Tough news for anyone looking to be hired by a sustainability consulting firm: Jobs are scarce, and more than half (52%) of all sustainability consultants surveyed in 2011 reported working for themselves, with another 27% working in micro-organizations of 2-5 people.
Based on our research, and bolstered by anecdotal evidence from 600+ members of the SSC Consultant Network, there is a growing trend of collaboration between and among sustainability consultants. Rather than needing to build a large organization with full-time employees, it makes more sense to stay small and pull in people when you need them. Here are three reasons why small is beautiful in our industry:
- Being smaller means that a boutique consultancy has lower overhead expenses (like rent and utilities for a large office space) and lower overhead expenses generally means a lower mark-up rate for clients. When you hire a smaller company, more of your money is going to pay for the specific expertise of the consultant -- rather than the receptionist, the cleaning service, and the property manager. That often translates into more reasonable fees, or more "bang for the buck" for the client.
- Being smaller means a smaller environmental footprint. That doesn't necessarily translate into a smaller per-person footprint (unless you're really careful to utilize remote services like conference calls, video calls, Skype and the like), but it can make it easier to track and manage your impacts.
- Being smaller forces you to be nimble, flexible, and innovative -- exactly the traits you want from a sustainability consultancy. Our industry is changing so rapidly, it's imperative that consulting firms have systems in place to rapidly respond to demands for new skills, new regulations, and new collaboration models.
So while this may not be great news for sustainability consultants seeking the security of full-time employment and benefits that comes along with working at a larger company, it's a great sign for those sustainability consultants with an entrepreneurial attitude.
Every year, we conduct a survey of currently-practicing sustainability consultants. The chart above shows some of the results, compiled from 2009-2011 survey responses. Interested in learning more about the state of the sustainability consulting industry? Check out our 4-part Sustainability Consulting Masterclass, available online and on-demand.