Let me start off this post on a downbeat note: Improving sustainability is not a high priority for companies, according to data from the recent Forrester survey of business decision-makers. The survey, part of Forrester's Forrsights research, was fielded to 2,600 executives with budget authority at companies in Europe, North America, and Asia during the fourth quarter of 2010.
When we asked these corporate decision-makers about their company's top business priorities, revenue growth was #1, customer retention #2, and cost-cutting #3 (see Figure 1 below). Improving the corporate sustainability posture? Oops, it's down at #10, with just 10% of respondents indicating that sustainability is one of their firm's high priorities for 2011. When we cut those numbers by industry grouping, utilities/telecoms and public sector/healthcare are highest, with 15% prioritizing sustainability, compared with a low of just 7% in financial services.
Now, I'd like to contrast that eye-opening data with a much more optimistic set of figures from our recent research about the growth of sustainability consulting services. My colleague Daniel Krauss and I have worked with many of the large consultancies over the past few years and seen their sustainability practices grow from practically nothing to very substantial businesses.
Among 21 consulting firms that we surveyed late last year, 17 have a dedicated sustainability practice, and five of those count more than 1,000 practitioners (see Figure 2).
My travels last month took me back to the Bay Area for client meetings and a chance to spend some time at the Autodesk Gallery, a very cool space near the ferry building in San Francisco. Autodesk uses it to show off its customers' design innovations, not coincidentally created using the company's design software. The event in January showcased how customers are using Autodesk visualization software to improve the sustainability of their product designs and implementations. This is tackling sustainability right at its core: making products that are more energy- and resource-efficient, easier to manufacture, easier to reuse and recycle, right from the start. The products we saw at the event included:
A new research facility at NASA Ames down the peninsula. This super-green building is aimed at "beyond" LEED Platinum standards, incorporating a variety of innovative design and engineering elements all captured in building information modeling (BIM) software. The Feds will use it as a laboratory for energy efficient buildings, spreading its best practices and learnings across the broad portfolio of US government buildings and research facilities. NASA is also working to make the design blueprint a working model for efficient ongoing operation of the building.