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Is ESG and Sustainability Consulting a Business Development Opportunity for Your Firm?

Assessing client demand, market readiness and values alignment can help you to decide.

The demand by companies for ESG and sustainability services is seeing a sharp increase, and according to a survey by Deloitte, 89 percent of C-level executives agree there is a “global climate emergency.”

Compounding this sense of urgency are the declarations made by the investment community that, “climate risk is business risk” and “there is no company whose business model won’t be profoundly affected by the transition to a net zero economy.”

The big consulting firms see a golden opportunity for growth. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), for example, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars over the next four years to ramp up ESG services. They see it as long-term revenue growth, expected to increase tenfold over the next four years.

PwC’s first global ESG leader and company stalwart, Will Jackson-Moore, says:

“ESG is the defining business issue. Our global footprint gives us the opportunity – and responsibility – to help answer the challenge at scale. Every aspect is important, but right now the urgent need is to move beyond strategy and deliver the practical steps needed to tackle climate change.”

Accounting, legal and construction and engineering firms are following suit.

While the world’s biggest firms may have a head start on incorporating ESG into their services, if you’re an independent consultant or a boutique or mid-sized firm, you’re nimble enough to pivot quickly and capitalize on a
blue ocean opportunity. Evaluating if ESG services make sense for your business is the first step. 

Consider these three areas when determining if ESG and sustainability are right for your business:

Assess Market Readiness

There are certain key indicators that can signal market readiness for ESG consulting services. There is likely a seismic shift happening if you can answer “yes” to any of the following  questions examining your market:

  • Is your consulting niche part of a highly-regulated sector? Is there external pressure from clients, investors, or policymakers to incorporate ESG principles? If you don’t know – look at competitors. Are you noticing a shift in the way they communicate or have they made any specific statements about sustainability?
  • Are your clients’ customers promoting ESG and sustainability? If they’ve published a report or a statement in support of ESG or declared “net zero” as a goal, they are probably requiring vendors and suppliers to follow suit. 

This is particularly true of companies serving B2B customers. If you help clients with business or product development or strategy, look at prospective market sectors or customers your client would benefit from serving. Helping your clients incorporate ESG can open up new business opportunities.

  • Are your clients already struggling with understanding how to incorporate ESG and sustainability into their business? Many companies are feeling the pressure and want to take action but don’t know where to start. B2C and B2B clients see the reputational risk posed by greenwashing and without proper advice, can find themselves unintentionally increasing reputational risk.
  • Have your clients (or their customers) already published a sustainability statement or a report? Look for commitments to sustainable purchasing, educating employees, or proclamations of net zero goals. Determine where they are on the sustainable business journey and develop new services which can help fill some of their gaps.

Examine Values Alignment

As an executive at a firm, or a consultant wanting to incorporate ESG into your service offerings, it is important to evaluate how values-aligned your company is (or can become) with sustainability.

In order to be seen as credible within the ESG space, you need to lead by example and position your company as the gold standard by making a meaningful public commitment and backing it up with action.

You can evaluate your alignment with some simple questions:

  • Are employees interested in or passionate about sustainability? Is there support from leadership? This indicates values alignment within your workforce. 
  • Do you have a sustainability commitment statement or ESG report publicly available? It can be a simple, yet meaningful way to express company values in this regard. 
  • Do you have policies in place that address environmental impact,  social responsibility, and ethical governance? If the answer is, “not yet”, then make putting them in place a part of your commitment statement. 
  • Does your company mission align with environmental and social responsibility? A quick analysis of the company mission, vision and values can surface interesting connections. 
  • Does the vision for your business include helping clients manage risk and/or succeed in a changing business landscape?

Re-evaluating and revisiting the foundational principles of your business is essential to staying on top of changing industry demands. When determining ESG relevance, we recommend viewing company values through an ESG lens to expose connections and themes. Take note; these might be your guiding core values showing up.

Evaluate Consulting Type and Services

Now that you’ve established a market need and the presence of values alignment, it’s time to identify the type of consulting you currently provide. Do you offer businesses operations, accounting, finance, or management consulting? Perhaps you work with businesses to improve sales and marketing, regulatory compliance, or strategy consulting.

Look closely for ESG tie-ins.  You’ll see that developing and implementing an ESG strategy can guide decision-making in just about every facet of the business. It changes how a business communicates to its customers and other stakeholders and requires transformations in operations, communications, strategy, governance practices and supply chains.

Next, take a look at the services you currently offer within your consulting type and identify the relevance between the skills and deliverables. Accounting and financial guidance, change management, marketing and communications, and investor relations are all examples of services that have actionable ties to ESG (find more specific service offerings here).

Drawing a clear connection between your existing services and new ESG services is essential to maintaining credibility as you pivot. Identifying, or establishing, the relevance between what you’ve been doing and the new offering you want to introduce must be clear and participatory in the principles of environmental impact, social responsibility, and ethical governance.

Closing Thoughts

With the rapidly evolving world of corporate sustainability, you might feel rushed into incorporating ESG services that don’t fully make sense for you.

It’s important to take a step back with patience, and examine how you provide value through your specific services, determine if there really is a market, and most importantly, show that your firm is ready for ESG consulting by aligning your values and action towards sustainability goals.

You can take our quiz which will help you determine if your business is primed for ESG consulting, and get customized results delivered to your inbox! You can also take a look at FAQs and information about our ESG Consulting Foundations course to see if this training will help you take action in filling any ESG learning gaps you may have.

Is ESG Consulting Right For You? Take our Quiz to find out!

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