How to Become a Sustainability Consultant

career change leadership market insights May 05, 2023

Demand for sustainability consultants is on the rise, as organizations look for specialist help to get on track with their ESG goals. But what exactly does it take to become a consultant? And how can you jobseekers get ahead of the competition?

For those looking to carve out a career in sustainability, working as a consultant can be an incredibly attractive proposition.

Rather than working permanently within a single organisation, consultants will work with companies for a shorter period of time, advising them on how to overcome particular challenges and make faster progress on their environmental goals.

They’re often quite specialist, providing advice on how to decrease carbon footprint, for example, or how to create a framework for reporting complex data on ESG.

The role can come with plenty of benefits, such as flexibility, the variety of working with lots of different organizations and the intellectual stimulation of always being involved with new challenges and projects.

Consultants are highly sought after too, with demand set to increase a further 6% by 2028, according to research by careers platform Zippia.

Unsurprisingly given all that though, it’s also seriously competitive.

So if you’re looking to pursue a career as a sustainability consultant, follow these steps first to make sure you’re giving yourself the best possible start.

Understand exactly what you’re getting into

It’s important to make sure that you’d genuinely enjoy working as a consultant rather than opting for an in-house role instead as, although there are plenty of perks, it isn’t for everyone.

Here are four key differences to be aware of:

  • Pay: It might surprise you but you’re likely to earn slightly less as a consultant, with average pay of about $15-24k less. Pay isn’t bad though, at an average of $64,000, according to Zippia.
    Strategy vs. implementation: As a consultant you’ll be there to advise on and kick off a new project but you won’t be there to see it through. That’ll be the job of in-house teams.
  • Hours: The nature of consulting is that hours are often longer and less predictable. This is even more the case if you choose to work independently. If a potential client calls on a Friday afternoon and wants a proposal for new work for Tuesday, you may have to work through the weekend.
  • Diversity: As a consultant you’ll get to work with a huge breadth of projects, sectors, and clients, while if you opt to stay in-house you’ll become an expert on your organisation alone.

Still interested? Then read on.

Hone the right skills

As a consultant, you’ll need to create a skillset that looks quite distinct from those required for an in-house role. That’s because you’ll be expected to bring in new business, constantly work with new clients, building relationships and growing leads. In fact, you’ll likely be handed a target by your employer for the amount of new business you’ll need to bring into the organisation, especially as you get more senior.

That means you’ll need to demonstrate you can:

  • Thrive under pressure
  • Build client relations
  • Create new leads
  • Write proposals
  • Pitch to potential clients

That’s in addition to the general skills you’ll require to work on project management whether as a consultant or in-house expert.

These include:

  • Managing projects, budgets and teams
  • Influencing, negotiating and persuading senior leadership
  • Strategically identifying market opportunities
  • Communicating ideas, as well as listening and empathizing with others

Take a long, hard look at your resume and consider how – and if – you can demonstrate you’ve got the skills to match the job.

Demonstrate your knowledge

Whereas at an internal role you’ll be forgiven for building up your understanding of an organisation’s challenges slowly, the same leeway isn’t afforded to those in consulting roles. Instead, you’ll be expected to hit the ground running, quickly getting your head around quite complex questions and identifying relevant solutions for the business.

That doesn’t always mean you’ll need to demonstrate a specialism in topics around environmental impact and sustainability from the outset.

In fact, many of the core activities for consultants are commercial. These include managing stakeholder engagement and reporting on performance. For career changers, with some clever translation, your existing experience can likely be reframed to show you’ve therefore got the knowledge required to do the job already.

But over the longer term, and to move up in seniority, it’s likely you’ll need to develop a solid understanding of key topics within environmental impact and sustainability. It may even be you opt to develop a specialist in a field such as renewables, carbon footprints or sustainability reporting.

So if you want to be proactive you might want to consider…

  • Looking for certification programs in sustainability or environmental management, such as the Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner program offered by the Sustainability Management Association.
  • Looking at Master’s level qualifications in your chosen field, with many options to study part-time or alongside a full-time job.
  • Adding some strategic volunteering to your resume to bump up your demonstrable experience in sustainability.

Develop your personal brand

As mentioned already, working as a consultant is unique in that it requires you to bring in new business and develop potential client relationships, as well as advise on issues around sustainability. That means there’s huge value in establishing your personal brand online, setting yourself up as an expert and thought leader in your chosen area.

Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Make the most of online profiles. Think of platforms like LinkedIn as your shop window. Make sure you’ve created a profile that really sells you and your experience, and has all your information uptodate. The same goes for Twitter bios.
  • Share insights regularly. It might feel daunting at first but consistently sharing interesting articles, original viewpoints and helpful tips to your network can really quickly establish you as a thought leader, which is exactly the type of person companies will be looking to work with.
  • Nurture your network. Set time aside each week to cultivate relationships. That could mean a quick email checking in with a new contact, commenting on someone else’s post on LinkedIn or grabbing a coffee to swap updates. The secret is not to take your network for granted – as a consultant it’s your lifeblood.

Love the idea of becoming a consultant?

Becoming a sustainability consultant can be a diverse, exciting and truly rewarding career for people looking to make a difference. But, with more and more jobseekers figuring this out, it’s also proving to be one of the most competitive roles in the sector despite strong demand from employers. By working your way through these steps though, you’ll put yourself a few steps ahead of the competition and in with a great chance of landing your dream job.

Still fancy a bit more help? Then why not apply for a 30-minute trial coaching session with me where we can discuss exactly how you can turn your aspirations to be a sustainability consultant into reality. For more info and to apply, click here.

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