Author, adviser, thinker, speaker: John Elkington has worn a variety of hats during his 40-year career. Linking them all is a quiet yet irrepressible passion for positive change

Consultants come in many guises. The big shots with their swagger. The technocrats with their spreadsheets. The charlatans with their sweet talk. 

John Elkington, the 66-year-old founder of boutique consultancy firm Volans, is none of those things. In fact, there’s little initially that would suggest this softly spoken urban planning graduate has spent the best part of three decades visiting corporate boardrooms around the world (he previously co-founded and led the advisory firm SustainAbility).

The constant consultant

For one, he’s ready to turn down work. In the mid-1990s, it took the badgering of not one but two chief executives at Shell to persuade him to advise the oil major. Second, “cranking the handle” – his phrase for churning out the same old same old – bores him. Unlike so many consultancies, with their cut-and-paste solutions, he openly admits to having no “black box methodology”.

Shell persuaded Elkington to offer advice
 

The closest model to his approach, he says jokingly, is James Bond. Not because of the fast cars and women (bird-watching or visiting castles is more Elkington’s idea of a good time). What connects him with Ian Fleming’s super sleuth is his quick...

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