Strategic advisor, sustainability coach, business-development mentor, communications specialist, conservation biologist—It’s hard to put the work Alexa Bach-McElrone does into one neat category.
That, in many ways, is the point. Some people and businesses may consider themselves creative leaders because they think “outside the box.” As the founder and principal of Bach-McElrone Consulting, Alexa goes them one better: “Whatever the box used to be, let’s forget about that.” Groundbreaking is one of her favorite adjectives.
Alexa helps clients shape their good ideas for environmentally and socially responsible enterprises into profitable business plans. She shows established businesses how to take their success and impact for good to a higher level or in a new direction. She develops entrepreneurs as industry leaders in sustainability. Ultimately, she aims to change the world for the better.
Alexa’s goal is to make sure that individuals and companies that have the best impacts on the world are also those that are the most successful. What’s good for them is good for the planet. That might mean working with a sustainable resort community in Mexico, or an environmentally friendly winery in California that donates heavily to good causes. It might mean helping a nonprofit that sees the link among women’s health, girls’ education and sustainable communities—and works to advance them all. Often, she’s in at the beginning, before a venture goes public.
Her innovative approach is part of a pattern in Alexa’s life that includes her education at the Nicholas School. Whatever she tackles, Alexa isn’t afraid to assert herself and try new things. She’s tailored her studies, her jobs and now her own company to “maximize the impact.”
As an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, she designed her major in environmental conservation science. Then she wanted to prepare herself to play a bigger role. “I realized that to conserve the place I love, I needed to learn to speak in the languages of all the interests and fields around me.”
She found it frustrating that academics and conservationists were coming up with good solutions, but they weren’t as successful in communicating those lessons to people who were in a position to implement them. She entered the MEM program at the Nicholas School to study sustainable development and learn more about business, law and policy. She liked the flexibility of the school’s approach, which enabled her to shape her studies, cross disciplines at Duke and make contacts at nearby UNC Chapel Hill.
At the Nicholas School, she found professors and administrators more than willing to help her make the most of her opportunities, including taking a semester off to conduct research in New Zealand on how that country’s new environmental law was cultivating sustainable communities and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. That research led to her master’s project.
“The thing I loved at the Nicholas School is that if I came up with a real idea that I could justify, that was going to have a positive impact, whoever I spoke to was behind me 110 percent. They would work with me, help me figure out how to get the money, how to get the connections so I could do it.
“The school encouraged me and made me feel that I could do anything. It wasn’t just helping me get the money. Everybody I worked with at the school helped me to elevate my idea. Whatever it was, they pushed to make it better. I learned that constructive criticism is not only good, it’s necessary.”
That lesson is at the heart of Alexa’s consulting business. She tells clients up front that she will likely frustrate them, but she will push them to excel. “People come to me because they’ve had a Eureka moment, and I come in and say, ‘How can you make that bigger? How can you make that better?’ ”
In her first few years after the Nicholas School, Alexa worked in a variety of contract, scholar-in-residence and consulting positions that mostly had to do with the emerging concept of sustainable development. She traveled the world—Madagascar, Belize, Ecuador, the Galapagos. … She helped the United Arab Emirates develop an ecotourism strategy.
After about five years, she began to feel that she was repeating herself—introducing people and businesses to the concept of sustainability and helping them “move from beginner to advanced beginner.”
Deciding that she wanted to “move the industry forward instead of answering the same questions repeatedly,” she went out on her own as an independent consultant. Soon, she founded Bach-McElrone Consulting. “I wanted to work with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial entities who are ready to think big, make intelligent risks, and who already have the financial means necessary to take action or will raise the capital to do so.”
Her work still takes her far afield at times. She is, to name one current project, part of a newly formed joint venture crafting a creative overlay emphasizing sustainability and innovation for the 2020 World Expo in Dubai. She’s helping the owner of a sustainable resort in Central America leverage his success, develop similar properties and build an impact investment fund.
But she also has found much to do where she lives, in California’s wine country. “While I love to travel, I began to feel that I was a bit of a hypocrite not to work in my own state. The wine industry is such a significant contributor to our economy.”
Now she’s added to her considerable knowledge insights into the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine and the intimate relationship between vineyards and the land, water and animals around them. “It’s another good place to make a positive impact,” she said.
And maximizing positive impacts is what Alexa does.
- 2003, MEM/Sustainable Development, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
- 2001, BS, Environmental Science, University of Maryland, College Park
- June 2008, Present, Owner, Bach- McElrone Consulting
- 2006-2008, Sustainability Consultant, Urban Green, San Francisco, CA
- 2004-2006, Scholar-in-Residence, Sustainable Development, Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C.