write on during a presentation and then grab out of their desk drawer later for reference, so we can offer a hybrid where we only print the few pages we plan to cover in a meeting and use a computer to project the rest as necessary.

The bigger opportunities for consultants are in helping our clients think about things differently. All solutions we propose should consider sustainability. For example, reorganizations should consider the sustainability implications of where and how people will work. Technology recommendations can be key enablers to sustainability initiatives.

So that’s what we are doing to shade Thought Ensemble green. I’m curious what other consultancies are doing or what ideas people have.