Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sustainability Opinion Leader: Will Sarni, CEO of Domini Sustainability Consulting

One of the objectives of this blog is to share the insights and observations of opinion leaders who can help each of us as practitioners involved in environmental, energy, and natural resources issues -- and particularly the interrelationship among these issues -- understand the challenges and opportunities of today as well as tomorrow. In a word, how does the world "sustain" itself economically, environmentally, and socially?

Yesterday I had lunch with one of America's top sustainability opinion leaders, Will Sarni, chief executive officer of the sustainability consulting firm Domani. If you want to know more about sustainability, and how it is being carried out in one leading consulting firm, then I would suggest you get to know about Domani (which means "tomorrow" in Italian) and Mr. Sarni. His views resonate in the sustainability community and his experience demonstrates the types of professionals whose services are being highly prized today and will be even more so in the future.

But first a bit of background. Here's how Domani describes itself:

"A consulting firm focused on providing innovative business and technical sustainability solutions to companies committed to increasing revenue, mitigating risk and improving operating efficiency."

A glance at Domini's client list reflects why Will Sarni is a key player in the sustainability discussion:

  • Alcoa
  • BASF
  • Cisco Systems
  • Coca Cola Company
  • Del Monte
  • State of New Mexico

Mr. Sarni is just finishing his second book, "Greening Brownfields: Remediation Through Sustainable Development," which will be published by McGraw-Hill later this year and he has been featured in a documentary "Life 2.0 Better Living Through Clean Technology."

What makes Will Sarni an interesting and thought-provoking voice for sustainability, I think, begins with his own career. Educated as an earth and environmental scientist, Mr. Sarni's first jobs were in the environmental consulting field. His expertise was ground water and he was involved in many environmental clean up projects. However, after having done that for a decade his views began to change as he saw one clean up after another. Why can't things be built right the first time, he wondered, thus obviating the need for a later clean up.

With that in mind, he became involved in more "comprehensive" consulting solutions that involved sustainability rather than just how something is cleaned up. Starting at that point, he began to look for holistic solutions that were sustainable.

His commitment to that underlying philosophy holds true even in today's economy. He recently told the magazine Sustainability, "I see people examining their budgets, but I don't see anyone pulling the plug" on sustainability-related projects. "Everyone realizes they need to protect their brand." Looked at in a broader context, he noted, "We really have an opportunity to build on the destruction of the old economy."

Mr. Sarni's views on how sustainability projects are unfolding are illuminating:

  • All professionals -- business people, consultants, engineers, lawyers and other legally trained experts, marketers, et.al. -- need to understand that the pursuit of sustainable solutions is a collaborative effort; no one person or profession holds all of the answers.
  • Enormous opportunities are at hand for individuals and firms that are perceptive and forward-thinking.
  • Business and technical issues related to resource management must be approached in a creative yet practical manner.

For most people the term "sustainability" is a rather fuzzy nondescript term. For Will Sarni it is a way forward to address the challenges that we face today. There is much to learn from individuals like Will Sarni, and fortunately for us his blog is available for us to read and think about.

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