Sustainability Consulting: What is it, and am I qualified? Part I

February 17, 2009 at 5:06 pm 3 comments

Christina headshotPenned by Christina

“Don’t think of climate change as an environmental issue; think of it as a market issue. In fact, you can remain agnostic about the science of climate change but still recognize its importance as a business issue.”*

As individuals from all kinds of backgrounds and industries push into the field of sustainability consulting, it can become murky as to what that work even entails. This is especially true when considering the different perspectives and methodologies that are employed and adding even more complexity is the variability among clients and their needs. Thus, this quote sums up for me what sustainability consultants are trying to do – they help businesses address and redress the way in which they operate so that they will be better positioned for the market of the future a la decreasing their negative impact on the natural environment. Some argue that like the trends of international business and e-commerce, sustainability will at some point cease to be its own discipline and assume its rightful place within all of business practices. (At which time sustainability consultants will become just “consultants” and we can never have enough of those!)

I am often asked to rattle off sustainability consulting firms so I decided to do just that right here (not an exhaustive list!):

Large Firms with a Growing Sustainability Practice
Deloitte
Accenture
BCG
McKinsey & Company

Well-Established, Boutique Firms
Business for Social Responsibility
Blu Skye Consulting
Green Order
SustainAbility
Natural Capitalism, Inc.
Natural Logic
Ecosecurities

Lesser-Known, Boutique Firms
InterfaceRAISE (offshoot from well-known sustainability pioneer Interface, Inc.)
Domani
Strategic Sustainability Consulting
Business Evolution Consulting
Green Squad (Waste Management endeavour)
Garretson Group (now Pinyon Partners LLC)
Five Winds International
Cameron-Cole

There are countless others – not to mention (though I guess I am) many firms that have traditionally focused in environmental consulting (more on the compliance and regulatory side), marketing, law, PR, etc. that are building out sustainability practices and showing up at events such as the Sustainable Brands Conference or Net Impact’s National Conference. If you have friends or a network rooted in a “traditional” field, you should reach out to them to talk with them about what those plans might be. At best, it positions you for the future and at worst, you further educate yourself on where this field is and is NOT going by giving you a sense of the ubiquity of these ideas from an industry and geographical perspective.

I also know of a number of people who have ventured out to create their own sustainability practices. This takes an established network, an ability to display salient work experience, a salesperson’s tenacity and potentially some savings in the bank so you’re not sleeping on the street in between gigs. This is a tough path to forge but if you have all of the above, it is certainly possible…I’ve seen it!

Finally, the lack of a specific definition for what sustainability consulting IS also probably adds to its attraction — it’s easy to think, “Hey, I can help a company turn off its lights more or use fewer plastic water bottles.” Next week, I’ll talk more about the specific skills that are important if this is indeed the type of work you want to do. Through outlining those skills, you should be able to evaluate whether sustainability consulting is really where you fit best or whether there is a different space where your skill set and background is a better fit AND you can still have the impact you want.

* “Climate Change: What’s Your Business Strategy?” by Andrew J. Hoffman and John G. Woody. I recommend this book as it serves as a crash course highlighting the major issues that companies should be considering to be better positioned for the future. It’s a quick read as it is a part of the Memo to the CEO series. (In the interest of full disclosure, one of the authors was my adviser at the University of Michigan and The Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.)

Advertisements

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Students and Grads: Get Skills, Get Savvy – Part I Getting Technical: Solar Opportunities to Fit your Skill Set

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Angela  |  February 18, 2009 at 2:44 am

    Nice post on sustainability consulting! I have seen two basic categories for sustainability consultants. Those who are focused on “greening” a process or organization; i.e. cost cutting, carbon footprints and process reorganization and those who focus on top-line growth through sustainability; i.e. new markets and new products. Each group is important to different areas of an organization and each necessites specific skill sets and mindsets.

    Reply
  • 2. chris  |  February 24, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Your write-up was very helpful. I think to learn how to be a consultant is critical. The best advice I can tell people who want to move into the environmental – green areas is to really focus on what area they want to work in while they are in school ( non profit, government, a scientist role, consultant, etc) Target that area with a focus and go after the job while in school. I did that prior to my BS and it worked because I worked in environmental science jobs for a few years. Right now, many of these new green jobs cross over into standard jobs. For example, I sold software, hardware, ext with a green message ( green data center). The skill set needed was not green but IT sales. I had the green with my background but most of the people pitching the message did not. Good luck to everyone.

    Reply
  • 3. Elemental » Links for March 11th through March 15th  |  March 17, 2009 at 12:00 am

    […] Sustainability Consulting: What is it, and am I qualified? Part I « Bright Green Talent Musing… – And I count myself amongst those who say sustainability is NOT a discipline: "As individuals from all kinds of backgrounds and industries push into the field of sustainability consulting, it can become murky as to what that work even entails. This is especially true when considering the different perspectives and methodologies that are employed and adding even more complexity is the variability among clients and their needs. Thus, this quote sums up for me what sustainability consultants are trying to do – they help businesses address and redress the way in which they operate so that they will be better positioned for the market of the future a la decreasing their negative impact on the natural environment. Some argue that like the trends of international business and e-commerce, sustainability will at some point cease to be its own discipline and assume its rightful place within all of business practices." […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


February 2009
M T W T F S S
« Jan   Mar »
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
232425262728  

Bright Green Twitter

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Pages


%d bloggers like this: