MDE28 - Anthony Day, bringing sustainability to the boardroom

There’s a tendency for some businesses to stick the word sustainable at the front of their mission statement and wander off, content in the knowledge they’ve done their bit.

And, similarly, there’s a tendency for those bored of hearing the word to assume it’s all about not using aerosol sprays and therefore has no relevance to their company and how it works.

More than just the polar bears

But sustainability “is not just polar bear-related things,” laughs Anthony Day, “it’s about water and resources and population, how these things impinge on the economy and what business needs to do.”

Anthony is a sustainability coach, helping businesses recognise and address the challenges (and benefits) associated with operating in a sustainable way. He’s made a name for himself with a series of keynote speeches on subjects such as “Sustainable Futures”, “Sustainability Sells” and the strikingly titled “Seven Billion People Want Everything You've Got”.

His impressive career was kickstarted when the publication of Blueprint for Survival by the Ecologist in 1974. But while sustainability was at his core, he worked as an accountant to pay the bills; doing various roles in finance before becoming a freelance business consultant implementing the Euro into business hotels in Europe more than a decade ago.

The beginning of the end?

The catalyst to placing sustainability at the heart of his business was reading The End Of Oil by Paul Roberts, written in 2004. “It’s worth reading,” Anthony says, “though things have changed since it was published.” Essentially the book proposes that we are at the beginning of the end of the oil age and unless we prepare, then our economy and standard of living is gong to suffer. We cannot burn all the oil and use the gas because it will destabilise the planet.

The price of oil has fallen fast and far, says Anthony: “BP is saying it’s going to stay below $50 a barrel for next three years.” This won’t have much of an impact on renewables as oil is used principally for transport fuel and doesn’t compete directly with renewables, which are largely producing electricity, solar panels and wind turbines. The killer will come, says Anthony, “if gas follows oil down. People would stop building wind farms and solar panels.”

So what’s cause the oil price drop? Over-supply, says Anthony, simply. “Saudi is pumping without limit. OPEC used to moderate output without modifying supply.” He adds that increased supply might be as punishment to Iran and the Russians but this is having an effect on the Americans, who are Saudi’s allies. Fracking has led to a vast upsurge to oil in the US but by pushing the price down, Saudis are making fracking uneconomic.

Sustainability milestones

The fact that Al Gore was invited to stand up in front of the most important business conference in the world at Davos and talk about climate change was a milestone, says Anthony, “He put down a marker. We have this conference. We have got to get the results. He’s laid it out.” Nonetheless, what’s worrying is that when PwC published their global survey of CEOs, they didn’t cover climate change at all because, he says, “the majority of global CEOs just aren’t interested.”

So Anthony has advice for all businesses. “Look at how you are using energy. Plan for it to be expensive. It may go up dramatically. If governments are serious about controlling it they will put a price on carbon. Service and consultancy don’t use much at all but recognise how your customers and supply chain use energy and how they will be impacted.” It may, he warns, become very expensive to fly in Europe, for example.

Anthony Day Economic growth doesn’t actually have to depend on fossil fuels, Anthony thinks: “There are ways. How do we measure economic growth? GDP is very crude. It doesn’t show how nations are developing socially. Take, for example, the book The Spirit Level. It shows that the graph of satisfaction is horizontal in countries of greater wealth. China is expanding and has got some of the worst air quality. In the north of China they take five years off life expectancy. It’s a leader in renewable energy because it has to. Building renewables is going to create economic growth.”

But the government is driven by the press: “People want the status quo. They believe we can go back to where we were. But we can’t. The rising population is increasing by three people per second.”

Playing the long game

Anthony uses a range of tools to empower sustainability change in the people he works with. One tool he’s recently developed is his Green Supply Chain workshop, an interactive session with directors and senior managers, looking at strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats: “Companies look at the short term. I think five years is short term. Most companies look at 12 months, yet things change overnight and can disappear. People who look ahead are forewarning and forearming.”

And it’s true that some majors are turning themselves around. He says that Nestle are working very hard: “The things they are doing now are quite impressive and these things do save money because it would be very difficult to make a business case if they didn’t.” Because the fact remains that there’s actually a strong business case for sustainability.


Favourite book

The End of Oil by Paul Roberts (Houghton-Mifflin). He also wrote The End of Food. We’re basically all just a couple of days away from starvation. The 1972 book The Limits to Growth, by Donella H. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, Dennis Meadows and Jorgan Randers (Taylor & Francis), which was updated in 2004, is one of the most important books I have ever read.”

Motivational quote

If you build a better mouse trap the world will beat a path to your door.”

I love it because it’s utterly wrong. Almost anything is 80% marketing and 20% quality or product.”

Productivity tool

Daylite is my database. I am a Mac user and so I have all my contacts, to dos, calendar, projects there. I know where I am and what I am supposed to be doing.”

Other links

The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett


The Professional Speaking Association

Contact Anthony

On the web at

On Twitter @AnthonyDay

I really hope enjoyed the interview with Anthony, whether you just read it here or listened to the whole thing on the podcast. If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them with us on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!

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Thanks again to Anthony for sharing his story with us.