good company - Archive
If I had to pick just one thing I was proudest of in my working
life, it would be co-founding SustainAbility. When I recall it pretty
much started in our kitchen and a couple of back bedrooms, it's really
quite extraordinary to see what the organisation has become. We are
now expanding, both in numbers and in the number of offices, but
for more than a decade we struggled continuously to keep our size
down. We expressed it—in words coined by my co-Director Geoff
saying we wanted to grow our influence, not our numbers.
A key reason was that we wanted to retain our independence and our
strong links with NGOs, which we felt might be compromised if we
grew our overheads too fast and were forced to take whatever work
came along. We saw a fair few competitors go down this track and
implode. In the event, our strategy has worked pretty well, even
though some of the ethical dilemmas we have had to tackle have been
To help us in the process, we have been extremely lucky to be able
to recruit a world-class Council and Faculty. In various ways they—and
our Board, with Tom
Delfgaauw as our first Non-Executive Director—have
helped us tackle such dilemmas—and navigate our way through the complexities
of life at the interface between markets and ethics.
A corporate hybrid: When founded in 1987, SustainAbility was the
world's first consultancy operating at the business end of sustainable
development. When registered, its founder-directors were Julia
Hailes and myself, though Tom
Burke had given important early help.
Throughout, SustainAbility has been a hybrid, combining elements
of a consultancy, a think-tank and a campaigning group. Its evolution
is sketched under Timelines.
In November 2005, I took a new role and title: 'Founder and Chief
Entrepreneur', having previously been Chairman/Chair from 1995. Simultaneously, Sophia
Tickell took over as Chair and Mark Lee as our first CEO.
Some thoughts on my new role can be found at http://www.sustainability.com/about/about-article.asp?id=388.
By early 2003, SustainAbility had offices in London and New York
(subsequently moved to Washington, DC), with a core team of 22 people,
of 10 nationalities, and a Council and Faculty of more than 50 experts
worldwide. A Zurich office opened in the autumn of 2003.
Reality Check: The company's 15-year progress report, Reality
Check, can be downloaded as a pdf file from SustainAbility. A sense of what
life at SustainAbility was like in the early years can be had from
my published diary of 1989, A Year in the Greenhouse (1990).
Publications: Almost all of the reports I have worked on since 1987
have been produced—and most published—by SustainAbility