Environmental consultants like Omaha-based Verdis Group are poised to make the green in 2011 by helping companies and organizations focus on being “green.”
In a report from national business research firm IBISWorld, environmental consulting is expected to be the top performing industry for small and medium-size businesses in 2011, beating out real estate appraisers and e-commerce and online auctioning for the top spot.
That's good news for Craig Moody and Daniel Lawse, Verdis Group's principals. They started the “green” consultancy in July 2009 and have grown it into a five-person firm that works with local clients including Omaha Public Schools, the Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska Medical Center to help their operations save money by making them more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.
The IBISWorld report cites strong industry growth over the past several years due to increased environmental regulations put in place by the federal government and higher demand for “green” consulting services. Additionally, the report projects homeowners will use the service more in the coming year than they did previously.
“This trend helps all facets of the industry's performance,” the report's author and senior analyst Toon van Beeck wrote.
In an interview, Moody and Lawse said Verdis Group is focused on working with and expanding its list of local clients, but that there are plans to grow regionally to cities like Des Moines, Sioux City, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D.
“There's a lot to be done outside of Omaha, but I don't think we have visions of offices in New York or (Los Angeles),” Moody said.
Verdis Group got its start at the Halo Institute, the nonprofit incubator that serves as a joint venture between Creighton University and Halo Creative Capital.
Born from Moody and Lawse's shared passion of sustainability, the firm has so far grown completely organically. Moody and Lawse haven't even marketed the company yet. And all of the clients they have inked to contracts were developed from word of mouth recommendations or from networking.
Moody serves on the board of directors of the Green Omaha Coalition and is involved with a number of other groups and committees. He said Verdis works with each client differently, but with the same goal of achieving what they call “the triple bottom line.”
That means they want to help organizations make sustainability-driven choices that are “good for profits, people and the planet.”
Verdis does that by addressing five main elements: food, water, energy, transportation and “stuff.”
The process usually starts with a number of conversations, even before a contract is signed.
Lawse also is involved in a number of sustainability-related groups and is the coordinator of sustainable practices for Metropolitan Community College.
He said Verdis first finds out where the organization wants to go in terms of its sustainability, how “green” it wants to become and how much it's willing to invest in those changes. Then, Verdis examines the organization and finds areas where it could become more sustainable.
That happens through interviews with executives and other stakeholders in the organization, sometimes with a sustainability committee or another group of employees.
Instead of just plopping a massive report on the company with laundry lists of things to implement, Verdis works with the organization to make the goals a reality. For example, with Omaha Public Schools, Verdis did energy audits to determine how efficient each of the district's buildings was, then developed a plan based on the findings.
“We stay in close contact so that we can work through the problems and solutions,” Lawse said.
According to projections from the IBISWorld report, environmental consulting, industry-wide, will expand revenues by 7.5 percent in 2011, while also adding jobs at a 7.2 percent clip. Current profit levels are about 5.6 percent, and barriers to entry and the intensity of competition are both listed as “low.”
Most companies look at the green revolution as an investment, Lawse said. Energy prices are volatile and move up and down on a daily basis, but fossil fuels have consistently gone up, so companies identify paring their utility costs as a necessity to grow profitability.
“Unquestionably, the driver for decision-makers is going to be financially driven,” Lawse said. “There's no doubt about that. The people aspects, however, are not to be overlooked.”
In today's business environment, companies regularly turn to sustainable, earth-friendly practices. Massive corporations like ConAgra Foods Inc. and Union Pacific issue sustainability and corporate citizenship reports that outline what they're doing to be “greener.”
Examples include increasing fuel efficiency, improving safety, bolstering employee wellness programs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, limiting water use and waste, and using smarter packaging.
As more companies and organizations move in that direction, that means more business for environmental and sustainability consulting firms like Verdis.
Additionally, Moody and Lawse said, many cities now are required to have sustainability included in studies and long-term development plan, so more municipalities will be looking for those consulting services, too.
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