Choose the Best Sustainability Consultant for Your Company


We all know what we need to do to make our companies more environmentally friendly: use less energy, water, and paper, travel less and make less garbage. But yeah, it’s easier said than done especially if you’re in a carbon intensive business like manufacturing or energy production. What’s the company without a lot of time or expertise to do? Well, hire someone, of course! Who do you hire, and how do you know what to look for? Here’s the lowdown on the biggest and smallest players in the newest consulting game and how to separate the wheat from the formerly-unemployed-newly-rebranded “Sustainability Consultant.”

First, you need to know what you are looking for. Different consultants have different kinds of expertise:

Sustainability Strategy
These are the guys to hire in 2 situations: first, you don’t even know what you need to know. They can advise you about all the different options available to make your business more sustainable and help you set sustainability goals. Second, these are the folks you want if you have made a lot of basic improvements like installing low flow faucets and energy savings devices, set the copier to default to double sided, and you’re looking for a way to integrate your sustainability initiatives into your overall business efforts. Because this step can seem a bit nebulous (what am I actually getting for my money?), this is the place to either take a personal recommendation (3P’s are at the bottom of the post) or go for the name. Many consultants are also writers of well regarded books on sustainability, like Hunter Lovins and Andrew Winston. In addition to being respected by their peers in the sustainability community, these folks have their own brand to protect, so they are going to do their best to make sure your company is well taken care of.

LEED:
LEED consultants are the ones to hire if you want to make sure that your new construction project or retrofit has the best chance of achieving LEED certification at the level you want (platinum, gold).  They can also advise you on the expected costs to hit each level and help you make the best choice for your goals. Look for individuals who are certified LEED AP (accredited professional), and ask for references from jobs they’ve completed.

Greenhouse Gas Management:
Hire these folks if you work in a carbon intensive industry (manufacturing, distribution/transportation, or energy) and you are concerned about how pending cap and trade legislation will affect your company. Look for someone who has experience registering carbon emissions in your sector with the Climate Registry, the California Climate Action Registry or in conjuncture with the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme.

Energy Efficiency:
If you know you’re wasting a lot of energy through outdated fixtures, appliances and single pane windows these are the consultants who can help you figure out which upgrades will give you the highest ROI. They can also help you navigate the state and federal incentive programs to figure out which ones you’ll qualify for. These services are best suited to companies large and small in food services, hotels, retail, and manufacturing: any company with a lot of lights and appliances could benefit from these upgrades. Ask prospective consultants to give you an estimate on the amount of money the job will save you, and make sure to check some references.

Waste and Recycling:
Ideal for product manufacturers and retailers, these consultants can help you ferret out waste in your manufacturing process, helping your company save money on both materials and disposal costs. Ask your prospective consultant about their past clients, the projects they implemented, the challenges they encountered, and the final financial results. If you manufacture abroad, make sure you consultant has some experience in the country or region where your factory is.

Communicating your Sustainable Message:
This service is for companies who have made some sustainability improvements and are looking to make more. These consultants are for you if you have spent some time looking internally and you want to shift your focus to the external branding of your sustainable practices.  You want to share their sustainability message with existing customers, use it to bring in new customers, and might be a bit fearful of being accused of greenwashing. Look for a consultant with a rigorous background in all of these types of consulting, connections in the sustainability community at large and a strong understanding of  the benefits and drawbacks of engaging in social media.

All in all, it comes down to working with someone you can trust. Here are some friends of 3P (in safe, favorite-less alpha order) who we feel confident recommending:

Center fo Sustainability & Excellence
Green Impact
GreenIt Group
Fairridge Group

ISOS Group
Natural Capitalism Solutions

Natural Logic
Padosa
Scott Cooney
Steve Puma

Readers: what are your tips for selecting a sustainability consultant? Do you have any great names to share?

Previously

Jen is editor in chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and lives in Oakland with her husband and baby. 
Hit her up at on twitter @jenboynton to discuss diapering strategies or sustainability reporting methodology.