July 19, 2019

LIVING GREEN: Going green with a blue collar

John Antonucci Jr. opened Williston-based sustainable consulting firm Srise last fall. (Observer courtesy photo)

John Antonucci Jr. opened Williston-based sustainable consulting firm Srise last fall. (Observer courtesy photo)

Consultant offers sustainability services to small businesses

By Greg Elias

Observer correspondent

To small Vermont businesses struggling to survive, a sustainability program can seem like a luxury reserved for big corporations.

But for John Antonucci Jr., owner of Williston-based consulting firm Srise, sustainability has moved beyond multinationals to a practice that even small businesses must embrace.

“Your consumer, your client base, is demanding sustainability,” he says. “They are voting more and more with their dollars. If you want to keep your customer base and you want to pull in a new market, this is an area you can’t afford to ignore.”

Sustainability can be defined many ways, but usually involves creating a system that minimizes waste and mitigates environmental impacts. Sometimes mandates, such as Act 148, Vermont’s new universal recycling law, push companies to implement sustainable practices.

But most small businesses deal with things like recycling and energy use in an ad-hoc manner, Antonucci says. They pay someone to collect the trash and write a check when the electric bill arrives. What’s often missing is a plan that saves the planet—and saves money.

That’s where Srise (short for Sustainable Resource and Innovation Solution Exchange) steps in. It can recommend changes and handle the logistics of an ongoing sustainability program. Services are geared toward the small and mid-sized businesses that Antonucci says simply don’t have the time, expertise and manpower to implement their own program.

Antonucci founded Srise last fall. The startup came in response to what he saw as a demand for sustainability efforts that would be both effective and profitable.

The most common sustainability issues Antonucci says businesses face are recycling, packaging and energy use. He says he can recommend improvements in each.

Srise is paid by taking a percentage of the value or cost savings of sustainability programs. Antonucci says he charges an hourly fee for smaller, more routine projects.

Rick Sklena, owner of Chicago-based Reusable Logistics Solutions, is among Srise’s clients. Sklena says Srise did a “phenomenal job” of redesigning his company’s website, which promotes product sustainability.

The company makes a reusable mesh that replaces the disposable plastic used for securing products on pallets during shipping. So Sklena well understands the challenge of selling sustainability.

“We tell them about the savings and the waste reduction right away,” he says, “because you don’t know which one they will want.”

Businesses are increasingly implementing sustainable practices, says Scott Buckingham, development and communications manager for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. Like Antonucci, he notes that companies are being pushed to become more sustainable by regulation as well as by customers or suppliers.

Studies back the idea that sustainable practices produce more profitable businesses, Buckingham says, allowing them to “perform better over the long haul.”

Srise promotes “profficient sustainability,” which is not a misspelling but instead a way to express the idea of “profit derived from sustainability.” That means doing more with less, Antonucci says, not simply “greenwashing” or making empty marketing promises about environmentally friendly products and practices.

Antonucci says he often looks at how his clients interact with other businesses. For example, a restaurant paying to haul away food waste could instead band together with other restaurants and start their own composting operation, thus converting an expense into revenue.

Antonucci grew up working for his family’s produce and seafood distribution business in Upstate New York. He attended college at the University of Vermont, where he earned an economics degree. He later received a master’s degree in education.

He teaches high school social studies at U-32 in Montpelier in addition to working on the new consulting business. “There’s not a lot of sleeping these days,” he wryly notes.
For now, Antonucci is his company’s only employee. And his clients are all from out of state. But as he adds local customers, he wants to grow the businesses enough to hire help.

He says his experience and education gives him the kind of insight that dovetails with the needs of small businesses looking to join the push for sustainability.

“I came from a background with a small family business,” he says. “It was a blue-collar business, so I’m a blue-collar guy at heart. It just so happens that I have an economics degree.”

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