by Marc Gunther

Green business' go-to guys

When big companies want advice on the environment, many call Green Order, reports Fortune's Marc Gunther.

By Marc Gunther, Fortune senior writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- General Electric touts the success of EcoMagination. General Motors says it will speed up production of electric cars. BP steps up its commitment to solar power.

It's no longer a surprise when big companies launch environmental initiatives. This has been good for the planet, good for the image of corporate America, and very good for GreenOrder, a small but influential New York consulting firm that advises Fortune 500 clients on how to make money by going green.

Ranking companies like Nike and Unilever on their climate change policies is a good effort, but may not have real impact on the environment. Fortune's Marc Gunther takes a look at Climate Counts. (Read the column.)
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GreenOrder works with GE, GM (Charts, Fortune 500) and BP (Charts). New clients call all the time. That's a sign, according to Andrew Shapiro, the firm's 39-year-old founder, that sustainability is on its way to becoming "a core part of how businesses think about everything they do."

"This green revolution today is as transformative as the digital revolution was 10 years ago," Shapiro says. "That's the opportunity that lies in front of us."

"The hype might die down," agrees his partner, Nicholas Eisenberger, "but we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what we can do."

And what does GreenOrder do? As with most consultants, that's a little unclear. The firm, which has about 20 people on its staff, says it advises clients on business strategy, supply chain and operations, renewable energy, greenhouse gas management, market research, marketing and branding, and technology solutions - just about all things green, in other words. Its list of past and current clients is impressive, including DuPont, Office Depot, Pfizer (Charts, Fortune 500), Coca-Cola (Charts, Fortune 500), Gap and Hewlett Packard (Charts, Fortune 500).

GreenOrder also has built a substantial practice in green building development, helping Silverstein Partners redevelop a World Trade Center building that became the first New York City office building to win LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation from the U.S. Green Building Council. Major real estate firms including Tishman Speyer Properties and Vornado Realty Trusts are clients, too.

"There will never be another major building built in New York that is not a green building," says Eisenberger.

The GreenOrder guys see several forces driving sustainability deeper into companies. They include the rising costs of energy, higher prices for commodities and, of course, the threat of climate change.

"Climate is the lead issue," Shapiro says, "but we've been doing a lot of thinking about water, a lot of thinking about ecosystems services, about natural food and organics."

This new wave of corporate environmentalism is about seizing opportunities, they argue. That's a change from the 1980s and 1990s when most companies that paid attention to environmental issues did so to comply with the law, reduce their risks or cut costs.

"Now it's really about growing the top line," Shapiro says. "How do you create the next Toyota Prius? How do you create the next Whole Foods? Look at our clients. They're so diverse. That tells you something."

GreenOrder became the go-to consulting company for green business through a combination of talent, timing and luck. Trained as lawyers, Ivy League grads Shapiro (Brown, Yale Law) and Eisenberger (Harvard, Harvard Law) came out of the technology world. GreenOrder was launched in 2000 as a dot-com, a technology startup designed to help companies and governments buy green products - like the solar-powered briefcases that Shapiro and Eisenberger tote around.

After the Internet bubble burst, the firm got into consulting with an initial focus on greening supply chains. Shapiro was introduced to GE (Charts, Fortune 500), the firm's breakthrough client, by Omnicom, which does GE's advertising. Eventually, GreenOrder helped GE identify, measure and track the impact of EcoMagination products and explain the initiative in terms the public can understand. ("Through the use of GE's installed wind turbines, as much as 11.4 million tons of greenhouse gases will not be emitted each year, which is roughly equal to keeping nearly 2 million cars off the road.")

Green business guru Joel Makower, a publisher, writer and consultant who has worked with GreenOrder, says: "What's helped GreenOrder succeed is that they've helped companies understand this is about creating business value, not simply being less bad." Top of page