Four Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies alumni spoke Friday about how corporations can expand their environmental initiatives in the recession through small, cost-saving measures.

Andrew Winston FES ’03, Kristin Morico FES ’98, Eliza Eubank SOM ’07 FES ’07 and Paulette Frank FES ’96 told an audience of about 90 students and professionals on Friday that sustainability efforts will benefit companies’ bottom lines in today’s competitive business environment. Effective government regulations such as a carbon tax, they added, will provide further incentive for companies to invest in sustainability.

Winston, an independent consultant and the author of two books on green business, said companies not only bolster their social images through going green, but can also increase profit margins.

“Green represents a fundamentally better way of doing business,” Winston said.

Winston, who gave the keynote address, said companies should challenge any part of a business model no matter how entrenched it was, a concept he labeled “heretical innovation.” For instance, Winston said, speed is essential for shipping companies. But Con-way, a freight company, he said, saves $10 million a year by increasing engine efficiency through reducing the maximum speed of its trucks from 65 miles per hour to 62 miles per hour.

More and more companies are tackling climate change through their business models, Winston said. In 2009, 50 percent of S&P 500 companies listed specific goals for greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, that figure was 32 percent.

“Climate change is a political and business reality now,” he said. “The conversation has moved from polar bears to solar panels.”

Small initiatives can also make a big difference, said Eubank, an assistant vice president of environmental and social risk management at Citigroup. For example, Citigroup has saved $6.8 million by moving to paperless statements, she said.

The four panelists said they were enthusiastic about the progress that businesses have made towards environmentally sound practices. If the environmental summit at Copenhagen in December — where countries will try to negotiate a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, the expiring treaty that limits greenhouse gas emissions — is a success, they said, companies will be encouraged to pursue further green initiatives.

“If we don’t get the right policies in place, companies will only go so far,” Winston said.

The talk was well received by audience members, who exclaimed “wow” throughout Winston’s presentation. Brian Cope SOM ’12 FES ’12 said the event, especially Winston’s address, was “excellent.”

“These people are tremendous leaders; it’s rare for students to have this level of exposure,” Cope said. “I’m shocked there weren’t more people here.”

The event, which was held at Kroon Hall, was organized by the Environment School’s Career Development Office, the Environment School’s Alumni Affairs Office and the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale.