Anca Novacovici is the founder and president of Eco-Coach, Inc., an environmental sustainability firm that assists leading organizations to evaluate, design, and implement sustainable practices.
Novacovici has two big goals: long-term organizational success and positive environmental/social impact.
A LEED Accredited Professional, she sits on the board of the Green Building Institute and is an Adjunct professor at Montgomery College. She speaks frequently on sustainability topics and is the co-author of two books: DC Metro Area Green Career & Jobs Guide, and Sustainability 101: A Toolkit for Your Business. And she speaks frequently on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and other “green” topics.
So it was a pleasure to sit down for a Q&A with my good friend Anca Novacovici, who is a bright light in the DC sustainability community. Scroll down for more.
Dave Feldman: You are founder of Eco-Coach, an environmental sustainability consulting firm that helps organizations implement sustainable business practices. And, you are the author of Sustainability 101: A Toolkit for Your Business. Tell us why you started this business, and why your work is so important.
Anca Novacovici: I started Eco-Coach because I was—and still am—passionate about helping businesses become more eco-friendly. This is something that I wanted to do before I went to grad school, when the concept of sustainability consulting did not exist, and when there were no courses (let alone programs) on the topic.
Businesses typically have a significant negative impact on the environment, and that impact can be changed to positive or neutral. By providing businesses with the tools, knowledge, and support to expand their sustainable business practices, we are helping them save money, improve their branding, spur innovation, and address regulatory requirements, while also helping the environment.
I love that it is a win-win for the business and for the environment—that is what we strive for. Typically, our clients achieve cost savings and a positive return on investment in six to 12 months of using our services.
Dave Feldman: You also wrote the DC Metro Area Green Career & Jobs Guide, and you write many articles about sustainability for Huffington Post and other publications. Describe what businesses are doing to incorporate sustainability into both their operations and their product/service offerings. What are some examples of these innovative businesses?
Anca Novacovici: Businesses run the gamut in terms of their adoption of environmentally sustainable business practices. Many of the Fortune 500 companies have a person in charge of sustainability on staff, and measure their sustainability initiative either via the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) or CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project).
Many of the mid-size businesses that we speak with have some basic recycling program in place, and some have a sustainability policy, and a Green Team or a Green Champion that will promote sustainability, send out periodic emails, and post signs. These are typically the companies that need help to go further, and that is where we come in.
Because the federal government and many of the larger organizations are requiring their vendors to achieve some level of sustainability, we are also finding that more companies are providing “green” alternatives to their existing products. Six years ago, it used to be that their “green” alternatives could only be found via smaller companies that specialized in providing these services. Now, companies such as OfficeMax, Target, and Walmart are providing these alternatives as well.
Many companies could be considered innovative in terms of their business practices. One of the first that comes to mind as a pioneer in this area is Patagonia. Recently, with its Common Threads program, Patagonia is aiming to close its supply-chain loop by using retired clothes to make new products.
Subaru is also, surprisingly, very green. It was the first zero-waste car factory in the United States. Subaru shares the statistic that 99 percent of the plant’s waste is recycled, and what’s left is converted into electricity. Another good example is Marks & Spencer, which has a five-year “Plan A” for sustainability. This British food and clothing retailer is carbon-neutral and sends no waste to landfill, and all the fish it sells comes from the “most sustainable sources available.”
Dave Feldman: What is your favorite topic to write about, and which issue (from the past) elicited the most unusual response?
Anca Novacovici: That’s a tough question, since there are many aspects of sustainability that I am interested in. However, one that is crucial and is often overlooked is that of employee engagement and behavior change. I have been involved in this issue for almost 15 years—in my past life as a management consultant, and in the last seven years since I started Eco-Coach.
Changing behavior takes much more than sending a few emails and posting some signs. It is a long-term, multi-stakeholder approach, which involves planning, executive support, and grassroots engagement.
I haven’t had a response to a post or article that jumps out specifically. There are, of course, individuals who are very passionate about a specific topic and will use an article as a forum to express their views. So long as it is relevant to the topic, I think it is fine—I have no issue with individuals stirring the pot and challenging a specific viewpoint, whether it is mine or that of one of the other participants in the conversation.
