By Matthew Savage
I recently interviewed Julie Menter, senior consultant at Blu Skye Sustainability Consulting. Blu Skye is a strategy consulting firm dedicated to introducing business to sustainable practices. She shared some great insights into the innovative, and sometimes misunderstood, world of Sustainability Consulting.
Julie has been at Blu Skye for a year helping clients use sustainability as a tool for business innovation. Prior to joining Blu Skye, Julie was a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the San Francisco office for three years, where she also started the office’s green team. Julie holds an MBA from the Ecole de Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (Paris, France). In her free time, she is a leader of the Net Impact San Francisco Professional Chapter.
Matthew Savage: What is it like to work at Blu Skye Sustainability Consulting?
Julie Menter: It’s amazing. I love it! Blu Skye has a really ambitious mission. Everyone here is committed to changing the world through our work with our clients. It’s really quite amazing to work with people who have that level of commitment to having an impact and that level of belief in the way the world should be.
In addition to strategy work, similar to the work that I was doing at BCG, I think Blu Skye also really understands people and how you influence them, which I think is a really big key to making sustainability stick in a lot of businesses. And so that’s an area where I have learned a lot and that’s been personally really interesting and different from what I did at BCG.
Just to give you an example, we organize leadership offsites with key executives in the business and take them to places where they can experience first-hand either the impacts of environmental devastation or understand what kind of solutions are out there. We organized a trip with senior executives in the apparel industry and took them to look at a conventional cotton field and feel what it’s like to have pesticides on your hands and how it burns. Then we took them to an organic field and understood the difference it makes to farm workers and the difference it makes to the environment in a very personal way. Since then, they have made huge commitments in sourcing organic cotton and really shifted the industry.
MS: What are you working on now and what are you most excited about?
JM: I am currently working on sustainable agriculture for a large retailer – it’s a fascinating project! Given the increase in global population and the change in diets, meaning people eat more meat, we’re going to need to double food production between now and 2050, without using more water, or more soil, or more energy than today [we both laugh nervously!], and it’s a huge challenge. And when you think that today, agriculture accounts for about 30% of GHG emissions globally, if you include deforestation. It’s one of the biggest challenges that we are facing globally. So, it’s really exciting to have the opportunity to influence a company with a big potential for impact and play and important role in solving this problem.
What we’re working on right now is helping them think through what goals they want to commit through, globally. So, what are the two or three areas that they want to tackle to be able to significantly shift the system? And when you think of the position of a retailer, they have a number of interesting leverage points. One of the big ones that I am particularly excited about is around efficiency. As a retailer, how can you encourage your suppliers to adopt better growing practices that help you reduce your use of fertilizer and water while maintaining or increasing yields? What’s particularly interesting and challenging for us is: what’s the right role that creates value for everyone in the supply chain, without creating undue costs? When you think of the cost of audits, for example, you don’t really want to go to a system where you are creating a lot of addition costs, but rather encouraging everyone along the supply chain to be more efficient.
One of the ways that we are figuring this out is through a lot of conversations with both people in the business, to understand what is feasible and not feasible, as well as with academics and non-profits. Our role is to tie in these very different perspectives in a way that makes business sense for our client, as well as is most beneficial for the world at large. So, being at the nexus of all of this information, allows us to gain insights that none of the individual players are able to get to on their own.
MS: Outside of work, are there other sustainability projects that you are working on?
JM: I am a leader of the Net Impact Chapter in San Francisco and we are currently organizing a sustainability Unconference that we are calling the GreenerMind Summit. It’s going to be a group of my favorite people in the Bay Area – a lot of movers and shakers of the sustainability community – going to the beautiful woods of Mendocino to connect, learn and prepare to change the world! I recommend anyone reading this to participate.
And at home, because I am working on sustainable agriculture, I have tried to learn how you actually grow food. So, I took a permaculture class and now I’m a certified permaculture designer, and just started growing radishes, carrots and snap peas on my back porch! It’s smaller scale sustainability but still really satisfying.
Matt is the Chief Sustainability Officer for The Quality of Life Foundation, a San Francisco-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit startup that seeks to engage volunteers to plant trees in public spaces in order to build stronger and healthier individuals, communities, and ecosystems.