Guest Post by Christina Gilyutin, Chief Career Counselor for Bright Green Talent

“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.” In a follow up article, 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.)

Reprinted with permission from Bright Green Talent

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© 2009, Christina_Gilyutin. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Christina_Gilyutin (3 Articles)

Christina Gilyutin is Bright Green Talent'sBright Green Talent's Chief Career Counselor. She attended Stanford University, spent some time living in Jackson Hole, WY before heading over to the University of Michigan's Erb Institute of Global Sustainable Enterprise earning a joint MBA/MS in Natural Resources and Environment. You can find Bright Green Talent on: www.brightgreentalent.com, Twitter, LinkedIn , and Facebook.

  • http://www.b-yond.biz/en elaine cohen

    hi, interesting post, thanks. As a sustainability consultant, i would like to add a few things: (1) sustainability is a business issue, so i believe it is an advantage for a sustainability consultants to have had some hands-on business experience. The all-encompassing nature of a sustainability approach needs a broad perspective and an understanding of strategy/operations as well as professional expertise in sustainability issues (2) sustainability tends to split into two – environmental sustainability and the rest. A good practice should have expertise in both – my business partner is an environmental expert, for example. (3) i think sustainability and corporate reponsibility are becoming more of a profession, and i suspect we will start seeing more vocational approaches to this field. Within this umbrella, there are specialisms which reflect specific expertise such as Env Risk Assessment, Stakeholder Engagement , Responsible Workplace etc, all of which exist today in some form or other.
    elaine

  • http://www.sustainabilityprofessionals.org Michelle Hippler

    Sustainability is becoming a profession, which is why the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) was founded a couple years ago. Many of these professionals work in isolation, so the association helps bring them together (mostly via online forums and webinars) to share best practices and fill in educational gaps. ISSP workshops are taught by luminaries in the field (Alan AtKisson, Bob Willard and Joel Mackower will round out our 2009 curriculum.

    We are also in the process of conducting a survey of sustainability professionals to answer the question “what does a professional need to know in the field.” We think the answer will be of great help to employers, academics and those working hard in the field and those who want to get into it.

    To take the survey please go to: http://www.surveywriter.net/in/survey/survey162/ISSP2009.asp

    It will take between 15 and 20 minutes.

  • http://hintonhumancapital.wordpress.com hintonhumancapital

    This article has excellent information but does not answer the question “Am I qualified?” A company’s ability to implement sustainable practices is directly related to the competence and qualfication of the people involved. It is my hope that you address this question with more depth for the job seekers who are interested in a career change.
    .-= hintonhumancapital´s last blog ..The State of Green Business- A GreenBiz.com Special Report =-.

  • Ana

    This article has some helpful information. I recently graduated from college with a BBA in international management and have been considering graduate school for sustainability. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as far as an online graduate degree program, or a direction to go in with this degree. I have just begun researching the field so any input would be helpful!