Dave Feldman: You interviewed Lester Brown, the founder of both Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute. He stated, “The biggest threat to global stability is the potential for food crises in poor countries,” noting that it could “bring down civilization.” How do you help local clients understand the magnitude of the issues we face and convince them of the need to change?
Anca Novacovici: For a large majority of organizations, it is all about making the business case for taking action. I have learned from speaking with many businesses and nonprofits, associations, and government agencies, that saving the environment is a “nice to have.”
When I speak with someone who is running or managing a business, I stress how the actions that they take can: a) save them money; b) improve their branding; and c) increase revenue by attracting new customers or expanding the existing customer base. Those are typically the top three items that businesses are concerned with in terms of sustainability. A lot of organizations are also taking up “green” issues as a risk mitigation measure, or because their members or customers are asking about it.
I typically will not lead with a climate-focused message, because that is not a priority for businesses. In order to create change, it is important to address that individual or organization’s concerns versus focusing on your own agenda. I am here to support businesses and the environment, and I believe both can be done simultaneously.
Dave Feldman: This issue of Be Inkandescent magazine is about Women in Power. How has running a woman-owned business impacted your success? What obstacles have you had to overcome, and what lessons could you share with other aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Anca Novacovici: I believe that being a woman or a man in this space when I started out seven years ago was equally tough. Because it was uncharted territory, I think both were on an equal footing. Since then, I have been very fortunate in that I have not faced some of the obstacles that some of my colleagues have faced in terms of being a female entrepreneur.
I have found a great support network in some of my colleagues who also own their own businesses. I meet with a group of women periodically, and we exchange strategies, lessons learned, and ideas. Eco-Coach obtained our women-owned business certification from WBENC a couple of years ago, and recently made it on the GSA schedule as a WOSB (woman-owned small business). We believe many organizations will look for woman and minority-owned businesses to work with.
To my fellow existing and aspiring female entrepreneurs, I would suggest joining a women-owned networking group or creating one with fellow women entrepreneurs in your area. I have found that coming prepared to those meetings with a question and what you would like to get out of the meeting is very helpful. It is just as important to give of your skills and experience to the group in order to get the most out of it.
Dave Feldman: With the state of the economy, job creation is increasingly important. Designing good jobs, those that provide fair wages and have a positive social mission are equally important. In the early days of the Obama presidency, there was a push for “green jobs.” What is a green job?
Anca Novacovici: The basic idea behind a green job is to provide gainful employment for individuals so that their jobs involve activities that promote the sustainability of human lives, the planet, and the economy. Depending on whom you ask or the subject matter that you are reading, you will find a wide range of different definitions out there. Many of these definitions just give characteristics of these types of jobs, or list examples of these types of jobs.
For more information about green jobs, and especially green jobs in the DC area, I would encourage you to take a look at a book a colleague of mine, Dan Triman, and I published entitled: Where the Green Jobs Are: Jobs & Careers in DC. It provides resources and additional information on the topic.
My personal definition is broader. Some traditionally think of energy auditing or solar panel installation as green jobs. While these fit the category, I would also include sustainability specialists in that category, as well as green roof installers, and LEED Accredited Professionals.
Dave Feldman: What haven’t you yet accomplished, and what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Anca Novacovici: For one, I’d like to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro—but I think you meant with sustainability! There is a lot that remains to be done in the US to educate businesses and create change, so I would like to continue working on this and expanding on it as businesses move further up the sustainability learning curve. I would also like to expand our reach internationally to areas of the world that may not be as familiar with the concept, such as Romania, my home country.
About Dave Feldman
Feldman is the current and founding director of Bethesda Green, a dynamic 501c3 that serves as a catalyst and trusted resource for building a healthy economy and sustainable community. This model initiative has set up the first green business incubator and education center in the DC/Maryland region.
Feldman is also the CEO of the Livability Project LLC, an organization that provides structure and tools to help communities develop sustainability initiatives. Through Livability, Feldman leverages his entrepreneurial experience, international economic development expertise, and passion for sustainability to implement socially responsible, “green” community development projects that can be replicated worldwide.