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No ESG consultant has all of the answers all of the time. The field of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is still nascent and is evolving rapidly. Scientific analysis is changing, new solutions are coming to market, and regulations are shifting. It’s a lot. It’s OK if you don’t know the answer to a specific question, issue, or problem off-hand. Focus on learning where to find the answers and surround yourself with subject matter experts you can call on.
Along with a nascent ESG industry finding form and function comes an onslaught of data, information – and opinion – on pretty much everything. Not every data point we come across is relevant or even helpful to our areas of focus, so it’s critical to use filters to block out (or bookmark) everything else. Learn to see opinions on sustainability for what they are – one person’s viewpoint – and then back it up with other sources before adopting it as truth.
Along the way, there will be people who are indifferent or firmly against ESG and sustainability. Don’t waste time trying to convince them to see things your way. Instead, have a few clear and compelling data points on hand that dispel common myths, but don’t invest too much in those who have their minds made up in opposition. Instead, engage in active listening, meet them where they are, and allow yourself the option to walk away if you’re wasting time (or energy) trying to break through. Plenty of companies out there are ready to hire you. Seek them out instead.
As practitioners, it’s easy to fall into the “delivery” side of the work, but our ability to make a compelling value proposition and business case along the way can mean the difference between incremental improvement and systemic change. At the end of the day, ESG consultants are selling change on all levels, and we must be able to identify ways to compel clients to make the shift. We also need to be able to help our “internal champions” sell change up the food chain. Spend time learning how to build a compelling business case for sustainability so you can reduce barriers and empower representatives inside a company to drive meaningful change.
Approaching ESG challenges with a prescriptive, cookie-cutter mindset based on industry sector, size or other stand-alone qualifiers doesn’t work. Frameworks and case studies are helpful, but integrating ESG requires healthy doses of creative, strategic, and critical thinking, so be wary of seeking out a simple solution based on the bar that others have set. Instead, learn how to build trust and credibility with clients so they see you as an expert guide who will help them surface the best solutions instead of a specialized mechanic who will fix an isolated problem.
While the profession of ESG consulting and training is evolving, there is no shortage of webinars, courses, training, and certifications that address specific areas of sustainable business practices, climate change mitigation, and ESG consulting. Take time to explore the specialty areas that interest you and invest in developing those that provide value to clients and set your consulting business apart. Invest equally in
ESG consulting is purpose-driven work. If we didn’t want to change the world, we would be doing something different (and possibly simpler). Many of us had an “ah-ha” moment that caused us to pivot to ESG, but regardless of whether we can identify one specific moment in time or not, we all have a reason – a purpose for the work that we do. Your reason for doing this work is unique to you. Understand your unique purpose and make it known to others. Tap back into it when things become challenging or overwhelming, and let it ground you in the next steps.
Working on the front lines of climate change, or at least not having the luxury of living in denial as many still are, requires mental, emotional, and spiritual grit. Progress can feel slow and incremental and without infusions of positive momentum. The pace of ESG consulting work can be frantic and overly demanding to the point of exhaustion. We can feel, quite literally, like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. Build self-care components into your routine and incorporate your favorite ways to unplug and recharge so that you, yourself, are sustainable.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. We don’t have to have all of the answers or training, but we do need to have all of the information. It’s acceptable to admit we don’t have the answer and to ask clarifying questions. Give yourself permission to be bold when it comes to greenwashing and have a plan for how you will handle the situation with clients. Know it when you see it, give clients information and resources, explain why doing it is a bad idea and be prepared to walk away if they don’t correct the situation.
Books like Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More than They Take seek to raise the bar regarding business and sustainability, and we should, too. Don’t hesitate to suggest ESG goals or commitments from clients outside their comfort zone. Once on the train, there will always be a need for demonstrated improvement and a deepened commitment.
Keep your eye on the prize and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. If you’re interested in learning more about the foundations of ESG Consulting, how to spot greenwashing (and what to do about it), and mastering a compelling business case – check out our Consulting Foundations ESG training that’s helping consultants from all backgrounds grow their business and positive impact.