Breaking Down the Different Types of Sustainability Consulting

By Casey Scoff
January 29, 2024
4 min read

With the climate crisis continuing to worsen and consumers increasingly concerned with the environmental consequences of their purchases, businesses are eager to become more sustainable. However, many of these companies have no clue where to start, and don’t have anyone on their team that is well-versed in environmental issues. Thus, many companies in recent years have turned to sustainability consulting.

What is Sustainability Consulting?

Sustainability consulting involves a third party organization working with a business to reduce their environmental impact and foster sustainable practices. More specifically, sustainability consulting "supports businesses as they transition from conventional business models and practices to higher standards of social and environmental responsibility." Consultants do  this in many different ways, but generally they first assess the environmental impact of the company based on various metrics, create a clear set of goals, and finally, craft an action plan for the business to follow. An important note is that sustainability consulting considers both financial and environmental factors, meaning consultants will search for solutions that maximize profits and efficiency while simultaneously improving client sustainability.

The Different Services

Traditionally, sustainability consulting is broken down into three main categories: audits, testing, and verification; technical support; and strategy/planning. All three services share the goals outlined above, but address different aspects of a business’s operations.

  • Audits, Testing, and Verification: Involves the collection of business environmental data in order to ensure regulatory compliance, verify sustainability certifications, and compare performance to competitors. This service deals mostly with understanding a company’s current footprint.
  • Technical Support: Consulting on green construction, energy projects, and waste management systems. Focuses on large-scale infrastructure; for example, an architecture firm may hire technical support consulting to help their building meet LEED standards.
  • Strategy and Planning: The most common and comprehensive type of service. It refers to consulting that helps clients develop a strategic plan regarding sustainability. Strategy and planning includes current state assessments, goal definition, roadmapping (developing a timetable of sustainability actions), and implementation.

The Key Players

Who provides sustainability consulting services? While the industry is relatively small, companies can choose from four different types of sustainability consulting providers: large consulting companies, boutique consultancies, non-profit organizations, and freelance/solo practitioners.

  • Large Consulting Companies: Think McKinsey, Deloitte, and other industry leaders. For these companies, sustainability is one branch among many, but they have specialized teams for the different types of sustainability consulting.
  • Boutique Consultancies: These are consulting firms that purely specialize in sustainability; they have no other branches.
  • Nonprofit Organizations: Some nonprofits will offer pro-bono sustainability consulting, or similar services, in order to raise awareness for environmental issues and set an example for an industry to follow.
  • Freelance or Solo Practitioners: Individuals with experience that operate under their own name or a company name with no employees.

Recent Trends

Sustainability consulting started as a niche industry, but has exploded in recent years. In 2020, over 50% of N100 companies (the largest 100 companies in the world) hired sustainability consultants, and most have their own teams addressing these issues as well. While this speaks to the growth of the industry, it is worth noting that big corporations are the dominant sustainability consulting clients, as there are few services available for small businesses. Nonetheless, sustainability consulting is now a $1 billion industry, and continues to grow rapidly as the climate crisis worsens.

Looking at sustainability consulting providers, a 2013 study identified 250 U.S. firms in the industry. Generally, many of these firms were small, with 88% having less than 15 employees. However, in the years since, there has been widespread consolidation in the field, and larger firms are increasingly common as demand has increased.

Sustainability Consulting Pricing

Although the sustainability consulting field is growing rapidly, many companies, especially small businesses, cite the hefty price tag as a reason they have yet to hire an outside consultant. Sustainability consultants can regularly charge $100-250 per hour, with some charging up to $6,000 a day. Resource Management Associates, a sustainability consulting firm that releases their price data to the public, charges $4,500+ for sustainability reporting and $2,000-$6,000+ for environmental audits.

Where Ecolytics Fits In

For many businesses, hiring a sustainability consultant is increasingly unaffordable and may not be the best solution for their needs. Companies can purchase one month of our subscription for the price of an hour of traditional consulting, making comprehensive sustainability assessment and planning accessible for even the smallest of businesses. Our platform is dynamic, rather than a fixed contract, allowing for continuous support and improvement.

Schedule a call with our team to see if Ecolytics is right for your business:

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