Consulting and Sustainability

Every consulting firm should operate in a sustainable manner.

Many consulting firms are already making the world a better place through their own green initiatives and helping other firms with sustainability consulting. Even if they are not directly offering sustainability consulting services, consulting companies need to stay on top of ESG so they can attract and advise clients who are also trying to adopt ecologically and socially-conscious practices.

Operating as a sustainable business comes with many advantages. Minimizing waste through reducing, reusing, and recycling and being more energy efficient will also lower your costs. Reducing carbon emissions caused by commuting and traveling saves money and your employees’ time. Being able to align with the sustainability goals of potential clients will allow you to win bids over less sustainable competitors. Most importantly, being a sustainable company will improve your credibility and brand and help attract customers, employees, and investors. You will also help the environment by reducing global warming, mitigating the waste of finite materials, and reducing pollution.

How Do Consulting Firms Affect the Environment?

Consulting firms help other companies in a variety of ways across many industries, however as greenness becomes more in demand, consulting firms must stay on top of their carbon footprint and sustainable initiatives. In order to offer the best sustainability advice, firms must have a hold on their own Carbon Footprint and other environmental and societal impacts. Consulting firms need to be aware of how they can negatively impact the environment with:

  • Work and home offices that are not eco friendly
  • Excessive traveling
  • Working with firms that harm the environment
  • Using harmfully made goods and services
  • Greenwashing (marketing suggesting inaccurate eco-friendliness)

Below is your sustainability guide, for a quick overview of the top sustainability initiatives for consulting businesses. This guide is a great primer for those just getting started with becoming more environmentally and socially responsible.

Sustainability Initiatives for Consulting Firms

Consulting firm owners, operators, partners, and employees need to have a strategy and plan to become more sustainable and eco-friendly. They need to know how they impact the environment and prioritize sustainability initiatives to mitigate the damage. Here are some basic initiatives to consider:

Tip #1: Make Your Headquarters and Offices Eco Friendly

Office buildings are one of the biggest contributors to consulting firms’ environmental emissions. In order to reduce your office’s impact on the environment:

  • Install efficient LED lighting
  • Move to green energy sources, either by installing solar panels or using a utility that provides renewable energy
  • Institute a company-wide recycling and composting program beyond just the cafeteria
  • Install motion-detecting lights that turn off automatically when not in use to save power
  • Use energy-efficient versions of devices to reduce energy consumption
  • Ask employees to bring in reusable mugs and water bottles to reduce waste and be sure to have filtered water options available
  • Turn off devices when not in use to reduce electricity
  • Install water-saving faucets and toilets to reduce water waste
  • Buy second-hand furniture and donate old furniture or appliances to reduce waste and help others

Making as many of these changes as possible will make your business’s operations significantly greener. When looking for a new office building make sure it is environmentally friendly. Look for LEED-certified buildings for the highest level of environmental certification.

Tip#2: Reduce Traveling

Commuting into offices generates large amounts of fossil fuels and GHGs, especially when employees have gas-powered cars. Reducing traveling within your consulting firm limits employees’ car usage (and associated emissions) and saves time and money.

Following these tips when possible can reduce the damage done by traveling:

  • Transition to remote or hybrid work
  • Hold virtual meetings with clients
  • Provide employees with the software and hardware necessary to work successfully from home
  • Incentivize employees to use greener transportation when they do commute to the office

When many offices were forced to shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic, the business world figured out how to work from home far more effectively than ever anticipated. Many employees grew accustomed to working from home and it is now one of the most desirable benefits. By allowing your employees to work from home as much as possible you can help them balance their lives and benefit the environment.

Doing work with clients virtually instead of flying or driving out to them is another way to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Travel accounts for a large amount of consulting firms’ carbon footprint, so reducing it as much as possible is one of the most important ways to become a more eco-friendly consulting firm. Although meeting virtually may not be as preferable as in-person, saving costs, employees’ time, and the environment makes up for the disadvantages of face-to-face interactions in almost all situations.

