Why brand awareness helps to win sustainability consulting gigs

One big reason companies engage outside expertise is for the assurance of having someone develop and critique the plan.

"Firms keep board requirements, competitive positioning and reputational risk in mind when crafting sustainability strategies — responding to scrutiny from stakeholders and demands for transparency around sustainability initiatives," said Patty Satkiewicz, Verdantix industry analyst and author of the report. "Despite the growing number of firms actively adopting such strategies, it's a new challenge for many firms, and they'll seek help from strategy consultants if they don't have the bandwidth or the in-house expertise to develop a sustainability strategy."

That sentiment is echoed by telecommunications giant Sprint, which seeks outside resources for specific business intelligence rather than broader consulting projects, said Amy Hargrove, manager of CSR for the company.

One example is the collaborative development process behind the supplier scorecards that it uses to rate the sustainability of various mobile computing devices, which involved insight from Samsung, UL Environment and others.

While Sprint tends to look first to boutique sustainability consultants, she recognizes that size matters to the Fortune 500.

"The big four have a huge advantage over their boutique sisters – existing work history, existing contracts, internal credibility, purchase history and financial stability," she said. "Also, they are now purchasing many of the boutique firms – acquiring that specialized information they had been lacking -- that provides the most significant value for experienced practitioners of corporate responsibility."

Next page: Specialized knowledge still prevails