Sustainability Consulting 101: The Role of the Players Driving Impact

I’ve become interested in consulting because of its ability to move bigger levers and engage diverse stakeholders with global presence. For example, the consulting firm Business for Social Responsibility works with the Rocky Mountain Institute, World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund to facilitate solutions to transform global electricity systems with renewable energy. Conversations like this happening at 30,000 feet drive impact; impact the world needs to navigate a risky future. With change and leadership management also crucial pieces in helping companies adopt an environmentally responsible culture, the role consultants can play is crucial. Today I’m taking the opportunity to explore sustainability consulting and the key players making an impact.


Just 2% of sustainability change management programs work at corporations (Bain, 2016), compared to a 30%  traditional change management program success rate. Clearly, embedding sustainable values into a corporation is extremely challenging. Perhaps too, some companies are not ready to fully commit to a triple bottom line framework.

Yet, now more than ever, consumers expect more transparency and better business practices from corporations. According to the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, 79% of Americans expect businesses to continue improving their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental efforts. 64% are hopeful business will take the lead to drive social and environmental change moving forward. Look at Blackrock and Patagonia. The needle is moving, albeit slowly.

Today, 65% of executives report sustainability to be on their top management agenda, up from just 46% in 2010. Companies are moving in the right direction (BCG, 2017). To add sustainability to the business core is to be a 21st century company. Corporations would be foolish not to engage a triple bottom line framework. They can with the help of consulting firms.

10 years ago, the sustainability consulting market didn’t exist as a separate entity, but now it does, according to Yaowen Ma, a Verdantix analyst (Greenbiz, 2015). Though it’s not a booming industry, it has a presence and it’s growing. One challenge is that a corporation needs buy-in and budget across multiple departments to commit to sustainability consulting. Additionally, there may be more growth than we think but, many projects that are sustainably focused fall under other scopes like supply chain or marketing.

Who are the players in the space? Business for Social Responsibility, SustainAbility, and FSG are firms helping public and private partners work on their social and environmental goals. According to Environmental Leader, Deloitte, McKinsey, and PwC lead in sustainability strategy consulting while Ernst & Young, KPMG, and McKinsey (again) offer the strongest sustainability risk assessment services. With the meaning of sustainability evolving, so too, are the companies offering services. For example, Futerra is a women-led consulting firm specializing in sustainability branding and creative. Check out other players here.

What else are these firms accomplishing? SustainAbility helped Maersk build internal awareness of sustainability risks and opportunities in the industry. McKinsey works on solutions to help today’s cities grow economically and sustainably into megacities. PwC implemented a GHG gas assessment and methodology for a transportation provider in Luxemburg so the company could differentiate itself from the competition. Project by project, consulting firms guide partners to towards a triple bottom line approach.

With millennials continuing to demand transparency and social and environmental good from the companies they engage, corporate sustainability will only grow, and with it sustainability consulting.

Written by sbrinker

Brinker has nearly ten years of advancement and communications experience with non-profits focused on conservation and clean energy. Brinker secured two U.S. Department of Energy SunShot grants as well as RE-volv’s largest grant to date from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which will be used to deploy 100 kilowatts of installed solar capacity. Through the Oregon MBA, Brinker studies corporate sustainability, advanced strategy, and leadership. After graduation, Brinker seeks to guide corporations in implementing strategies that create more sustainable products and practices. Her love for running is complemented by an equal affinity for pizza.