Axis Performance Advisors, Portland, Oregon, USA
A Natural Step Network Case Study
Axis Performance Advisors was started in 1990 by Marsha Willard and Darcy Hitchcock as an organizational management consulting firm, specializing ins self-directed work teams. As of today, November 2003, about 53 percent of Axis' work is directly related to sustainability.
In addition to its consulting work, Axis would, on occasion, host one-day think-tank meetings. In 1996, having heard about the concept of sustainability, it hosted a meeting on the subject. At that meeting Hitchcock had an “aha” experience when she realized that Axis was showing companies how to be more efficient and effective in depleting the planet’s resources. She decided that she and Willard had to do “something.” Shortly thereafter Hitchcock was introduced to The Natural Step (TNS) at a Business for Social Responsibility meeting. She says she felt a great relief, because TNS offered the “something” that Axis should do. In 1998 she went to the TNS conference in Chicago and began doing volunteer work for the Oregon Natural Step Network as a speaker and as a contributing writer for the Tool kit.
Upon learning about TNS, Axis first examined the impacts of its own business on the environment. Hitchcock and Willard quickly realized that as a service business, their greatest impact was through their consulting services and the influence they had on their clients. Since they had experience in organizational change, they could help companies become more sustainable.
Axis also examined its internal practices against the four systems conditions. It determined that its greatest impact was greenhouse emissions from energy use, especially transportation, but it was able to take action to reduce its impacts in all four system conditions.
System Condition One (Taking Substances from the Earth's Crust)
- Willard and Hitchcock measured their greenhouse gas impact and purchased carbon offsets to be climate neutral with a cost of approximately $20 per year per person (see Appendix 1 for measurements, including tracking alternative transportation).
- Hitchcock moved her home office from Vancouver, Washington to Portland, Oregon to reduce travel.
- Both Hitchcock and Willard use bicycles and public transportation whenever possible, resulting in 43% of business travel through alternative transportation (up from 0% before 2000)
- Hitchcock and Willard both work from their homes, they purchased Green Power for both work and personal consumption.
- Hitchcock purchased a Toyota Prius for business and personal use.
- Axis purchased Energy Star rated computers (MAC G3s and monitors) and chose not to buy a copying machine.
System Condition Two (Use of Synthetic Substances)
- Switched overhead transparency markers to ones that wash off with water instead of isopropyl alcohol.
- Decided not to purchase certain products (e.g., glues) that had volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
System Condition Three (Preservation of Natural Resources)
- Committed to buying recycled content paper, using 100% post-consumer recycled paper for company stationary.
- When copier broke, did not purchase new one. This reduced the number of copies Axis makes.
- Transitioned services like its newsletter and Team Booster product to an electronic service to save paper.
- Axis does small print runs of the Sustainability SeriesTM booklets so as not to build up a large inventory, which might need to be scrapped later.
- Axis has also chosen ShoreBank Pacific for their banking services.
System Condition Four (Meeting Human Needs)
- Offered no- or low-cost services for targeted non-profits which would otherwise not be able to afford consulting services and which had a mission related to sustainability (Housing our Families, Planned Parenthood, Oregon Environmental Council, OMSI).
- Provided pro bono facilitation services for the Oregon Natural Step Network’s Climate Change Peer Learning Group.
Axis’s expenditures have mainly been in time, although it has paid for some training as well. It characterizes the time and training as R&D because Axis’ goal has been to transform the business to sustainability consulting.
That said, just operating its business more sustainably has saved Axis money over all. It has spent less money on parking fees, equipment not purchased, and printing and postage and has less wear and tear on its vehicles. The combined effect of its transportation efforts resulted in an annual reduction of 4,000 pounds of CO2 emissions. Axis has also learned that measurement does change behavior. It helps inform decisions and makes an immediate impact.
One irony is that the more successful Axis becomes the more Hitchcock and Willard have to travel, which will actually increase their environmental impacts. They will address these impacts through the use of offsets.
Because sustainability is the focus of Axis’s business, the biggest challenge is creating a market to sustain all those who want to work in this field. It appears that sustainability is still at the early adopter phase in most sectors so the list of potential customers is limited. Also in tough economic times, people tend to pull back from exploring new options (even if they could save time or money) because they are already feeling stressed and stretched. That said, the challenge for consultants is always: to provide value to customers.This case study was prepared by Regina Hauser for the Oregon Natural Step Network. For more information contact Darcy Hitchcock (503) 288-7704, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Marsha Willard (503) 284-9132, email@example.com, or visit the Axis Performance Advisors’ Web site, www.pacifier.com/~axis.