Bill Jones is proud of his green credentials. Over the past five years his company, Sustainable Living Fabrics, a Melbourne textiles manufacturer and wholesaler, has reduced its carbon footprint by 50 per cent and has had its entire 400-strong range of commercial fabrics independently certified as carbon-neutral.
Despite turning his business into an international exemplar of environmental responsibility - Jones is regularly invited to participate in international business forums, including a United Nations leaders' summit in New York last year - he has done it on his own, without the help of consultants.
He believes there are too many green consultants, making it difficult for businesses, particularly small businesses like his, to source the right advice.
"A lot of people [consultants] are jumping on the bandwagon but the reality is I haven't had anything to do with them, so it's not a problem for me," Jones says. "Frankly, I'd rather do it myself than put in a consultant. You'll learn more about your business by doing it yourself."
Jones has reduced the company's environmental footprint by slashing carbon emissions, water and electricity usage and the use of toxic chemicals. As well as introducing incentives for staff to cut energy consumption, Sustainable Living Fabrics favours suppliers that recycle water and use cleaner energy.
Suppliers keen to green up often ask Jones for referrals to sustainability consultants but he urges them to follow his do-it-yourself approach.
"I invite them to come and see me and see what we've done," Jones says. "I also encourage them to do courses and understand the theory for themselves. It's important to keep yourself informed and I always stress that you can't rely on just one source of information."
Jones uses consultants only when seeking third-party accreditation for his environmental business practices and his fabrics' carbon-neutral status. "They can also give you a lead on solving problems," he says.
With more than 100 state and federal government green programs, including mandatory reporting schemes, voluntary initiatives, and incentive and funding programs – coupled with the re-emergence of carbon pricing on the federal political agenda – it's not surprising that businesses are renewing their interest in environmental business practices.
Tony Cooper , the chief executive of Energetics , a national management consulting firm specialising in climate change, says "interest has picked up significantly since the depths of the GFC". Energetics consults to S&P/ASX 200 companies, which he says have maintained their commitment to low-pollution strategies throughout the global financial crisis and despite the policy back-flip on the emissions trading scheme by Kevin Rudd in early 2010.
However, improving prospects of a federal Labor-Greens agreement on carbon pricing, following the release of 11 policy principles by the multi-party climate change committee last December, has provided big business with further impetus to gear up for an ETS.
This means more pressure on small businesses that may have taken their eye off the green ball when the ETS fell off the political agenda.
"There will be smaller organisations who will require professional advice so that they are best placed to meet the needs of [big clients] because if they don't, they will be disadvantaged in due course," Cooper says.
He urges business owners to develop information networks to make informed decisions about potential strategies and, if necessary, the names of reliable consultants. Sources of information include businesses that have successfully implemented low-emission programs, as well as business and professional associations and government agencies.
"Another way for small businesses who are suppliers to large companies to keep themselves informed about energy and climate change matters is to actively engage with their clients: what are the important issues and who are they talking to about these issues?" Cooper says.
An executive director of Green Building Council Australia, Robin Mellon , says there is "no one simple answer" to being an environmentally friendly business. "Reducing the amount of carbon associated with an organisation is a multi-layered process."
Mellon stresses that the most successful green consultants are also business consultants. "Green consulting is not about being nice to trees," he says. "It's about good business advice, it's about the business case."
Mellon's checklist for choosing a green consultant includes relevant professional and industry experience, professional development courses undertaken and previous projects worked on. "It may be worth contacting some clients of the person in question to learn more about their role in each project," he says.