Making Everyday Products Efficiently with Institute for Sustainable Communication’s Don Carli

July 18, 2011

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Don Carli’s career in marketing consulting spreads nearly three decades, but in the last 12 years, his focus has shifted to sustainability measures in the print and supply chain worlds. He splits time directing the Institute for Sustainable Communications and Nima Hunter, a consulting firm he founded in the ’80s that centers on the before-mentioned issues. The list of Carli’s clients is large — Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, Adobe and so many more. The overarching goal: how to make the products we use every day more efficient and effective. The Institute for Sustainable Communications’ mission ties directly in: to raise awareness and build capacity for the sustainable use of print and digital media. “For the majority of people, ‘green’ is just not a motivating factor,” Carli admits. “People first and foremost focus on primary benefits — utility, convenience, effectiveness. If it also happens to be green, that may be the tiebreaker in the decision.”


JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and today we’re so honored to have Don Carli on with us. Don is the Senior Research Fellow with the Non-Profit Institute for Sustainable Communications. Welcome to Green is Good, Don. DON CARLI: Thank you, John. It’s a pleasure to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Don, you are one of the great thought leaders here in the green revolution, and we’re so honored to have you. Before we get into any questions about specifics and things of that such, what we always love to ask our guests, so our listeners can really understand how this whole sustainability revolution and how the green revolution came to be and who are the leaders, talk a little bit about your journey, where you started, and how you ended up where you are today. DON CARLI: Sure. I’ve been a strategy and marketing consultant industry for about 25 years, not really an environmentalist, but someone who looks at the factors that make value creation and the management of risk possible, focusing a great deal on industries having to do with printing and publishing and advertising, marketing communications. About 12 years ago, I was managing a research project for the CEO of a company based in Europe, who followed the research advice, frankly, made a fortune, and then was frustrated with his opportunities to invest his fortune in a way that was sustainable. At the time, there really were no alternatives available. This is Dr. Hans Zulliger, who was the Chairman of a company called Gray Tag. Together with another group of investors, they actually created the fund that came to be the partner with Dow Jones in creating the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. It was Dr. Zulliger who introduced me to the concept of sustainability as a set of lenses that could be used for governing investment decisions and management decisions, that could balance economic, environmental, and social performance to achieve superior returns, superior performance. That was really the breakthrough for me because I think that, in many ways, the green revolution of the seventies, and I was a part of that, really failed to ever become a mainstream force for change. It always remained in the margins of 10 to 15% of the population caring about it. For the majority of people, green is just not a motivating factor. Even Walmart has come to realize that people, first and foremost, focus on primary benefits, whether that’s utility or convenience or effectiveness. If it also happens to be green, for the majority of people, that may be the tiebreaker in the decision, but green isn’t the primary motivating factor. This insight from Dr. Zulliger really helped me to understand how to frame sustainability in terms that people who make business decisions, in particular, can incorporate into their strategies and into their day-to-day operational decisions. I’ve continued, for the past 12 years, to focus on sustainability as it pertains to the supply chains of print and digital media and helping not only business and government, but individuals understand how to make better informed decisions about the value and the impact associated with print media, digital media, that they take for granted or misunderstand today. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You wear two hats, Don. I want our listeners to hear this because you wear two fascinating hats. One is you’re the Director of the Institute of Sustainable Communications. If you have your iPad or laptop or if you’re in front of your desktop, look up this great organization. It’s It’s a great organization, and you’re also the CEO of Nima Hunter. is how our listeners can look you up over there. Talk a little bit about the two hats you wear and how you came to wear those hats. DON CARLI: I founded Nima Hunter in 1986. It has been and is a marketing research business intelligence and strategy consulting firm that has focused on primarily industries associated with printing, publishing, advertising, marketing, media, and communications. In that role, I’ve generally conducted marketing research, focus groups, surveys, interviews, and helped companies like Xerox, Adobe, Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, 3M, DuPont, with strategies for the development and marketing of products and services related to communications. For many years, it didn’t focus on sustainability; it focused on how to develop new products that were more efficient, more effective, more productive. It was, again, that insight that came from my work with Dr. Zulliger’s organization