The 7 Secrets of Successful Sustainability Consultants

The 7 Secrets of Successful Sustainability Consultants

The business of sustainability consulting is expected to reach $8.7 billion in the U.S. and $1.6 billion in the United Kingdom in just two years, and the expanding market poses two key questions for the supply and the demand side of that growth scenario:

What does it take to be a leader in the field?

What questions should companies ask themselves and consulting firms before inking a deal for services?

New research from independent analyst firm Verdantix examines those questions from the perspective of the U.K. market, one of the most mature for sustainability practices. The company surveyed major companies that work with consultancies and examined 14 well-known consultancy firms to put together the Green Quadrant Sustainability Business Consulting report for 2011.

The assessment identified Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC as leaders with other firms -- Accenture, ARUP, Boston Consulting Group, Booz & Co, Camco, Carbon Clear, ENVIRON, ERM, McKinsey, WSP Environment & Energy -- grouped into one of three remaining categories: challengers, entrepreneurs and specialists.

How the other firms stand is proprietary to the study, but Verdantix disclosed what it considered in conducting its review and the success factors that emerged as a result.

Verdantix looked at the consulting companies' services for strategy development, responsible supply chain, sustainable business growth strategies, reporting and compliance, carbon markets, change management and due diligence related to sustainability.

The most competitive firms can show:
1. A breadth of service offerings.
2. Delivery of high-profile projects.
3. Transparency on sustainability performance.
4. Longevity in the sustainability market.
5. Depth of expertise in each domain.
6. Investments in brand awareness.
7. Long-term vision for energy and environmental trends.

When hiring a consultancy firm, said Verdantix Director Rodolphe d’Arjuzon, "companies have to really think about the type of engagement they are seeking and the expertise on offer."

The study provides six tips on what to look for based on specific needs:
1. Transformation. Companies that are trying to transform themselves need to look for consultants with a long and strong track record with transformational strategies.
2. Efficiency improvement. Operational efficiency projects require hands-on expertise.
3. Growth and innovation. Experience with projects to create sustainability value are key.
4. Reporting and data management projects should be cost driven. Because data-gathering for such projects has been commoditized in the U.K., firms looking for consulting help there with such projects should look for firms with "cost-effective and robust methodologies."
5. Supply chain. Work to develop a responsible supply chain may benefit from "dual sourcing," having two consultancy firms with complementary strengths work together on the effort.
6. Due diligence related to the environment and sustainability requires work by specialists.

Growth of the sustainability market and the breadth and depth of services from firms working the field has been rapid, said d'Arjuzon.

The challenge for the industry has been to establish strong, "full-spectrum" sustainability practices, which is difficult given the expansion of the market and the increasingly complex needs of clients.

"We expect to continue to see some evolution among the suppliers [consulting firms]," d'Arjuzon said. "The arms race isn't finished yet."

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