The resumé explains that Brian Nattrass is a consultant, keynote speaker, best-selling author and world-renowned authority on sustainable development and corporate responsibility who has consulted to corporations such as Nike and Starbucks as well as U.S. federal agencies. But to truly understand the essence of the man, you need to look into his eyes and listen to his voice.
When Nattrass speaks about his passion for corporate ethics and the environment, and his mission to make a difference on the planet, his voice quivers and his eyes turn misty.
And when asked about the daunting challenges of sustainable development and shaking the foundations of the corporate world, the one-time corporate lawyer chuckles light-heartedly.
Nattrass, co-managing partner of Sustainability Partners Inc. with his wife, Mary Altomare Nattrass, is not one to wither in the face of a challenge and pulls no punches in challenging corporations to take action on sustainability.
|Shannon Oatway, Business Edge|
|Sustainability Partners Inc. managing partner Brian Nattrass is tuned into the environment and corporate ethics.|
The man from Gibsons Landing, B.C., is, after all, a Nattrass. He is the son of the late Floyd Nattrass, a passionate and fiercely proud Albertan who was an Olympic shooter and a legendary shooting coach. His sister, Susan Nattrass, is also a former Olympian, perennial world champion and Canadian trapshooting legend.
Brian Nattrass, a chip off the block, also was a competitive marksman like his father and sister. And, at 60, it looks like his sights are still riveted on the moving target.
1. Are you from an entrepreneurial family?
"Yeah, my dad was a successful businessman but he didn't have a university degree. So he really, really wanted his kids to be educated. I was the first person in our family to get a university degree, but I think he created a monster because I've never been able to stop. I've got three degrees and I now teach in two different universities. Mary and I teach at the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia, which is one of the top 10 business schools in the United States."
2. Who was your most important mentor as a youngster?
"Both my mom and dad were important mentors. My dad was a guy who believed you could accomplish anything. To him, there were no limits. He was definitely a no-limits kind of guy. My dad was very hard-driving and a classic businessman in the jeans and clothing business. After the war, he became a salesman for GWG (Great Western Garment). He became the No. 1 salesman in Canada for GWG, then was the general sales manager and eventually became an executive with Levi's Canada when they bought GWG. My dad's real passion was shooting and he became the foremost Canadian shotgunner of his generation. You've probably read about my sister Susan Nattrass, who is a six-time women's world trapshooting champion. My brother (Gary Nattrass) became a very successful pediatric surgeon. And my mother (Marie) is a very, very loving, kind person. So I got a sense of loving kindness from her and a sense of wanting to look after others. I think our whole family just believed that there were no limits and that you could really accomplish anything you put your heart and mind to."
3. What initially piqued your interest in environmental issues and sustainable development?
"I threw myself into it after getting involved with Earth Day International (for which he was chairman from 1992-94). When I was chairman of Earth Day, I travelled around the world for two years and two things happened. One, I was really moved by what human beings can do together when they have a positive vision and they all work together on a unified vision. We literally can go to the moon, as we did in the '60s. But what I also saw all too frequently was that people were actually destroying each other and destroying the planet that we depend upon for all life. I realized the prognosis was very, very dim if we don't change. So I decided I wanted to become part of the solution and no longer be part of the problem."
4. What was the catalyst for you to leave your law practice to become a consultant to corporations on sustainable development?
"After I finished my time with Earth Day International, I was so profoundly disturbed by the state of the world and I wanted to make a difference. I was at a meeting of the Earth Council in Costa Rica in 1993 when I had a great awakening. There were 21 well-known global citizens at the meeting, such as (ocean explorer and inventor) Jacques Cousteau and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. I was one of the 100 advisers brought there to listen to the council and my role was to deal with how to fund this new international organization ... I have a four-year-old daughter (Sarah) and it's not acceptable for me to go home and forget what I'd learned. It deeply disturbed me to the point where I made a decision to devote the rest of my life to being part of the solution. That was a huge crossroads in my life, a huge transformation."
