Interview with Willi Paul – Sustainability Consultant

April 7, 2010

By Patrick Brinkerhoff

This is our interview with William “Willi” George Paul, a Green Business Certified Sustainability Consultant and executive producer of Willi Paul has been a strategic vision planner, writer and program designer for environmental planning, civil engineering and non-profits for over 25 years.  As executive producer at he has interviewed over 200 industry leaders and written more than 1550 posts to-date since EarthDay ’09.

Willi has also produced two innovative online community building projects as a PhD Student in Environmental Planning and Design at Virginia Tech. He also designed the electronic charrette while earning MA in Urban Planning and developed marketing and online community building strategies for over thirty Internet start-ups.

Here is our April 2010 interview:

Willi, I believe that most people have a misconception of what sustainability really means, how would you define sustainability?
Many are confused by the jargon. Green is more of a new lifestyle path while sustainability combines cradle to cradle science and a new consciousness whereby we do not harm the future world with our present actions.

Would an example of cradle to cradle science be GreenHeart Global’s?
Yes, GreenHeart Global’s  “Ditto” line of hangers are conceived, tested and marketed certified green in that all materials, process energy and wastes in the manufacturing process are ecologically accountable or sustainable.

The new consciousness language you use is interesting; I believe Pachamama Alliance’s demonstrates this case and point.
I always point out the exemplary work from the Pachamama Alliance’s  “Awaken the Dreamer” symposium.  An earth-based spirituality and movement that fosters global sustainability and environmental justice.

Do you find there is a relationship between sustainability and conservation?
I suppose conservation is most relevant these days when used in the singular, or conservationist role. Certainly conserving resources is part of our sustainability tool kit.

Conservation is the act of preserving valuable resources-the air we breathe, the energy we use, and the water we drink. By safeguarding our resources through the creation of a baseline consumption analysis; we can minimize our future impact on our environment and reduce costs. Would this not also be a formula for sustainability?
“preserving valuable resources”
“safeguarding our resources”
“creation of a baseline consumption analysis”
“minimize our future impact”

The only formula for sustainability that makes long-term sense is the cradle to cradle model from McDonough.

Is global sustainability achievable without government intervention?
Throughout my many interviews with green businesses, I am not hopeful that the market place will facilitate global sustainability. Big oil wants more oil; biotech wants my genes.  What have carbon markets achieved? I don’t like the word “intervention” there. Partnerships are a better model. But whatever world governance we discuss, it still is corrupt at base.  I have higher hope for the planet from a citizen-based, community-up approach as in the  model.

In your opinion, is it possible that the need to preserve the earth and her resources outweighs the relationship between material objects and money?
I keep reminding myself that the planet will survive the end of humans. The Earth is so much larger and valuable than humans. I am collecting data on whether or not people see sustainability as a new religion as we need a new post greed ethic; a new Declaration of Inter-Dependence. To survive, we need a nature-based, localized economy with 100 % solar, resource re-use and barter.

The daily activity of a company is measured by the bottom line achieved through best practices. Best practices are systems that, when applied properly, create fewer problems during a process resulting in a preferred outcome. Are best practices actually sustainable? How long does one need to evaluate to determine if the framework is sustainable or unsustainable?
I think best practices are also called factors of production. They fall in line between the assessment and evaluation phases. Best practices are industry specific and tough to generalize but if they are based solely on cost or profit then they are morally bankrupt.

With most people and corporations struggling to find a balance between profitability and survivability, how does sustainability make sense?
Sustainable values are important but it is clear that these alone will not save many corporations form going under. The shift to greener ways is often expensive and long-term, two forces that companies are not coping well with now.

Are greener paths more expensive due to the lack of R&D or low demand?
True green standards of production or best practices have been neglected the impact on the environment and now must engineer the cradle to cradle mandate. Entrepreneurs have always struggled with start-up funding but investors are supportive, at least in California.
Profit making in the new sustainability sectors is going through a tricky phase because of the added costs to protect the planet. How much is grey water worth; a bucket of algae; or compost from cows for a bio-digester? If we want to change the way we relate to the Earth, then archaic ideas like “consumer demand” is re-focused to “human needs”, and “profit” morphs into a better, healthier life for everyone.

Sustainability is a new marketing angle for some businesses. Do you find most companies are actually making an honest attempt to be more sustainable or just “greenwashing”?
Some firms, like GreenHeart Global are incorporating a robust set of sustainability processes and practices. Many others are just jumping on the wagon, like Wal-Mart. I guess that 75% are greenwashing and 25% not.

If a company is thinking of becoming more sustainable in practice, how do they make the philosophical and moral shift?
Through localization – By teaming with their community – And by forming partnerships with a range of NPO’s and social groups. If the moral mandate is to save the planet, then we must practice it with our neighbors first.

Since sustainability has moral, social and environmental impact, would one find a direct link or indicator of the quality of a business’s product and service?
After tax funds and staff time donated to localization efforts.

What I am asking in this question: Is the product and service from a company that practices sustainability more superior than one that does not?
Superior? No. Just further ahead. These folks are the teachers. We need to be positive and supportive on this path.

Discuss the steps in creating a sustainable strategy for business and the benefits of this branding.
There are two different but related benefits there! I am not a fan of branding per se. I would try established programs like the Bay Area Green Business Program  that certified my practice, or if you want to get your hands dirty, see the Sustainability Advisor program.

What drove you to create and please tell us about Networks? has been collecting and sharing innovator interviews and start-up stories from the green movement since it was launched on EarthDay 2009. At the highest level, it is’s database of new mythic themes, green inventions and next visions that continues to attract business and artistic people from all across the globe.

Born as an arts and sustainable business collective, is now managed by Willi Paul and features over 200 Interviews that span the gambit of innovation and sustainability including thought leaders like Ed Begley, Jr. on grey water systems; author Eric Roston on carbon; Steve Kilbey (The Church) on rock music and mythology; and author Dennis William Hauck from the Alchemy Guild.

The new Networks is a client relations service that drives content and discussion through multiple networks, increasing partners, customers and revenue for my clients. Networks is where socially responsible business owners and non-profits engage to educate and market their products and services to the public.

Willi Paul, I would like to thank you for sharing your views and ideas with our readers.


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