Will Sarni Helps Coke and Cisco Save the Planet and Make More Money

Will Sarni firmly believes that if your company is not engaging in viable sustainable initiatives, it’s positioning itself as a dinosaur. I asked Will how he advises companies–like Coca-Cola and Wrigley–on sustainability, whether sustainability has finally shed its skin as a moral initiative and when things ‘tipped.’

Will is the Founder and CEO of DOMANI Sustainability Consulting based in Denver. DOMANI is an environmental consulting firm that helps the private sector and large multinationals develop or expand their sustainability strategies.

Why do companies come to you for help? Is it to increase profits or gain better brand recognition or public image?

Typically, our clients have at least one of three objectives: Increasing revenue, either through developing new products or services or by increasing brand value; managing risk by understanding their risk exposure through their supply chain; or reducing operating costs.  The last one has been a major issue for most of our clients this year. They’re looking for ways to reduce their energy spend and carbon footprint.

For a small firm, you have very high profile clients–Coca-Cola, Cisco Systems and Pfizer–how do you attract them?

We pursued after these companies. In the beginning we were aggressive in identifying companies who had public interest in sustainability and we worked hard to get face-time with them. With sustainability and green going ‘mainstream’ more recently, half of our clients now come to us. So there’s been a fundamental shift in how we attain work these days, which I think really reflects marketplace awareness of sustainability.

When we started 10 years ago, we were working with European multinational companies. Since then, there’s been a change and we’re seeing more U.S. multinationals focused on sustainability. Our clients cut across all industry sectors and include Alcoa, Del Monte, Wrigley, Hewlett Packard, Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, Pfizer.

Can you share one of your projects?

We work with Cisco Systems in two main capacities. The first is supporting the company in its global energy and green house gas management. We help Cisco understand what its energy and carbon footprints look like, establish goals and implement a carbon mitigation strategy.

Second, we help quantify the energy or carbon savings that comes from using a Cisco product or portfolio of products.  We communicate to customers that if they use a Cisco IT product, they will save X amount with respect to their own carbon footprint.

Have we reached the tipping point when companies see sustainability as smart business instead of a moral issue or a luxury?

That does seem to be the case. Businesses have always had environmental programs for compliance and risk management and these were seen as a cost to doing business. Now the paradigm has shifted dramatically. Companies are still acting on compliance–they have to–but it’s gone beyond that. The environment is now an important consideration in determining how companies will drive revenue.

Wal-Mart’s a great example of a company that recognized there was significant bottom-line savings in removing waste from its supply chain. Wal-Mart was able to get its 60,000-plus suppliers to reduce their energy and material use and take packaging material out of their products. It’s a very different way of thinking about environmental performance.

When did things tip?

Two to three years ago we saw a real shift in thinking. Prior to that, my colleagues and I would go out and talk to companies and need to make the business case for sustainability. Now we’re not making that case. Companies recognize that there’s value associated with sustainability.  They’re asking, “How can I reduce my energy spend and take material out of my packaging because my energy costs are going up?” They recognize that their shareholders and investors have an interest in this.

In today’s economic climate, is the triple bottom-line a luxury?

The bulk of the companies that we’ve been engaged with see real value in sustainability. They’re continuing to do what they set out to, but they’ve tightened their budgets and are trying to achieve more by using internal resources and partnering with Non-governmental Organizations. These companies tend to view sustainability as a critical piece of their business. We’re not seeing companies pull the plug on social or environmental responsibility because none of the business incentives for these projects have gone away.  The companies we work with are experiencing a financial return and increased brand recognition.

How do you approach each new client and project?

Companies that come to us for help understand that there’s value in implementing a sustainability program. Our role is to determine which sustainability initiatives to implement and then quantify the savings associated with it. Essentially, we’re operationalizing sustainability.

Aligning sustainability with the client’s corporate strategy is essential. What you don’t want to do is to create a sustainability program that doesn’t support the company’s overall corporate strategy. Almost every green opportunity looks good, but it’s important to know what the first and second steps should be, as opposed to ‘let’s just do 12 things because they sound good for the company.’

We tend to advise companies not to lead with a marketing or communications initiative. Make sure that if you’re going to go external in your messaging around sustainability, that you’re well grounded in performance, that what you’re saying can be well validated and quantified.

Can corporate sustainability exist independently of business?

I’ve always approached environmental issues from a business perspective. Any environmental work I’ve done has been aligning a company’s sustainability initiatives with an overall business strategy. If you’re not creating business value around sustainability, than it’s just an add-on and fluff.

Taking environmental and social performance and using these measures to drive economic performance is the key component in all of this.



Leave a comment
  1. Khuram Malik July 2, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    Hi Olivia!

    Interesting interview, but the audio was a little bit difficult to hear?
    Would love to see this in video form like on Mixergy :)

    Am adding the site to my RSS :)

  2. admin July 2, 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    Hi Khuram,
    I’m glad you enjoyed it. Totally agree that the audio is difficult. I’m looking for a new phone recording program to improve the sound quality. The technical aspect of these interviews are not where my heart is, so if you have suggestions, please let me know.

    Thanks, Khuram.