As you migrate to a work-from-home or hybrid environment, be sure to provide employees with the software tools they need to collaborate remotely, e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. When coming into the office is required, encourage employees to use public transportation, walk, bike, or use electric vehicles with incentives such as transit passes and extra time off for choosing sustainable transportation.

Also, provide employees tips on being more sustainable at home. Hold regular at-home office sustainability challenges to see who can implement the most eco-friendly practices in their home. Promoting a green culture is key to creating a sustainable business.

Tip#3: Avoid Working With Harmful Companies

Operating in a sustainable manner as a consulting firm does not require too many changes as you do not have to worry about manufacturing goods, shipping goods, taking up large amounts of space, or overusing finite resources in products. However, the work you do with companies can contribute to environmental damage.

Top consulting firms such as McKinsey have been criticized by their own employees for their work with oil and gas companies. Even if your company is not harming the environment with your own processes if you are helping an oil company burn more oil you are still contributing to environmental damage.

This does not mean that you cannot work with companies that damage the environment. However, you should include sustainability efforts as part of your work to help them minimize the harm they do. Helping companies improve their triple bottom line instead of just their profits is a great way to help the environment beyond the scope of your own processes while adding on to the work you can do for your clients.

Tip #4: Buy From Green Companies

Consulting firms rely on other companies products and services for a lot of their operations. Try to use green products and services for things such as lodging, catering, and transportation. The use of green products and services supports green businesses and eliminates the waste and damage caused by less sustainable alternatives. Look for firms that have thorough sustainability targets and products with green certifications. Seals such as the Green Business Bureau’s are good to look for when finding companies to buy from.

Tip #5: Avoid Greenwashing

Greenwashing, when a company uses buzzwords and exaggerates its green efforts, is happening more and more often as eco-friendliness becomes more trendy. Promoting how sustainable your company is is great for improving your reputation and brand, but getting caught misrepresenting green efforts can be a terrible blow to your credibility.

Consider having your green initiatives verified by a 3rd party like the Green Business Bureau to improve credibility. Our certification program is online and provides a clickable seal for your website once you’re certified.

To get to net zero carbon emissions, many consulting firms are purchasing carbon offsets to offset their carbon emissions from traveling, power consumption, and other causes. Buyers need to be aware of false advertising and illegitimate offsets. Carbon offsets, spending money helping the environment to counteract your company’s carbon emissions, can be an effective way to help the world fight climate change. However, they only cancel out emissions which is not as effective as actually reducing the emissions yourselves. When purchasing carbon offsets it is important to make sure they are legitimate and you are confident they are contributing as much as they claim.

Conclusion – All Consulting Firms Should Prioritize Sustainability

As climate change gets worse and businesses take more accountability for reducing their environmental impact, it is especially important for consulting firms to operate sustainably and be able to help their clients become more ecologically and socially conscious and implement sustainable initiatives. Instituting sustainable practices within your consulting firm will make your firm more appealing, reputable, and capable of helping green clients, even if you are not offering direct sustainability consulting.

The tips above provide some ideas and guides for creating a sustainable, eco-friendly business including making your office more eco-friendly, reducing traveling, limiting work with harmful companies, and avoiding greenwashing.

Making these changes come with benefits beyond helping the environment and people across the world. The business benefits include:

  • Reducing energy costs
  • Reducing waste to save money
  • Providing a healthy and safe environment for employees and the local community
  • Conserving water
  • Attracting new customers
  • Improving employee morale
  • Attracting and retaining new employees
  • An understanding of eco-friendly clients
  • Credibility when offering sustainability consulting services
  • A better reputation and elevated brand

Bottom line, sustainability is good for the planet, good for people, and good for your business. Start your sustainability journey today.


AUTHOR: John Schustek

John is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in information systems and business analytics with a minor in computer science at Indiana University in Bloomington. He enjoys learning about technology, business strategy, and sustainability, and then applying his knowledge in real-life situations. In his free time, he enjoys working out, hiking, and spending time with friends.

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