Types of Sustainability Consulting Services


The next step in our project, The State of the Sustainability Consulting Industry, was to figure out what kinds of services are being offered to clients. After researching a list of 250 sustainability consultancies, and reading Perry Goldstein’s, “US Corp. Sustainability and Responsibility Map ” and Greenbiz.com’s annual, “State of Green Business Report 2011 and 2012 ”—along with dozens of other articles and case studies—we have concluded that there are 13 different categories of sustainability consulting services. 

The data could have been categorized in a number of ways, but this was our best attempt at providing the fewest number of categories while maintaining enough differentiation so that no services offered by firms in the space were excluded.

We'll be covering one type of service in each blog entry, and today we begin with the most popular service: sustainability-related strategic planning and implementation. 

The percentage in parentheses indicates the percent of firms studied that offer that particular service. Readers will note that 100% of the companies in our analysis offer Strategic Planning and Implementation services. That’s because our definition of “sustainability consulting” specifically includes this type of service—where consultants help the client see the business (or organizational) value in sustainability.

1. Strategic Planning and Implementation (100%)

The overall, strategic approach to sustainability in business.

This service is most generally described as “helping clients develop a strategic plan revolving around sustainability” and may or may not include implementing that plan.

Strategic planning and implementation encompasses a wide array of topics, including:

  • Sustainability “Current State” Assessments (e.g. figuring out where the client stands today with regard to sustainability issues—this quickly leads to other categories, like carbon footprints, stakeholder identification, and employee engagement)
  • Goal Definition (e.g. identifying what sustainability means to the client, and specifying a handful of priorities and targets to be achieved)
  • Sustainability Roadmapping (e.g. helping the client develop a timetable of actions and priorities to accomplish its sustainability goals)
  • Strategy Implementation (e.g. making all the pieces fit together, especially initatives and activities that help sustainability cross departmental boundaries)

Len Sauers, Procter and Gamble’s VP of Global Sustainability in his write-up of “ 10 Things I’ve Learned About Making a Big Company a Green Giant” provides a great view of some of the main overarching responsibilities within strategy development (albeit from an inside perspective). Sauers says that sustainability should be treated as a business opportunity and not an issue to be managed. He goes on to say that sustainability is part of the rhythm of the business and not separate work; companies need to begin where they can have the most meaningful impact and the greatest results.

Common Jargon and Terminology: Business Modeling, Future Planning, Strategy Development, Core Competencies, SWOT Analysis, etc.

Where You’ve Seen It: Blu Skye helped Walmart discover the value of sustainability in a highly publicized and lauded engagement. Around the same time, Green Order helped GE  create Ecomagination—a high-profile example of what a great consulting partnership can do. 

Check out our past blogs to follow the “State of the Sustainability Consulting  Industry” series:

If you are a new or aspiring sustainability consultant and would like to take your practice to the next level, check out the 2013 Consultant Cohort : a 6-month intensive program hosted by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) and led by SSC President Jennifer Woofter.