Adam Werbach: Take small steps to go “blue”

person_14272ab1_mediumTo attack big environmental problems, start with small steps.

So says Adam Werbach—activist, author, advertising man and one of the more interesting people working in the sustainability movement today.

Werbach is the former president of the Sierra Club, the author of Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto and the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi S, a sustainability consulting firm that’s part of the global communications giant Publicis. He’s worked for Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and Frito Lay, among others.

He’s behind a Saatchi project called DOT – do one thing – that is inspired by the PSPs – personal sustainability projects – that he helped bring to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart encouraged its 1.3 million employees to integrate sustainable practices into their lives by making small changes to their everyday habits. Many thousands have stopped smoking, lost weight, recycled more, or biked or walked to work.

Is this the way to curb climate change, stop the loss of biodiversity, save tropical forests and the like? Or do people screw in a CFL bulb and then figure they’ve done their part?

Werbach argues that small steps lead to big things. “Change begets change,” he says. “Recycling and energy conservation—once you start remembering to do that, you’re remember to do other things.”

Werbach spoke the other day at the Net Impact conference at Cornell University, and he drew a big crowd. Net Impact is a  group of business students and young professionals who want to use the power of business to make the world better. [Disclosure: I’m a new member of the Net Impact board.] The conference attracted more than 2,400 people to Ithaca, N.Y., in November in the midst of a recession–no small accomplishment.

The crowd may have showed up because Werbach is a controversial. His green friends went after him when he joined forces with Wal-Mart. He appeared on the cover of Fast Company in 2007 beside the headline “He Sold His Soul to Wal-Mart.” (Fortunately, the story was kinder.) But even now, he begins his talk by explaining why he gave a speech in 2004 called “Is Environmentalism Dead? [PDF], left the Sierra Club and opted to work in the corporate world.

“My quitting environmentalism was about embracing something different,” he says. “We were not moving far enough, fast enough.” [click to continue…]