that helped me see sustainability as kind of a new IQ test for management. The Institute was founded about 10 years ago, realizing that for the most part, in North America, the commercial printing, advertising, and marketing industries really had very low awareness of sustainability. There was no real commercial opportunity for Nima Hunter to be doing marketing research and so on associated to that, but there was a need. The proper role of a non-profit is to serve society, to provide the public with benefit that isn’t provided by government or business. On that, the Institute was founded with the mission to raise awareness and to build capacity for the sustainable use of print and digital media. My role at the Institute is I manage a set of programs that primarily engages major advertisers, major publishers, and major media companies in helping them to understand how sustainability can be applied to their businesses in ways that create value and mitigate risk and help deliver the kinds of communications capabilities that brands require, consumers require, government requires in ways that are not exacting a toll on the environment or on society that isn’t accounted for. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Without giving away any trade secrets, can you give our listeners some of the great specific examples of some of the wonderful brands you’ve helped here close the sustainability stakeholder loop? DON CARLI: Absolutely. The Institute has a number of programs, and one of our programs has been to support publishers and advertisers and media companies that are trying to understand what the environmental impacts of their supply chains are. Along those lines, not long ago, we were engaged to help The Economist magazine understand the carbon footprint of producing The Economist magazine in North America. In other cases, we’ve worked with the investment banking for Piper Jaffray, helping them to understand the carbon footprint, environmental impacts, associated with all of the printing and marketing communications that they undertake in North America. In many cases, these projects are undertaken providing the organization with confidentiality because they really don’t know what they don’t know. They’re, in some cases, almost afraid to find out what the answer to the question is, so we provide them with an ability to do that in a proprietary manner. Generally, we request of them that they share some aspect of what has been discovered with the public. In that regard, Piper Jaffray allowed us to publish the top line findings from it. It can be quite striking. The average corporation today spends about 8.5% of every dollar they earn in revenue on advertising. Collectively, advertising, just for paid media, whether it be TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, mobile advertising, represents in excess of half a trillion dollars a year in economic activity. Those purchases spawn trillions of dollars of gross domestic product, of economic activity. For every dollar of economic activity, there is a set of environmental impacts that can be estimated. Our objective over time through the Institute is working with brands and publishers and media companies to not simply estimate those, but to measure them, and through measurement, to proactively eliminate or reduce those impacts, to the point where the media that advertisers and brands and government depend on will be truly sustainable. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Obviously, when you set up Nima Hunter in 1986 and then became the Director of the Institute of Sustainable Communications, in many ways, you were very early in the curve. But as Mike and I are speaking with you, Mike’s on his laptop, I’m on my iPad, and we’re looking at your great website. I’ve recently canceled so many of my subscriptions and read so much of my stuff now on my iPad. When I first met you in person, Don, you’re not only a businessman and an eco-preneur, but you’re also a thought leader here in the sustainability and green revolution. I want to share with our listeners two great pieces that you’ve put out in the last couple years. I remember this article very well. It’s going paperless, not as green as you may think, and then also your work with PBS, Is digital media worse for the environment than print? Can you share with our listeners some of the thought-provoking issues that you raised in both of these pieces and where we are today in this whole process? DON CARLI: Yeah. The basic premise is there’s a hidden life that most people are either unaware of or just have a set of misperceptions about behind every business activity. All media, regardless of whether it’s print or digital, are associated with the extraction of metals and minerals and other resources from either a farm, a field, a mine, or a well. They all require logistics, transport, shipments of those raw materials for primary manufacturing. Those primary manufacturing steps typically involve uses of energy, most of which in the United States is coal-powered energy. In their manufacturing and in their use, they are also uses of energy and water and generation of waste, which may or may not result in an impact on quality of life or the quality of the environment or biodiversity. In these articles, I was trying to draw attention to a very common dilemma that is presented to consumers. In some cases, it’s presented knowingly by groups who, frankly, have a reason for not wanting print to be used and wanting them to shift to digital alternatives, because it’s very good for their business. It goes straight to their bottom line as profit. In other cases, it’s not necessarily malicious intent, but in many cases a virtuous intent. They