Sustainability Spawns New Trends in Consulting

By Amanda Crater

Business as usual is a thing of the past. Corporate behavior has changed due to the economic recession combined with increasingly strict environmental regulations and changing consumer attitudes. Sustainability is infiltrating all aspects of employment, from pressure corporations face to be environmentally and socially responsible to consulting opportunities for independent specialists with in-demand skills. Where companies once had internal teams, their past efforts at focusing on core competencies and downsizing now requires contracting with specialists and consultants on increasingly complex projects.

The consulting profession is gaining momentum with the number of newly established firms soaring in recent years. As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article by Richard Greenwald, “How to Succeed in the Age of Going Solo,” many workers have either given up or been forced out of the salaried world and have entered the freelance economy. Today an estimated 20- 23% of U.S. workers are operating as consultants, freelancers, free agents or contractors, with that number expected to rise in coming years.

To succeed as a consultant in these global economic conditions, more individuals and firms are joining industry networks. “Most successful consultants are in a network or community of consultants,” Greenwald notes in his piece exploring this trend. The dated image of the lonely consultant toiling in isolation has been replaced by networks of consultants cropping up to tackle bigger projects requiring more resources.

Networks Play Key Role in Sustainability Consulting

With two factors at play – an economy trending toward freelancers and consultants and the heightened need for qualified specialists to carry out sustainability initiatives – a new consulting model is emerging using networks of consultants who team up on specific projects. The Phylmar Group’s Affiliate Network Inner Circle program is a case study for how experienced consultants are adapting their business models to accommodate changing the needs and demands of corporate clients, particularly Fortune 1000 companies.

Much of the work in sustainability, such as conducting environmental assessments and program implementation, is carried out by those in the field of environmental health and safety (“EHS”).  The Phylmar Group, an EHS and social responsibility consulting firm,  helps Fortune 1000 clients incorporate sustainability into their core business processes. Their new Inner Circle program is an exclusive network that facilitates EHS consultants partnering with each other on projects to expand their geographical and technical capabilities.

Inner Circle

The Inner Circle model epitomizes the changing dynamics for those in the consulting business to band together to remain competitive. The nature of sustainability work requires many EHS professionals to be available across geographic locations to provide technical assistance, especially in developing countries. Through access to The Phylmar Group’s own affiliate network of 500 vetted specialists in 44 countries, Inner Circle members are able to connect with other consultants and firms on projects. For example, an Inner Circle member based in the Middle East had a client in the region with a small operation in North America. When that client needed an EHS audit performed in the U.S., the Inner Circle member was able to contact The Phylmar Group and be matched with an appropriate affiliate to do the job, thus retaining a client and increasing business.

“The ability to tap into the Phylmar network of worldwide affiliates and market the network model gives Inner Circle members a unique value proposition,” said Mark Katchen, Phylmar’s Managing Principal. “As an independent EHS consultant or firm, if you don’t have a name brand yet, you need to be selling something, and that is the model.”

For more information on The Phylmar Group, please visit or follow the company on social media. Mark Katchen will be presenting his paper on building global EHS capacity at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Exhibition in Denver, May 22-27, 2010.

Amanda Crater is CEO of CraterCom, a public relations and branding firm for green businesses. The Phylmar Group is one of her clients. Connect with Amanda on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube.

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6 responses

  1. Great points. I think that consultants are nimble and are able to jump on projects easier than larger firms. Partnering also makes sense because specialists are able to be brought in quickly. Great article!

    1. Nice job Amanda! That's exactly my next move, call it the collaborative business model or call it controlling your own destiny! And it's true – a firm is much more nimble that way — no fuss or red tape, just get the right person on board and get the job done. Plus the client benefits from getting a true pro rather than an intern assigned to their account. Thanks for sharing.

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