BOSTON — SULLYING the environment is not funny. Well, not unless you're watching the new - educational - "Grime Goes Green" video by John Cleese, the comic actor who won fame as part of English television's "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Silly Mr. Cleese plays stingy factory owner Mr. Grime, accused of dumping chemicals down drains, using too much packaging, and operating lorries that waste fuel. In the 30-minute tape produced by London-based Video Arts, Grime (and the audience) learns how to clean up his act before the dreaded government inspector stops by (deftly portrayed by Prince Charles).
It's a simple tale, but it tells a story that a growing number of businesses around the world are lining up to hear: how to manage the goals of industry with the integrity of nature. And how cash in on a "green" image.
Environmental consulting is growing by leaps and bounds, playing prime time in United States corporate offices, as experts give advice in areas from product design to waste minimization.
Boasting an annual growth of 19 percent in 1990, environmental consulting and engineering is the fastest growing field in the environmental industry, according to the April Environmental Business Journal (EBJ), a newsletter based in San Diego. Last year, companies paid more than $12 billion to environmental consulting firms; 10 years ago industry revenues were $1 billion.
Grant Ferrier, the EBJ's editor, cites three reasons for the boom: The public is more aware of what corporations are doing, pollution-control laws are becoming more complex, and costs of cleanup liability are skyrocketing.
"Companies are realizing that being more proactive in environmental management rather than reactive will pay off in the long run," Mr. Ferrier says. Ideally, everyone benefits. Consultants design assembly lines that use less material and belch out less black smoke; companies spend less on waste disposal and cleanup; and consumers get cheaper, more environmentally friendly products.
Among the key companies in the field of environmental consulting are: Roy F. Weston; Camp Dresser & McKee; ICF International; Ch2M-Hill; Bechtel Environmental; and Arthur D. Little.
Ralph Earle, senior consultant at Arthur D. Little in Boston, says the most important service his company offers is "unpacking the environmental complexity" by asking the right questions.
"We did a study on disposable diapers a year ago, and decided reusable diapers are better. But if you look at the total picture - at the detergents and bleach used in the cleaning process - the answer is not that simple." Nor is there a cut-and-dried certainty about "life-cycle assessments" in general, he says. These comparative studies sometimes take into account only the disposal of products, and not their manufacture and maintenance. "One of the biggest environmental risks we run is the oversimplific ations of issues."
David Doyle, senior vice president of environmental management at Camp Dresser & McKee Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., says business has been growing steadily 25 to 30 percent in the past five years. Buzzwords like "environmental stewardship" and "proactive" are propelling even multinational companies to seek cradle-to-grave solutions to manufacturing processes.
"Environmental compliance and regulation is becoming a global business. We're seeing a more astute public around the world demanding better environmental controls for their own quality of life. The major multinational firms are seeing they have an obligation - a public stewardship - to be good neighbors. There is national pride in not being a polluter," Mr. Doyle says.