really truly believe that they’re doing something good by promoting an alternative to print media. I think we often fail to understand that those appeals are very emotional. As a species, we tend to have created a sort of anthropomorphization, where you’re basically making a thing human-like. We anthropomorphize trees. We treat trees like people. We think of them as members of our family, in some cases. When you say it’s going to kill a tree, it’s almost a very personal way of describing something bad that’s going to happen. Frankly, if you present the consumer with the fact that using a printed medium is going to kill trees, they feel bad. They just feel bad. Nobody wants to feel bad, no one wants to feel as though they’re killing a tree, but when you set that tension up in a person, you can also present them with a quick way to resolve that conflict by saying, “You can always go digital, and that will resolve your conflict. You won’t be killing a tree.” That argument is not necessarily supported by the evidence of what sustainably harvested wood fiber and properly recovered and recycled print media, in fact, do. They don’t necessarily kill trees any more than having corn on the cob kills corn. It’s a crop. Wood is a resource that is renewable. On the other hand, the article is really saying if you care about trees and deforestation, it’s an important thing. We do need renewed forests. We do need to be concerned about deforestation globally, and while it is a problem in some parts of the world, in Indonesia and Brazil, frankly, it’s not a problem in the United States. We have more forests covering the United States today than we did 100 years ago. That’s primarily because the forest products industry, which has had its problems over the years, has improved dramatically in its focus on sustainable forestry, making sure that biodiversity is preserved. For every tree harvested, two or three are planted. We’ve got to be differentiating between all print and print that comes from wood derived from sustainably managed forests that is recovered and recycled. We have a very high recovery rate for waste paper in the United States. MIKE BRADY: Don, it sounds like, really, the emotional appeal is also very simplistic in this argument. It’s really incumbent upon each of us to get past the bumper sticker mentality and the feel good, and say, “OK, great. I hear what you’re saying, but let’s think this through a little bit.” DON CARLI: And, in fact, what I drew attention to is that we do have a problem with deforestation in the United States in a very specific region of the country. Ironically, the primary driver for that deforestation is not paper making or the production of print media or Yellow Pages or whatever; it’s the extraction of coal that’s driving deforestation, in particular, in West Virginia, where hundreds of square miles of pristine forests have been permanently eliminated, and where thousands of rivers and streams have been filled in with the tops of mountains that have been blown off to extract coal inexpensively. At present, about 25% of all of the coal-fired power comes from West Virginia. MIKE BRADY: In other words, we’re getting rid of a sustainable resource to mine a finite resource. DON CARLI: And, to burn it, and not only destroy those headwater streams that are feeding the Mississippi and the Ohio, and all of the various newts and other biodiversity resources that were unique to those regions, and flattening those mountains and destroying communities, frankly. It’s a very serious issue. We may not quite realize that in addition to the energy that’s being used to power those data centers that are hosting the pages that have now migrated from print to digital, there’s all of the downstream waste, which the infrastructure requires for digital media are producing, something that I know John is very familiar with. Electronic waste is, in fact, a very significant part of our solid waste landfill problem right now. Yet, it’s not thought of in relation to the iPhone, the iPad, the BlackBerry, the laptop, that people are using. They aren’t thinking about the full life cycle, how much energy and materials required to make that digital media alternative to print media possible, and what the impact in terms of toxic waste and emissions are in the process. So. that’s what the article was about. In fact, it was interesting. I was quite gratified that the Newhouse School of Journalism nominated it for best single article in the public service this year for their annual Mirror Awards. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Nice. Congratulations, and deservingly so, because it really was very thought-provoking and made us think differently about everything, not just in the same legacy ways that we have been all programmed to think. Don, we have about five minutes left, and I want to cover a couple other issues because the breadth of your experience and the visibility that you have is so wide, I want you to share some of that information and knowledge with our listeners. If you’ve just joined us right now, we’ve got Don Carli on with us. Don is the Director of the Institute of Sustainable Communications, besides being the CEO of Nima Hunter. You can find them at and Don, you talked about how big advertising is, and how we are, in so many ways, still doing offline advertising but digital advertising, what we’ve seen since 1998 and the rise of Google has been sort of breathless. Talk a little bit about what you do with regards to more sustainable supply chains in the media industry and the impacts that you see coming now and down the road. DON CARLI: Sure. The most important thing to realize is that integrated media, all of the studies