5. How did you initially get involved?
"I knew and understood that you had to become a systems thinker. We are not trained in systems thinking. We don't think about our products in terms of what the component parts are, where they were manufactured, where the distribution chains are and so on. So I went back to school to get my PhD in systems thinking and organizational change. My wife and I then wrote a book called The Natural Step For Business, which shows how companies can be profitable, can look after the environment and can be great corporate citizens. Nike heard about our work, contacted us and we've had an ongoing engagement with them."
6. Nike's been under fire in the past for labour practices. How are they doing in that regard?
"Nike is like the reformed alcoholic. They've completely, if you want to say, put the bottle aside. They've completely changed in that they have spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars and hired hundreds of people to go into their factories and really make profound changes in the way these factories are run. But the critical thing to remember is that Nike does not own any of the factories. Nike contracts with factories. There are about a million people in 900 factories in 50 countries making Nike products. So Nike now has this whole flotilla of inspectors going out to the factories and they've commissioned non-government organizations to monitor the factories. Nike is now actually having an influence on the industry. Competitors like Adidas are now making their shoes in some of the same factories as Nike."
7. Your organization focuses on people, planet and profits, what you refer to as "the triple bottom line.”
Do people and planet all too often lose out to profit, particularly for companies that are trying to make their quarterly numbers?
"Well, it all has to go together. I don't believe it can be a tradeoff. I believe you can be profitable, you can be responsible and you can be a good corporate citizen all at the same time. You don't have to have a tradeoff. I've seen lots of examples of that. What we work on is to show how sustainability is actually a good business value proposition. We show how to build business value. I am not suggesting for a second that people should not be profitable. Profit is good. You need to profit to continue to sustain operations, to pay your employees and to expand. But have responsible profit. Have profit that is responsible to both the community and the environment."
8. What's your greatest fear about where our world is headed?
"My greatest fear is that we learn the hard way and that humanity, particularly people in the affluent areas of the world like Alberta and Canada in general, will wake up too late to what we're doing to the planet and to ourselves. We're in danger of cutting the legs off humanity because we're in danger of destroying the living systems that we depend on. So that's my greatest fear. As the engineers would say, the trajectory of our corporate learning and responsibility over sustainability is good but the velocity is slow. It's not going fast enough. And the question is whether the speed of our shift can match the ongoing breakdown of systems. Here's the example: Scientists at the Queensland Marine Institute in Australia have already said it's too late for the Great Barrier Reef. There's nothing we could do. If the United States said it was going to send $20 billion to protect the reef, it wouldn't work because the chemistry of the whole global ocean is changing and heating up."
9. What kind of score would you give Canada's large corporations in terms of their attention to sustainability and environmental issues?
"They're pathetic. I wouldn't even give them one out of 10. Large Canadian corporations are completely pathetic in this area. I mean, most companies are just not getting it. There are a few companies that understand the issues but they are not anywhere near being sustainable."
10. What Canadian corporations do get it?
"I think the best company in Canada for sustainability is (credit union company) VanCity ... . It's perhaps the best corporate citizen in Canada. They are incredibly good on both the environmental and community side. They look at the carpet and furniture they put in and ask if it's manufactured in a sustainable way. Another company that gets it is Interface Canada, a major carpet manufacturing company. They are trying to turn every aspect of their manufacturing process into completely closed-loop cycles so that no toxic wastes get out into the environment. Interface finds buyers in companies that really care about really making a difference in their work. And VanCity will buy Interface carpets because they know if they do, they're making a move in the right direction. I would also say Starbucks Canada is also a company that gets it and understands the issues of sustainability. Those are three leaders."
11. How do you rank Canadian oil and gas companies in terms of their attention to sustainable development and the environment?
"I think that the majors (oil and gas companies) have made a lot of progress in the way they treat the environment over the last 10 or 15 years. They are not nearly as wasteful as they once were. I hesitate to give them a score, but I will say they are making progress. Companies like Shell and Suncor Energy and British Petroleum understand the issues. I would just like to see it go a lot faster."
