The Evolving Field of Sustainability Consulting

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May 2, 2013 by ClaudiaZumpe

By Claudia D. Zumpe, MSc in Management Consulting 3 student

The notion of “sustainability” is today one of the critical items on the world’s agenda. Sustainability is the capacity to endure in the long-term and is about meeting current needs without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet theirs. It means that the environment shall not be damaged nor natural resources depleted by our human activity.

The realization of the importance of sustainability has also reached the business landscape and companies are increasingly recognizing their responsibility regarding climate and energy impacts. Today, the majority of big companies are releasing sustainability reports and CSR mission statements in order to demonstrate introspection, consideration of multiple stakeholders and their willingness to improve in the future. Previously, this was regarded as giving competitive edge; however, I would say that it is increasingly considered a basic requirement.

Thus, companies from a variety of industries are looking for ways to actively manage their social and environmental impacts. As in-house expertise for these organizational changes is often missing, “sustainability consulting” is a growing field. This trend towards the sustainability specialization in consulting is reflected in the growing sustainability practices of large established consulting firms as well as start-ups of sustainability consulting boutique firms. Consultants advising on environmental issues have existed for years; however, traditionally they were primarily focused on compliance to regulations, PR and legal issues. Nowadays, major issues are revolving around climate change and renewable energy.  For example, car manufactures are faced with the need to move away from oil and into renewable energies. In the food industry, companies are concerned about their carbon footprint and energy efficiency and are seeking to make their supply chain and packaging “greener” (i.e. more environmentally friendly) while also capturing on commercial opportunities. As can be seen from these examples, there is a great variety of clients and needs regarding initiatives aiming for sustainability. These are complex endeavors and companies are often struggling to understand them as well as unsure on how to translate their values into actions. Therefore, in sustainability consulting a diverse set of tools and expertise for social, economic, and environmental responsibility is required in addition to deep industry knowledge.

Sustainability consulting is an evolving field, whose definition and methodologies are not clearly defined, however, this makes it all the more interesting. In my opinion, sustainability consulting is an important discipline as it helps companies align their triple bottom line.

I personally consider sustainability consulting an attractive occupational field. I would be interested in your opinion about and experiences in sustainability consulting. Is it just a passing trend or a “sustainable” profession?

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