How Much Experience Should your Sustainability Consultant Have?

There is no doubt about it -- sustainability consulting jobs are a hot commodity. While we've seen the demand for professional sustainability services grow over the last 5-10 years, the demand hasn't kept pace with the hordes of hopeful individuals flocking to the sustainability consulting industry. Even the 2008-2009 economic crash didn't stop people from entering the field.

You can see from the graph above that most currently practicing sustainability consultants have less than five years of experience. (That doesn't include prior consulting experience, or prior sustainability experience -- the results *only* show years of "sustainability consulting experience.")

What That Means for Consultants

  • If you are brand new to the field (less than 2 years): Don't worry, the field itself is pretty new. The barriers to entry are low, although you will probably find that it's tough to get hired by an established consultancy, since there are more applicants than jobs available.
  • If you have some experience (2-5 years): Congrats! If you've been doing this for at least two years, you're likely doing something right. We saw a bunch of newbies give up when the economy ground to a halt -- so those of you who persevered deserve a pat on the back for your determination and grit!
  • If you have solid experience (5+ years): Your experience is probably your biggest selling point. Make sure that you are able and ready to tout your past successes with lots of case studies, references, and testimonials.  

What That Means for Clients

  • There are going to be a lot of people knocking on your door, and roughly 70% of them will have less than 5 years of experience in sustainability consulting. 
  • Make sure that any sustainability consultant you hire is well-equipped with the 3 key skill sets that every sustainability consultant needs.
  • Keep in mind that experience shouldn't always trump other qualifications. Sometimes you may want a sustainability consultant who approaches things from a radically different perspective. Other times, you want someone with a proven track record of sustainability consulting success. Make sure you know what you're looking for, so that you are better able to determine the importance of past experience for your current project. 

At Strategic Sustainability Consulting, our senior practitioners average 10 years of sustainability consulting experience. Our junior consultants generally have 2-5 years of experience. And our interns and volunteers are generally getting their first year of exposure to the sustainability consulting business. That works well for us -- but we're curious to hear from readers -- how important is it to have prior sustainability consulting experience? Leave a comment, or join the conversation on Twitter.

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.