Sustainability Coach Takes Her Expertise to Market

Jennifer Woofter runs a consulting firm out of her Silver Spring apartment.
Jennifer Woofter runs a consulting firm out of her Silver Spring apartment. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Anita Huslin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2007

Big business's decision to jump on the green bandwagon has created a host of opportunities for consultants with environmental expertise.

Jennifer Woofter recognized the possibilities six years ago, when she was a research analyst for Calvert Group, one of the country's largest families of socially responsible mutual funds. She judged companies on whether they met Calvert's standards for social and environmental performance, looking at their energy and water use, recycling numbers, workplace diversity and human rights records.

"At the end of the day I'd say thumbs up or thumbs down, should we invest in this company," she said. It was an "incredible opportunity," she said, to understand industry trends as the corporate world adjusted to this new yardstick of performance.

That knowledge provided valuable footing for a business that she launched three years ago, targeted at helping smaller companies evaluate their environmental impacts and develop programs to reduce them.

Strategic Sustainability Consultants itself has a small "greenprint." She operates the private business from a small home office in Silver Spring. Her biggest pollution producers are travel, which she tries to mitigate by having teleconferences and e-meetings with her staff -- all consultants or interns -- and hosting seminars online.

She helps her clients by analyzing their operations and helping them to develop a sustainability plan. She has flown to Key West to do a "green office audit" of Jimmy Buffett's flagship Margaritaville store. She's traveled to Alaska to help a Canadian mining company educate its workers about the new annual sustainability report Woofter helped it develop.

"Early on, I was trying to figure out what's the most compelling sell, how do you convince companies that they need this?" she said. "Then I realized I don't need to sell companies. They're out there already, and my job is just to figure out how to find them."

In other cases, her firm helps companies understand and respond to the changing marketplace.

In recent months, for example, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Bayer, Frito-Lay and Xerox have announced plans to spend billions of dollars on programs to cut their energy costs, offset greenhouse-gas emissions, invest in clean energy and sell more environmentally friendly products.

This year, American Greetings, the Cleveland card manufacturer, hired Woofter's firm to help it understand Wal-Mart's sustainability initiatives and its implications for their sales to the discount giant.

"Wal-Mart wanted to encourage its supply chain to become more environmentally friendly. But they don't really encourage anyone. They say it and their supply chain jumps," Woofter said. "Suppliers are understandably nervous about it."

She got in touch with Wal-Mart's sustainability consultants, arranged meetings with them and American Greetings executives, and started developing a "green" action plan for the card company.

"You can be dragged kicking and screaming, or you can take the lead," she said.

Joel Makower, an author and visiting fellow at the University of Virginia, belongs to a constellation of boutique consultants that help firms such as Dupont, Nike, GE, Procter & Gamble and General Motors.

"The greening of business has gone from movement to market as companies understand there's opportunities for improving the bottom line and creating new business value," he said. "There's a new breed of consultants growing up around that premise."

But, he added, companies trying to define what the trend might mean for them do not necessarily have to go out and hire a consultant. They are just as likely to find resources through industry trade associations, the Sustainable Business Network of Washington, the Department of Energy's Industrial Assessment Centers and the Commerce Department's Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

"Chances are you're not the first in your business that has tried to solve that problem," he said.

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