How to become a sustainability consultant

How to become a sustainability consultant

If you’re looking for a way to mix business, leadership, and a love for the environment, starting a sustainability consulting firm could be a terrific decision for you. In addition to helping companies develop an environmental conscience, you can show them the financial advantages of going green.

A big vision

Big companies are very good at focusing on their financial bottom lines, but a money-only focus doesn’t always lead to societal good. Sustainability consultants focus on the triple bottom line (3BL): profit, people, and planet.


In addition to touting the moneymaking benefits of sustainability, you can teach companies to take a long-term look at profitability. Right now, many companies are leveraging their futures so that they can consume resources and make short-term profits. As a sustainability consultant, you’ll persuade business leaders to avoid the profit-killing effects of ignoring sustainability. Sustainability can guarantee their future profits instead of leaving them with no business to run.

The beauty is that in virtually every segment of our economy, the green side of that segment is the fastest growing. It’s true for food, building, energy, tourism…the list goes on. Finding economic opportunities for companies to create goods and services that are better for the planet, better for the customers, and yield nice returns for companies will ensure that your impacts are long-lived and significant.


Companies that invest in corporate sustainability show increases in employee retention and employee engagement. In turn, when employees get involved in community projects, businesses receive positive exposure. Research shows that today’s college graduates are more attracted to companies that focus on sustainability and corporate responsibility. Sustainability isn’t just about making a profit; it’s also a valuable recruiting tool.


Sustainability, by definition, is the ability to continue indefinitely on the Earth within the planet’s natural cycles. We create an unsustainable future when we extract too much from Earth’s crust, when our manmade materials accumulate, and when we inhibit nature’s natural cycles by destroying ecosystems.

Because businesses have economies of scale, they can do so much more to improve the environment than people can do on an individual basis. By minimizing their negative environmental impact — by not overusing resources, creating too much waste, or destroying natural ecosystems — businesses help to create a sustainable world.

The right training

Outside consultants, even when they’re championing a great cause like sustainability, tend to encounter suspicion when they go into an existing company. You’ll need to navigate resistance to change, communicate skillfully, and persuade people to accept your ideas.

You could get your MBA to become qualified as a consultant, but you could also earn a degree that focuses more on organizational leadership and change management skills. Instead of focusing on quantitative modeling and finance, you’ll prepare for real-world leadership in business, not-for-profit management, and entrepreneurship.

In addition to your core classes, take electives related to environmental science, biology, alternative energy, green building design, and other sustainability measures. Do everything possible during your studies to get experience with green projects, from farmer’s markets to permaculture to bike races to energy competitions.

Look for internships that focus on sustainability, and build your capstone project or thesis around a sustainability project. You’ll graduate not only with leadership skills but also with on-the-job experience and proven results.

A knack for numbers

Building a sustainable business is the right thing to do, but most companies don’t just do things to make themselves feel good. They have a mission to deliver value to their shareholders, which means showing that they can make a profit. As a result, you have to do more than just speak persuasively about the environment; you need to show your clients the money. Big businesses need to see financial analysis and statistical modeling that shows how sustainability could line their pockets.

To get corporate clients, you’ll have to either be a numbers person or hire one for your consulting company. Then, you can move sustainability forward by providing data on subjects like:

  • How switching to alternative energy sources could lower energy costs
  • The financial benefits of getting suppliers to use more sustainable practices
  • The cost savings behind smarter water usage, reducing waste, and lowering carbon emissions
  • How to benefit by reducing the waste impact of company products
  • The ROI for green building projects or Superfund projects
  • Why existing “greenwashed” communications and documentation could lead to FTC violations and fines
  • The benefits of attracting investments from socially responsible mutual finds

Sustainable world, sustainable business

By seeing the long-term value of sustainability, businesses become the architects and not the victims of their futures. When you’re a sustainability consultant, saving a business and saving the planet are all in a day’s work.


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