There are opportunities in every challenge. Through these tough times I was able to restructure the company to something much more nimble than it was in 2009. We gave up the expensive office space with bamboo flooring in the Financial District. By 2011, Sustainable Industries’ monthly print magazine, which since the beginning we paid a premium to print on 100 percent recycled paper, became bimonthly. By the fall of 2011 it was phased out completely. Until then, the print magazine represented about half of our revenue, and an all-digital magazine was not about to live up to that. The most difficult part, of course, came in the loss of positions I had been so proud to create for employees who sought work that made a difference in the world.
None of the savings came as quickly as I would have liked. But by the summer of 2012, I was personally sleeping easier and felt at this point no challenge big or small could phase Sustainable Industries again – we had seen it all. I took a mini-sabbatical and did some volunteer work. The business no longer felt so tied to my own ego. Critical debts were paid down. Our new custom media offerings make much more sense not only in terms of potential profit margin, but more importantly in terms of the impact and value they offer our clients. Frankly, there’s more fun to be had delivering a custom experience that addresses exactly what businesses are looking for. Print ads aren’t as easy to measure.
As a service-based company, the biggest asset Sustainable Industries possesses is the incredible audience of sustainable business leaders we serve. That audience is alive, well, and more sophisticated than ever.
Outside of the company, the world keeps spinning. Before the recession, the “local” journal-conglomerate I had previously been employed by launched a formidable online sustainable business media property that has commanded major sponsor dollars and in some ways pushed us out of that market entirely. This mainstream media’s push into sustainable business can be seen as a good thing, and it’s quite possible Sustainable Industries played a role in inspiring that.
But the story of who sailed through and who is still rocked by the wake of the recession is similar across most industries. In a recent special report in Foreign Policy magazine called “Who won the Great Recession?” (because it’s more entertaining to crown winners, right?) those on top included the ultra-rich, “climate deniers” and McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD), which saw its stock rise roughly 350 percent since the critical documentary “Super Size Me” was released in 2004.
Much of the Fortune 500 enjoyed a fast and spectacular recovery in the recession, however in the speculative months after their recovery significant investments in the United States have remained rare. Many have turned to Asia, the Middle East and South America. It’s a prudent move for shareholders.