12. Do you have any confidence that Canadian corporations will follow some of the leaders in sustainability?
"Most don't give a damn except to the point where it affects their bottom line. The big Canadian banks pay lip service. They give a few million here and there to the communities and talk about what they do. But it's not a serious effort in my view. The major Canadian automobile manufacturers, which are all subsidiaries of companies elsewhere, also pay lip service - but there's very little of substance that they're doing. I'll tell you how you can find the substance and find out how serious a company is. Here's the test: Does the executive's salary and bonus depend in part on their performance around corporate responsibility and sustainability? Secondly, you need to ask if corporate responsibility and sustainability is in the company's business and budget plan. If you ask those questions of Canadian banks, insurance companies and manufacturing companies, you'll find very, very few, if any, companies take that on as a standard."
13. So what's the solution?
"Well, the Canadian consumer has to wake up, for one thing. You spend money with your values. And so, as long as these companies can continue to make money without providing the service, then they'll go do it. I'm also a great believer in the role of public policy. So the federal government has a huge role, as do provincial governments, in giving incentives to industry to help move in the right direction and to stop disincentivizing non-sustainable action. The American companies are doing better than Canadian companies (in sustainability and environmental issues) and the European companies are the leaders."
14. Who's the CEO you most admire and respect?
"It's Orin Smith, the recently retired CEO of Starbucks. He was the CEO during Starbucks' greatest growth phase and he ensured, along with chairman Howard Schultz, that people understood that corporate responsibility is key to Starbucks' success. He was responsible for driving those values through the company. He's now lending his business experience to a number of major environmental and social initiatives around the world. In my mind, a great leader has great compassion for the people he works for and the people he serves. I think the greatest leaders that I really respect are deeply compassionate on one hand and have a very clear vision of where they want to go in the future. And they're absolutely passionate about achieving that vision. For me, the perfect leader is the one who combines passion with compassion. And Orin Smith is an example of that kind of a leader."
15. If you had an opportunity to become a CEO of any company, which would it be?
"I would love to become CEO of one of Canada's major energy companies because the future is very exciting in the energy industry. We really have to reinvent the energy business from many different perspectives. What I would do would be what Suncor (Energy) is doing and have a focus and a commitment to renewables. And I would have a transition path from hydrocarbon to renewables such as geothermal, solar and wind. In the future, you'll see more of an energy mix rather than a focus on one thing, which is hydrocarbons. Nuclear energy is a good short-term solution to energy problems, but the problem with nuclear is that it creates the most deadly toxin on the planet. And we have not solved the toxin issue. There is no safe solution for nuclear waste."
16. Have you been able to figure out why so many business leaders lie, cheat and commit fraud?
"Firstly, I think in part it's because there are such big rewards in business, so it attracts a lot of people oriented towards making big bucks.
"In other words, people who are fairly money-driven don't become social workers, they don't become nurses and they don't become massage therapists. Secondly, incentive structures for business, for the most part, encourage short-term gains. A lot of CEOs are greed-oriented and focused strictly on short-term gain to maximize their own stock options. Thirdly, they can get away with it because the laws are inadequately enforced. In Canada, you hardly ever see it (convictions for corporate crimes). When's the last time you saw senior executives in Canada getting convicted of larceny, stock fraud or theft? Canada is a joke in the western world (in enforcing laws to discourage corporate crime). The federal government and the provincial governments are not committed to corporate honesty and corporate ethics. If Canada were committed to it, they'd have a national securities regulator."
17. What are you doing personally in terms of care for the environment?
"We compost at home and we're very careful that all our lighting is high-efficient lighting. We have a very well-insulated house. I also drive a Volvo (Cross-Country XC70) because Volvo has made a huge commitment to sustainable manufacturing. They take all their cars back. That's what I love about the Volvo. Volvo has just built the first carbon-neutral automobile plant in Sweden that is powered in part by wind power. So I try to the greatest extent possible to buy with my values. Mary and I travel a lot, so we subscribe to a trees-for-travel program. One average pine tree will take into itself the carbon output of one person flying 4,000 miles. We calculate the number of (air) miles at the end of the year and then plant trees to offset that."
18. What's it like being in business and writing books with your wife?
"I love it. We're such a team and it's absolute transparency in our relationship and complete interdependency. You either come to deeply love the person or you would truly hate them if you weren't completely compatible. Mary and I are together 24/7 and have been for 12 years. We have an amazing relationship. I'd like to write a book some day on couples working together."
19. What's the key to being an effective speaker?
"I think it's being completely authentic in your passion for your work. I'm completely passionate about what I'm talking about and people get that. People want the speaker to be authentic and they want to know that the speaker is not just doing it because there's money in it or something. I'm on the road over 200 days a year and every day is a speech, a workshop or teaching a class. Environmentalism and corporate responsibility has a really bad rap in Canada. They think it's going to cost them money, and historically, it did. But it's a different world today. Today, corporate responsibility is about building business value. Most people don't understand the business case for sustainability."
20. What's your life's next great challenge?
"I think my life's next great challenge is how to ramp this up, showing people how to accelerate the process of sustainability of companies and organizations even more. It's about learning about it, understanding it, integrating it and making it go faster and faster. It's very gratifying when you see the lights go on in people and they actually start to figure out how they could do things differently. I know that we're making a difference. The question in my mind, in considering my efforts and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of other people in the world, is whether we can collectively turn this great ship in a different direction and turn industrial society into a much more sustainable direction whereby we will have a planet to bequeath to our children that's worth living in. That's the challenge."
* Title: Managing partner, Sustainability Partners Inc.
* Born/Raised/Age: Medicine Hat, Alta./Calgary/60.
* Family: Wife Mary Altomare Nattrass, one daughter.
* Education: University of Alberta, BA; University of British Columbia, LLB (law); California Institute of Integral Studies, PhD; admitted to Bar of British Columbia, 1973; admitted to Bar of Alberta, 1983.
* Career: Nattrass spent 20 years in law and business, working in Vancouver and Calgary, including his own firm, Brian Nattrass Barrister & Solicitor. After serving as global chair of Earth Day International from 1992-94, Nattrass returned to school to earn his doctorate in learning and change in human systems with a focus on sustainable development. Nattrass and wife Mary founded Sustainability Partners Inc. in 1999. They have written three books, including best-sellers The Natural Step for Business and Dancing with the Tiger.
* Recent presentation: Nattrass was recently the keynote speaker on sustainability and corporate responsibility at a Calgary Glencoe Club luncheon sponsored in part by Business Edge.
* Accolades: Nattrass was awarded a Batten Fellowship at the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia.
* Boyhood dream: To be an astronaut.
* Passions: Powder skiing, landscape photography, continuous learning.
Sustainability Partners Inc.
* Brass: Brian Nattrass, Mary Altomare Nattrass, managing partners.
* Profile: Sustainability Partners is a North American management consulting firm specializing in the strategy and practice of organizational sustainability, sustainable development and corporate responsibility.
* Key clients: Nike, Starbucks, Dupont, U.S. Department of Defense, NASA.
* Milestones: In 1999, Nike chose Sustainability Partners to help launch its global sustainability initiative. In 2000, Starbucks chose the company to lead its Environmental Footprint initiative. In 2002, the U.S. Army selected Sustainability Partners as the lead consultant to design and implement the army's new Installation Sustainability program across the U.S. In 2003, NASA selected the company to design a program of Sustainability Education.
* Website: www.sustainabilitypartners.com
* Head Office: 318 Shoal Lookout, Gibsons Landing, B.C., V0N 1V8.
* Phone/Fax: 604-886-0957/ 886-0967.
(Gyle Konotopetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)