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The Many Roles of ESG Professionals

The outlook for professionals and consultants seeking new and evolving careers in ESG and sustainability is bright.

Demand for ESG and sustainability services continues to grow, in great part because environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance has become a critical part of business strategy and operations.
The first movers of the mid-2000s have had time to collect data indicating boosts in overall business performance — including improved financial returns — and the second wave of companies are now reaping the benefits.

Drivers include an uptick in voluntary environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting, the escalating climate crisis, unstable supply chains as surfaced by the global pandemic, employee and customer demand, increasing awareness around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and wide global support for U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Most recently, pressure from investors for companies to view climate risk as a business risk and plan accordingly has caused even the laggards to take notice.  The Security and Exchanges Commission announced its intention to require companies to disclose ESG and climate-related risks and asset management firms are calling for companies to manage and mitigate risks associated with climate change.

This has caused ESG to move from “nice to have” to becoming a part of everyday business conversations.

Demand is on The Rise

In response to this growing confluence of pressures, including the IPCC report warning we have little time to avert the worst impacts of climate change, companies are getting setting bold environmental and social performance goals.

A survey by GreenBiz shows that companies are serious about investing in their ESG strategies and initiatives — and in fact, seventy-six percent of companies reported they increased budgets in 2020.

This increase in allocated funds is happening at a time when supply of well-trained professionals is struggling to keep pace.  A survey by CSR Talent Group shows more than 36 percent of companies with goals and a budget, lack the human resources necessary to achieving successful outcomes.

So if the commitment and resources are available, why are companies struggling to fill these positions either as employed positions or contracted consultants? There simply aren’t enough well-trained sustainability professionals out there.

While more colleges and universities than ever before are offering classes and majors in sustainable business, these programs are theoretical and lack hands-on, practical skills necessary for working with companies and students can find themselves struggling to find work.

Many professionals and consultants working with companies don’t realize they have the right mix of transferrable skills and experience to be successful, so they don’t see ESG and sustainability as an option.

But the truth is most people working in the business sector, regardless of background, have the skills and experience necessary to transition successfully.

Technical Skills are not Required

It’s a myth that ESG and sustainability consulting requires technical skills or a background in science. Take it from someone who’s built a successful sustainability consulting business with zero previous experience or relevant education.
Certainly, there are important roles that do require specialized skills and training such as greenhouse gas accounting and other data-driven positions, but these types of roles represent only a fraction of what sustainability consultants are hired to do.

So What Does a Sustainability Consultant Actually Do?

In the broadest sense, ESG Consulting involves benchmarking, measuring, monitoring, and improving environmental, social and governance performance.  More specifically, professionals may help with voluntary or mandatory reporting and compliance, certifications, materiality assessments, decarbonization goals, etc.

Here are examples of the type of roles available to professionals and consultants interested in ESG and sustainability.

#1 Strategy Development

Is at the core of every successful sustainability initiative. Strategy development requires a holistic understanding of company-wide operations and the latest techniques in reducing waste across an organization. Strategy also involves ways to leverage E-S-G improvements into new business opportunities.

#2 Reporting Environmental, Social and Governance Data

Is essential to backing up sustainability claims with hard facts. Reporting frameworks such as GRI and SASB offer sets of industry-specific impacts to follow. Reporting is also a great way to create a framework around which to build a strategy.

#3 Communications

Are at the heart of sustainability initiatives and impact everything from gaining approval for ESG initiatives to how engaged employees are to telling a compelling and authentic story that will resonate with customers. Presentation skills, creative problem solving and report writing are within the top 10 most requested skills by companies.

#4 Program Design + Implementation

Is where consultants get to be creative (and have some fun) in helping clients find ways to improve on their environmental, social and governance performance. 

#5 Executive Leadership Coaching

Is imperative to helping internal sustainability champions gain confidence and effectiveness in advancing a sustainability agenda. A vast majority of companies surveyed had one person or fewer standing between the CEO and the person leading the company’s sustainability efforts, and 77% are reporting to the board of directors on progress.

#6 Energy Efficiency and Facilities Management

Professionals often provide insight and guidance into the latest technological innovations and process changes that can reduce energy consumption, save money, generate clean energy flows and keep facilities resilient from severe weather events.

#7 Cultural Change

Is vital to integrating ESG strategy and embedding it into a company’s DNA. This is often best accomplished by a consultant who can help guide the process objectively.

#8 Working Across Departments

Activating a new strategy or initiatives often falls to consultants, who ensures that all departments are well-educated on the details, are actively engaged and aware of what it means for day-to-day operations.

#9 Employee Education

Is important to get everyone on the same page and involves distributing materials, communicating with team leaders, and/or leading employee training sessions that expand the knowledge and skillsets of employees.

#10 Leading a Cross-functional Committees

Such as a “green team” tasked with establishing priorities, creating initiatives and implementing strategies to achieve ESG goals set by the company.

#11 Waste Management and Recycling

Overseeing recycling and waste management initiatives is a simple, but nonetheless important part of any organization’s push towards lowering environmental impact.

#12 Supporting External Marketing and Sales Teams

Sustainability consultants will often be called upon to help support customer outreach and public relations as they aim to promote successful initiatives and boost consumer confidence.

#13 Specialized Technical Expertise

Is important to be sure that data is providing insight and concrete proof of what’s working and what’s not. Companies with greenhouse gas, waste, water or energy reduction goals — or those seeking to decarbonize or achieve zero waste to landfill — will require individuals with technical expertise to ensure that goals are being met.
There are lots of different roles and entry points into working with companies on ESG and sustainability. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can parlay your skills and experience into a career in sustainability or add ESG consulting to your suite of services, click here to book a discovery call, or follow us on Linkedin. 

Take our ESG Consulting Quiz to see if you are ready to bring sustainability consulting into your practice. 

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

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