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What is Sustainability Consulting?

Updated on March 6, 2013
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Green Building Consulting

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known by its acronym, "LEED" in an international program that provides verification of environmentally sustainable construction or remodeling.

LEED Accredited Professionals (APs) are building industry professionals who certify buildings for using green building practices. There are roughly 175,000 LEED APs today.

Role of a Sustainability Consultant

Management consultants are in a prime position to motivate companies to embark on corporate sustainability. They have access to and the attention of top executives. They advise on ways to reduce client costs, add value to clients' operations, and increase client competitiveness – both of which can be achieved by employing corporate sustainability within corporations. Not to mention, ultimately uncover new and sustainable value streams. Management consultants are in a prime position to introduce corporate sustainability to companies and governments worldwide.

Many top consultancies have already begun practicing sustainability consulting or at the minimum have publications devoted to the area. Some currently offer sustainability consulting as a component of their risk and change management practices. Established consulting firms doing this include: McKinsey, Booz & Co, Accenture, Deloitte, BCG, PwC, and A.T. Kearney.

One thing that everyone agrees on is that sustainability should be incorporated into the overall business strategy in order to be successful. And that's something consultants are in a prime position to advise on.

In addition to the large consulting firms, boutique consulting firms specializing in sustainability consulting have sprung up in the past decade and these tend to have more innovative and targeted offerings than the big consulting firms. Although it should be noted that established consulting firms have much bigger budges and greater resources to develop their sustainability practices.

Notably, some consulting firms are not only creating a sustainability practice but they are also integrating sustainability thinking into all its other practices. For instance, A.T. Kearny has been ‘carbon neutral’ since 2010. “Carbon neutrality”, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference. It is used in the context of carbon dioxide releasing processes, associated with transportation, energy production and industrial processes. A challenge consulting firms face in meeting their carbon neutrality goal comes from travel - and consultants really rank in those frequent flyer miles. Who knows, perhaps a goal of carbon neutrality may bring some balance between consultants' work and life.

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Environmental Consulting Firms

EHS (environmental, health and safety) Journal comes out with a list of Global 12 (in terms of gross consulting revenue).

The latest list, in order of global gross environmental consulting revenues, includes:

  1. URS Corp
  2. CH2M Hill
  3. Arcadis
  4. Golder Associates
  5. Environmental Resources Management
  6. MWH Global
  7. RPS Group
  8. AECOM
  9. Parsons Brinckerhoff
  10. ENVIRON
  11. WSP Environment & Energy
  12. WorleyParsons

Sustainability Consultancy

As companies recognize economic and social value in going green, they increasingly seek advice from sustainability consultancies.

According to the Economist, 55% of the world’s leading companies have policies to reduce energy consumption but 86% of those companies lack the capability to measure and report on their carbon footprint. That's where consultants come in. They can assist companies with activities such as managing their energy consumption and reporting on their corporate sustainability engagements.

Studies show that to successfully incorporate corporate sustainability in companies, it is crucial that these type of initiatives and practices be aligned with the overall corporate strategy. Executing a corporate sustainability strategy is usually a challenge though. An environmental and socially responsible business model can potentially be a positive change agent for business internally and externally. This will help the communities where companies do business and will bring new revenue streams to businesses, which will maximize ROI.

Companies need to look at sustainability from a holistic end-to-end perspective. This requires a long-term approach to sustainability activities. Studies show that taking a partial approach to sustainability is inadequate and often fail. Sustainability consultancies are equipped to provide advice on a range of these crucial factors that will make a sustainability agenda work.

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