Ian Kozak

Sustainability Intelligence

We've settled on a new descriptor for our core business: Sustainability Intelligence. We actually like to think we coined the phrase, but in an exciting sort of convergent evolution, the field, and the moniker, are on the rise worldwide.

Sustainability is a simple concept. It's essentially long term planning: do the actions of an organization increase the life expectancy and long term health of itself, its neighbors, and the world at large? Sustainability often represents a conservative approach to business, leaning more towards focusing on greater future gains and away from the age old impulse to maximize immediate wealth. Increasingly, however, especially when applied to areas like building construction and manufacturing, those "long term gains" of sustainable practice can actually be realized in a very short amount of time. Maybe not within a year, but certainly within the lifetime of an investment portfolio. And the data proves it.

Intelligence is the tricky part. In our context, it really just means making informed decisions. The thing is, the amount of information available in today's world of "big data" is staggering. Often even small organizations don't realize how much data they've amassed or, critically, how it might be used. Part of what we do is leverage the science behind 'business intelligence' to provide direction: based on what we can learn from the data, what is the most likely outcome of a decision? What action will yield the highest long term benefit?

We see Sustainability Intelligence as an incredibly powerful tool of opportunity in all kinds of areas. Based on the data available, how should an organization behave to make itself and the world better? Our work and our clients focus on health, education, and the environment. Is the quantifiable inequality of healthcare outcomes associated with geographic and demographic factors socially sustainable? Do the professional development activities done by teachers and school districts sustain measurable positive student outcomes? Would a different opportunity or tool offer more improvement for less money? Would the cost of painting a tar warehouse roof in Texas white save money and reduce fossil fuel consumption? What would be the global net effect of installing solar panels instead? And, critically, what if multinational corporations and global investment managers fully realized the benefits of a "sustainable" approach to operations and made it a core tenet of their business strategy?

In the last decade or so, as the concept of "sustainability" has become more culturally embedded, we've seen many venerable for profit companies create "corporate social responsibility" (CSR) departments, along with a general proliferation of social, economic, and environmentally sustainable initiatives. Think fair trade chocolate or compostable take-out containers. What we believe at Green River is that sustainability should be, and will be, at the core of every business and organization; that CSR departments are a wonderful transitional step, but soon their principles will be taken for granted as fundamental business practice. And we see sustainability intelligence -- using the power of big data to make and justify good decisions -- as the means for that transformation.