Looking for some inspiration that will help you set bold sustainability goals? Check out this webinar on Greenbiz.com. It focuses on how going big when it comes to sustainability goals can be a smart business strategy as well as good stewardship. The panel is composed of sustainability professionals from big businesses — General Mills, Kering, McDonald’s and Quantis — and discusses topics like science-driven goal setting, the Science-Based Targets initiative, planetary boundaries, Sustainable Development Goals and more. The talk also provides concrete business cases from diverse organizations so you can see how they're working through this transition.
Enjoy this post from the SSC Archives.
In today’s marketplace, sustainability consulting is a catch-all term, used to describe multiple professions. It is important for readers to pay careful attention when an author predicts the growth of the “sustainability consulting industry” since it can be defined in so many ways.
We believe that many of the firms that claim to offer sustainability consulting services are, in fact, offering something quite different. Sometimes it is a narrower subset of services (like energy auditing); in other cases it is simply traditional services (like public relations) focused on sustainability initiatives.
So how do we define sustainability consulting?
In general, organizations purporting to offer sustainability consulting services fall into the following broad categories.
Sustainability Strategy: these consulting firms provide planning and strategy services—usually for an entire organization or division. Sustainability strategy firms help businesses use sustainability as a lens through which to make good business decisions. Their goal is to help clients innovate, gain competitive advantage, satisfy stakeholders (especially customers), and empower employees to integrate sustainability into their day-to-day jobs. This type of firm usually has staff with extensive training in management, business administration, organizational development, and/or change management. Example: Strategic Sustainability Consulting.
Technical Support: these firms focus on one or more technical aspects of sustainability, such as green building design and construction, renewable energy and energy efficiency, waste diversion and recycling, and water and wastewater services. Rather than help the company integrate sustainability into its overall business decision-making processes, these firms tend to tackle discrete projects within a facility or division. Their staff generally has engineering or other technical degrees. Example: ERM.
Testing, Auditing and Verification: these firms provide third-party review of sustainability data—either on a corporate/facility level or a product level—and may provide assurance, auditing, or verification services. A firm in this category may exclusively cater to sustainability data (e.g. third-party assurance of a sustainability report), but will often provide non-sustainability services as well (e.g. third-party assurance of annual reports). Example: UL Environment.
Visioning and Facilitation: these firms focus on the “big picture” of sustainability, working with clients to brainstorm and create new mental models for companies, communities, and societies. These firms tend to be smaller and more radical, since the market for their services is smaller and their goal is to push the boundary of “business as usual.” The principals of these firms come from a variety of backgrounds, but often have training in facilitation techniques like Open Space, World Café, and the Art of Hosting. Example: The Natural Step.
Sustainability Marketing: these firms help clients tell their sustainability story. They range from public relations firms to graphic designers, and have varying involvement in the crafting of the story versus the delivery of the message. Staff at these firms usually has marketing, advertising, design and communications degrees. Many smaller firms in this category will focus exclusively on sustainability marketing, but larger companies will often have only one division devoted to sustainability and focus most of its effort on other communication areas. Example: J. Ottman Consulting.
Sustainability Software: one of the fastest growing areas of the sustainability marketplace is the development and sales of sustainability software—including carbon accounting, EHS management, and sustainability reporting platforms. Many of these companies offer some kind of consulting support, but it is generally related to the set-up and implementation of the sustainability software. While there is some overlap between this category and the Technical Support category, we distinguish the two because the Technical Support companies generally provide a service (e.g. an energy audit) while Sustainability Software companies generally sell a distinct product. Example: Credit360.
Check out our past blog “State of the Sustainability Consulting Industry” to learn more on the background for these findings.
Determining whether or not to implement sustainability efforts is a question of the past for many firms. But once it has been decided, the focus is on how to hire a successful sustainability manager.
Of course, many firms have standardized hiring policies and procedures focused on hiring the most qualified candidate; but when it comes to hiring a manager for an all-together new initiative, especially sustainability, where should you start?
Bob Langert, former VP of Sustainability at McDonald’s identified 8 attributes most commonly found in sustainability leaders. With 30 years of experience working in sustainability, Langert is a leading expert on the topic and has recently finished work on his book, The Battle to Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey, due out in January.
Among these eight common characteristics Langert found in sustainability leaders are courage, contrariness, and conviction.
He describes that sustainability change will often be met with resistance and, in order to persevere in the face of this resistance, managers must be courageous and “accept and relish the fact that leadership in sustainability means changing something...”
Additionally, conviction plays a central role in leading with courage. Because sustainability is a big-time change from the status quo, “conviction – really having a firmly held belief – is required as the contagious springboard to bring others along,” according to Langert.
Bold, contrarian characteristics are incredibly valuable in a sustainability, but they cannot exist without bringing people together around a common goal – sustainability.
Langert outlines this need clearly, saying “It’s ironic that while it takes a lot of courage, conviction, cleverness and contrariness to battle to make sustainable change, a really good leader knows how to do so and still attract others to the mission or cause.” Thus, highlighting the need for attributes like collaboration, cheerfulness, charisma, and humility.
While conviction can carry an initiative to a certain extent, listening to and working with those who will be impacted can increase success. Langert also includes that, when it comes to charisma, “there’s no one personality profile that dominates.” Instead, he emphasizes that good leaders use their charisma to influence others by building trust.
Finally, Langert noticed that the most successful sustainability leaders are quick to share wins and slow to take credit. In other words, their humility is a strength that is good for teams and, ultimately, sustainability.
Knowing these characteristics is a wonderful start, but how can businesses identify them in applicants to ensure they are hiring the right sustainability leader?
Inc. offers advice for hiring managers emphasizing that “It (hiring) goes far beyond conducting an insightful professional interview, although this is part of it.”
Take a look at what you have to offer and what you are looking for by building a performance-based job description. Once you have a clear idea of what you are looking for, you can be more prepared to ask questions that allow candidates to demonstrate what it is you are looking for in a sustainability manager.
During the interview process consider conducting a performance-based interview and asking questions about accomplishments. These types of questions allow you to compare the candidate’s accomplishments to the sustainability manager position.
Additionally, as the candidate discusses these accomplishments interviewers can dig deeper, focusing on the attributes discussed by Langert.
This process can be arduous and complicated. In many cases, you may not yet know what you’re looking for or how to best determine which candidates are ready to lead your sustainability initiatives and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes it's ok NOT to hire, but to get a consultant (like us) on board first to fully develop the job description and 5-year plan, and then hire a more junior person for implementation. There are many things to be learned when it comes to creating successful sustainability efforts. Luckily, there is plenty of help available.