Why Rising Ambition Requires the Best Sustainability Consulting Firms

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Companies, cities and governments of all sizes, across all industries, and in every corner of the globe are taking notice of the importance of sustainable business goals. The worldwide impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed parallels with climate change in terms of large-scale risks to health, the economy and our way of life, prompting new discussions on how to recover in a way that strengthens future resilience.

Sustainability is not just an economic choice, it’s something that more investors, employees, customers and other stakeholders are demanding.

According to report data from CDP, more Fortune 500 companies than ever—an estimated 85%—are going public with bold sustainability goals, but only about 28% are on track to reach those goals in the time frame that’s needed to mitigate the global effects of climate change by 2050.

Learn about ENGIE Impact’s approach to sustainability transformation →

While most organizations have the ambition to work toward sustainability goals, sustainability is rarely a core competency. Executing on these ambitious objectives is highly complex. Organizations need a clear understanding of technology and of the market and regulatory considerations – and what stakeholders value and what they do not – that will shape what they invest in and when. Without this understanding, the necessary resources are often poorly allocated, making it incredibly difficult for organizations to remain on track to their goals. In order to avoid these common pitfalls, three important factors must be incorporated to achieve a successful sustainability strategy:

  1. A sustainability strategy should be sufficiently rooted in data and science: A clear understanding of data is critical to develop a business case for the C-level, so organizations must first align their goals to established guidelines. Then technology and digital tools must be coupled with a robust warehouse of historical energy, water and waste bill data to truly understand where opportunities lie, measure baselines and track progress.
  2. Strategies must have sufficient buy-in from across the organization: C-level alignment, support and endorsement is critical to allocating capital, as well as motivating employees at every level of the organization. Departments must break silos and instead work together and keep each other accountable.
  3. Strategies should be managed through to implementation and reporting: It’s not enough for companies to simply make a promise—stakeholders demand action. Local, on-the-ground expertise is needed to understand local regulations and opportunities, identify and manage projects, and report on progress while shifting priorities if needed.

When businesses, cities or governments do not have the resources to manage a sustainability strategy internally, they can hire a top sustainability consulting firm. A sustainability consultant works alongside organizations to help them understand where they are, where they need to go, and manage the steps to get there.

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What are the Benefits of Hiring a Sustainability Consulting Firm?

A good sustainability consulting firm is skilled at designing and implementing a sustainability strategy and roadmaps that helps organizations fulfill their goals. A great firm also has a deep understanding of technology solutions and helps organizations manage their plans through implementation, accelerating progress from ambition to achievement.

There is no “one size fits all” strategy—industry, location, and organization size are all important nuances. For example, the strategy employed by a food and beverage company will be dramatically different than a university or city port. Furthermore, each entity has its own regional complexities like regulations, incentives, and physical environmental risks. Consultants can integrate themselves into the organization, becoming an extension of the team to truly understand the unique culture and goals while adding capabilities that don’t already exist.

These sustainability consulting core competencies will help organizations set the right strategy and achieve progress at speed and scale:

1. Actionable Roadmaps

Working alongside a sustainability consultant, organizations help collect and provide data on resource costs and consumption across energy, water and waste. Analyzing and visualization of the data not only provides a baseline from which to start, it fuels the business case for sustainability, helping understand opportunities and consider potential return on investment. Knowing what investments to make and when to make them is crucial in order to set up financing.

The example below illustrates how ENGIE Impact established a baseline to determine areas of focus. Learn more about how ENGIE Impact built our corporate sustainability strategy.

Example baseline analysis that surfaced four focus areas for ENGIE Impact to tackle.

Example baseline analysis that surfaced four focus areas for ENGIE Impact to tackle.