that have been done recently show that appropriately integrated media is far more effective than the use of any single medium. For many reasons, we will continue to need not only digital media. There are important advantages to some aspects of digital media, but combined with print media, whether it be out of home, whether it be newspaper, magazine, direct response, etc., the challenge is to make sure that the energy that was used to produce and distribute the media, whether it’s print or digital, is as efficiently used as possible. In other words, how can we communicate with less energy? Secondly, how can we ensure that the energy, to the greatest degree possible, is renewable as opposed to nonrenewable? We ask the same thing about the materials that are employed and the amount of water that’s employed and polluted in the process. The first and most important thing is to get advertisers and the media companies to identify and quantify those quantities of energy and materials and waste that are associated with what they sell. That’s not a simple task. In part, it’s because the industry is so complex and so diverse. It is something we’re making progress with. The Institute has been working with the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and in Europe, with organizations like the Festival of Media and others, to bring major advertisers together, brands that spend billions of dollars a year to find a constructive way to encourage media companies to disclose what the carbon, the water, and other aspects of their products are from their product life cycles. Consumers don’t really need to know it in making a decision about whether to buy this magazine or that, or whether to use online or offline, but ultimately, it will matter that the sources of energy are reliable, are renewable, are less subject to interruption, whether it be through the vagaries of markets or whether it be to natural disasters. The materials they rely on will be available and affordable at a price that people are willing to pay. If corporations can’t effectively advertise and market their products, in effect, there will be no growth in our economy, and without growth in our economy, we really can’t have the sustainability and quality of life that we all seek. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I agree. We’re down to the last two minutes, Don. This is open for you to share with our listeners. Our listeners are not only national, but they’re international because of the beautiful nature of the technology revolution and the iTunes network. We get downloads, literally thousands every week, from China, Korea, France, Brazil, England, all around the world. Please share with our listeners some of your final thoughts on what you’re doing both as Director of the Institute of Sustainable Communications and also your great work as the CEO of Nima Hunter. DON CARLI: With Nima Hunter, I continue to work with leading producers of technology for digital printing, for example, the Xeroxes, the Hewlett-Packards, the Kodaks, the Konica Minoltas, etc. to help them understand how sustainability can become a value aspect of their products and their services, how to communicate to their markets. I encourage consumers and businesses that are buying technologies to ask those manufacturers, “Tell me how much energy does it take to create a page? How much energy does it take to create a website? What kind of energy is used? How much material is required? Is the material renewable? Have you conducted life cycle analysis? Is that published?” Life cycle analysis is really where, I think, the Institute and Nima Hunter have common ground. We work with companies to employ the disciplines of life cycle analysis based on standards to understand those flows of energy, materials, and waste, and so on associated with products, and to allow businesses to present the results of that to consumers in a meaningful way. An example being that the Walmart Sustainability Consortium is doing now to come up with a sustainability index or label on every product, so that a consumer can understand this is a product that not only is at a price I can afford to pay, but doesn’t have an impact on the environment or on society that I am unwittingly paying for. Those are the hidden impacts that I think we have to become increasingly sensitive to. The Institute’s got other programs. It works on students. We help to provide scholarships to inner city youth in helping them to pay for their college educations. We have mentoring and internship programs with young leaders in the marketing and advertising and communications fields. We work with companies on their marketing and promotion programs. For example, our Eco 360 T-shirt program helps them understand how a common communication product, a T-shirt, can be reengineered to be made of 100% recovered and recycled material, printed digitally without water, manufactured locally, paying people a living wage in the United States, and having all the proceeds go to support college scholarships for inner-city kids, at the same time being beautiful, feeling good, and being able to carry a marketing message. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Don, you’re a delight to have on, and we wish we could spend more time with you today. You’re always welcome to come back and continue great success and all the great work you’re doing. Again, for our listeners out there who’d like to contact Don and see some more of his great work, you can look him up at the Institute of Sustainable Communications at or at Don Carli, you are an inspirational sustainable media leader, and truly living proof that green is good.

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