What Exactly Does a Sustainability Consultant Do?

From small businesses to the most powerful governments in the world, one topic seems to be unifying us faster than any other; sustainability. Maybe it’s producing less non-recyclable waste, or saving money through less disposable materials, or aggressive carbon-neutral policies. Whatever the organization, whatever the size, whatever the plan, the ultimate goal is sustainability. 

Businesses and governments alike are turning to sustainability consultants to guide their processes and policies. Demand for this role is now higher than ever before. 

But what is a sustainability consultant? What are their actual obligations? And how do you become one?

Sustainability consultants look at plans together

What Does a Sustainability Consultant Do? 

Sustainability consultants find themselves working on a wide range of projects. These include, but aren’t limited to: 

  • Urban regeneration 
  • Mining and drilling operations 
  • Infrastructure planning 
  • Industrial facilities operations 
  • Residential and commercial developments 
  • Schools and education facilities 

Broadly speaking, a sustainability consultant works with an organization to create policies and processes that promote sustainability. They analyze existing processes and their impact to help tailor solutions that allow the organization to not only continue operating, but thrive, in a manner that leaves as little environmental impact as possible. 

As with any consultancy position there is no set approach to achieving this. Each project will require a tailored approach to provide a bespoke solution. 

Common tasks and responsibilities include: 

Strategy Development  

Sustainability consultants work with organizations to develop actionable strategies that fit their goals and responsibilities. These strategies can range from day-to-day operational changes, to steering the company’s vision and strategy in entirely new directions. 

Reporting Environmental Data 

Many governments mandate environmental surveys be performed when planning commercial, residential, or infrastructure projects. Without these reports, work cannot begin. Moreover, the results of these reports might also mean a project is not environmentally sustainable, and needs to be reconsidered. 

Sustainability consultants are responsible for ensuring these assessments are undertaken and creating the reports. It is also their job to present these findings to clients and advise them accordingly. 

Energy Efficiency and Facilities Management  

Sustainability consultants work to identify areas within an organization where energy use can be better optimized. They will research and recommend technologies that combine cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and environmental benefits. 

This can be as simple as replacing all of the lightbulbs with more energy efficient models. Some locations may be ideal candidates to adopt on-site solar power generation and storage. Installing water-efficient taps or smart water metering can also help to reduce overall environmental impact. 

Employee Education  

It’s not enough to just draft strategies and processes and pass them off to business owners. Educating employees on not just what changes have been made, but why, is a crucial step. People are more likely to adopt new policies, particularly sustainability-focused policies, when they have a better grasp of the environmental impact the policies will have. 

Leading a Cross-functional Committee  

Sustainability consultants don’t work in a vacuum. They need to ensure other departments are part of the strategy development process so that nobody is left in the dark, or worse, disadvantaged.  

Waste Management and Recycling  

One of the biggest sustainability targets of most organizations, from companies to countries, is to manage the amount of waste they produce. Sustainability consultants help to research ways to produce less waste; and determine what waste can be recycled, to minimize the overall environmental impact. 

Supporting External Marketing and Sales  

Organizations need their customers or clients to understand and adopt changes made for the sake of sustainability.  

Marketing and sales are responsible for educating the public about why changes have occurred, how they will be impacted by them, and why it’s so important that these changes are upheld for the long term.  

Sustainability consultants work with these groups to ensure accurate, compelling messaging is getting across. They supply marketing teams with the information they need to craft effective communications that get customers interested and working towards a sustainable future. 

How to Become a Sustainability Consultant  

It’s important to note there is no formal qualification necessary to become a sustainability consultant. However, career prospects are much better for those with experience or qualifications in a number of related fields. 

An MBA is a useful qualification if you wish to work as a sustainability consultant for businesses. It shows you have some understanding of the needs and requirements of business owners and managers. 

Experience or qualification in consultancy is also highly desirable. This can often be completed as a module during an MBA or other business-minded degree. It shows, once again, that you have an understanding and appreciation for the role of a consultant, and the challenges of working with an organization to enact fairly major changes. 

Some MBA courses in the US have even started to offer a specific sustainability consultancy certification. 

It can help to already work as part of an eco-centric organization or charity, to show an overall familiarity with sustainability as it relates to broad-scale public and private applications. 

Beyond business and consultancy, environmental qualifications are also very common, and can provide a leg-up in job consideration. Common qualifications and certifications include: 

  • Environmental science (perhaps the most common degree a sustainability consultant will have) 
  • biology 
  • building and construction management 
  • business and management studies 
  • civil engineering 
  • estate management 
  • geography 
  • geology 
  • urban planning 

Career growth typically begins from working in a supporting role on environmental management and sustainability projects, and working up from there. Within a few years one can work up from running environmental assessments, to a senior role leading projects from start to finish.  

Those with consultancy experience can more quickly pivot to sustainability consultancy by getting qualified in a relevant environmental science field and adding it to the list of available services.