Next, sustainability consulting firms have the business acumen and expertise to truly engage the C-suite to present the business case and can model the implications of distinct scenarios over five, 10 and 15 years. Gaining alignment from the C-suite early on in the process is incredibly important and another common pitfall in many organizations: when departments work in silos and executives are not aligned, they don’t have accountability for the strategy. Strong buy-in leads to greater engagement across every level of the organization and increased employee ownership and satisfaction. One successful example is IKEA, which makes it clear that everyone must contribute to the company’s sustainability goals. Each country manager with a P&L is also designated a Corporate Sustainability Officer (CSO), which makes them more purpose-led leaders and accountable for their goals.

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2. Scaled Implementation

Leading sustainability consulting firms don’t simply deliver a strategy and then leave it up to the organization alone to implement. A longer-term partnership is necessary to deliver the local solutions that can then be scaled to support the larger global strategy. Sustainability consultants must have greater insight into different markets as well as tools that can help organizations understand the right technologies and programs to implement at the right time. For example, implementing a clean energy strategy isn’t just about installing on-site solar panels in as many locations as possible. Consultants also should have the market knowledge to understand and evaluate opportunities wherever organizations do business, and then oversee the implementation and installation where the business case makes sense. They can help organizations align on the most important sustainability benefits, understand how various regulations will affect strategies, find rebates and incentives, track the availability of green power, understand infrastructure, mobility and more—as well as manage program and project implementation.

When Isbank identified a need for a world-class data center in earthquake-prone Turkey, they needed a consultant that would not only deliver a model of safety and efficiency, but also mechanical, electrical and public health services design, and project management from concept through construction. Their partnership with RED, a company of ENGIE Impact, delivered an energy-efficient data center that met their sustainability and operational goals.

3. Global Reporting and Analytics

Having data-informed analytics and reporting is essential both in the early stages of opportunity identification as well as after implementation begins. Continually collecting and analyzing data ensures organizations focus on the right projects, track performance, learn when to adjust, and implement more broadly to achieve the expected outcomes. This is a continuous process which also allows sustainability consultants and organizations to report on progress to their stakeholders. One European-headquartered global food manufacturer with a 2040 zero carbon commitment leveraged a data-backed prioritization process to perform state-of-the art simulation scenarios. These visualizations helped reveal which investment options were viable to reach their decarbonization goal in the most cost-efficient and reliable way. Data is also leveraged by companies to seamlessly comply with CDP and GRI reporting standards, which inform sustainability performance and are a crucial tool for investors.

What to Look for in a Sustainability Consulting Firm in 2020

One of the reasons that organizations are not on track to meet their sustainability goals is that they don’t have the capabilities to plan, implement, and track initiatives from beginning to end. There are many sustainability consulting firms that are strong strategists, focusing on internal C-suite alignment and strategy, but often lack the engineering and program implementation component. Others may be strong in program implementation but do not have a data-driven roadmap to gain alignment at the C-level and embed sustainability into all operations. The ideal sustainability consulting model includes all these capabilities. The best sustainability consulting firm that organizations choose to partner with should have a global reach, local experts across planning, implementation, design & engineering and reporting, and a strong bench of partnerships that round out their capabilities from beginning to end.

Which Industries Can Benefit from a Sustainability Consulting Firm?

Every industry sector can benefit from a strong sustainability strategy—it’s expected by stakeholders and investors. However, the more complex the planning and implementation needs, the greater the benefit of having a sustainability planning and implementation partner. Companies with more complex value chains, like large industrial and manufacturing, food & beverage, technology, pharmaceuticals and others, want that expertise to understand the opportunities that exist. In some cases, these companies need complex engineering expertise to help redesign systems and processes or even design more resilient value chains.

Global Executive Survey: Known Gaps and Blind Spots in Corporate Sustainability. Read Preview →

Leverage Sustainability Consulting to Accelerate Progress

The journey to sustainability transformation can be overwhelming, especially when trying to set ambitious targets in a limited timeframe. It’s critical to have strong capabilities in planning, implementation, and reporting, supported by a partner dedicated to see it through to success. Sustainability investments will enable significant economic and environmental benefits while responding to stakeholder demands that large, global organizations lead the way. Top sustainability consulting firms can help companies think holistically and realistically to make strides toward a more sustainable future.

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