A Sustainability Consultancy That "Walks the Talk"

Closed Loop Advisors, the sustainability management consultancy cofounded by JD Capuano, May 2012 graduate of Columbia’s M.S. in Sustainability Management program (SUMA), now can be counted among hundreds of forward-thinking small businesses and several large ones, including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and the Cabot Creamery dairy cooperative. The common factor is B Corp Certification, which designates a business that meets standards set by the B Lab nonprofit agency for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. It’s like LEED Certification, but for an entire business instead of a single building, and it’s an achievement Capuano and his business partner, fellow SUMA graduate Sami Abbay, knew they wanted when they started their business a year-and-a-half ago, when both were still Columbia students.

Capuano sees B Corps as “a bellwether of the new economy, and by ‘new economy,’ I mean business evolving beyond simply maximizing profits. To be able to have a company go ahead and take into account people and the planet in its business decisions, that is the next step in capitalism. That's why we're excited to be part of the B Corporation movement.”

The certification process starts with a thorough impact assessment across the categories of governance, workers, community, environment, and business model, followed by an interview and an audit.

“While you’re going through the assessment,” says Capuano, “you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got policies in place that are going to satisfy the audit and live up to not only the letter but also the spirit of being a Certified B Corporation. So if you have a practice that’s a best practice that you and your employees follow that’s great, but it’s not going to count. You actually have to have the policy in place.”

He says the assessment inspired Closed Loop to implement a number of new company policies, which dovetailed well with the company transitioning its independent consultants to W2 employees this year. Capuano has relied on the Columbia network for much of his staffing, a strategy he says has worked exceptionally well. Three consultants, Eileen Quigley, Matt Codner, and Ryan Meinke, are SUMA program graduates. On July 1, the firm hired two of its previous interns, Kate Burrows and Maddy Cohen, as staff sustainability analysts; each obtained her bachelor’s degree from Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development.

Closed Loop passed its B Corp audit and “blew the environmental score out of the water,” says Capuano, adding that the certification will demonstrate that the firm “walks the talk” regarding sustainable practices.

“A lot of potential clients will see this as a legitimacy of us understanding the importance of what we do and embodying what we advise our clients on,” he says.

Closed Loop continues to work actively with its core clients as it expands. Recently it engaged with its newest client, the United Nations Population Fund, to calculate the agency’s carbon footprint and advise its reduction efforts.

A feasibility study the consultancy developed last year for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, on operating stationary food trucks and food carts with power supplied by electrical charging stations instead of gas or diesel generators, has just paid off with a pilot program for food carts in Manhattan.

Closed Loop also advises Etsy, a client since last fall, on setting and achieving its sustainability goals.

“We helped them set targets for overall greenhouse gas emissions for their entire organization, as well as their energy usage, water consumption, and waste generation,” specifies Capuano.

As it turns out, Closed Loop has a relationship with the online marketplace beyond that of consultant-client: Etsy, too, is a Certified B Corp.

“We got a lot of high-fives when we went in there after our certification,” says Capuano with a laugh.