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Students Share Tips for 'DIY' Sustainability Consulting


This article is part of a series by students at Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability. Principles of Sustainable Management is a foundational class for all Bard MBA students. It delivers ecological and social literacy, the frameworks and tools used by sustainability professionals, the business case for more responsible treatment of people and planet, systems thinking and integrated bottom line accounting.
By Mariana Souza, Martin Lemos and Simon Fischweicher

How can you get the experience you need for your dream job? How do you get sustainability consulting experience without working for a sustainability consulting firm? Our team asked these questions as we finished our first year of the Bard MBA in Sustainability program.

Our answer: If you can’t join one, become one! We took a do-it-yourself approach and launched our own independent consulting group, FWD Impact. Based on our experience, here are a few recommendations for building a sustainability consulting portfolio before graduation.

Get on the phone

Once you have a team, you need to learn as much as you can about other sustainability consultants and the businesses that hire them. The best way to do this by is picking up the phone. Have conversations with businesses, consultants, and experts early and often.

Who wants to spend an hour talking to a few graduate students? The answer is: most sustainability professionals. People working in the field have been where you are and are happy to help if they have a few moments are excited to share. These early calls are probably not going to lead to any client projects, but they will help you learn what is out there and where your skills, knowledge and experience can add value. Use your professors and classmates to find connections.

Tip: Ask for 30 minutes. Lackluster calls won’t drag on forever, and interesting ones will stretch to an hour or lead to a follow-up conversation.

“What do you do?”

This is a question we fumbled through over and over again early in our process: “Uh, sustainability consulting … materiality … stakeholders …” We learned that sustainability consulting is not an acceptable answer, and that a laundry list of every possible service offering wasn’t much better.

After bumbling through a few conversations, we took some time to think about what the market needs and what we had to offer.

  • Do you have technical expertise? Conducting energy audits and improving operational efficiency are important for businesses and nonprofits with high facility costs. Companies want to be seen as responsibly managing their carbon footprint in a post-COP21 world.

  • Do you have communications experience? Mission-driven businesses often need help with messaging and storytelling.

  • Are you a system-thinker? Understanding the complexities of sustainability opportunities and threats requires time and expertise. Corporations benefit from building competitive benchmarks and conducting supply chain risk assessments.

Be sure to align what the market needs with the skills you want to build for your post-MBA career. What tools are you missing for that dream job? What kind of experiences do you want to add to your professional portfolio?

Once you think you have a pithy core service offering, try it out. Yes, that means get back on the phone. Activate your entire network from school, work, family and friends to get large corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, sports team, museums and everybody in between to take your call. Ask about their challenges, and let them know what you do. Test different angles and entry-points to the conversation. We used faculty and colleagues in our program to get initial leads.

Tip: As soon as you have a workable pitch or service offering, develop your Web presence. We started by building a website on Squarespace. We set up a LinkedIn page with our logo, allowing us to include FWD Impact project work in our LinkedIn Experience. We also maintain a Twitter account for thought leadership and reactions to significant events like #COP21 and #ParisAgreement.

Image courtesy of FWD Impact

Mariana Souza, Martin Lemos and Simon Fischweicher co-launched the sustainability consulting firm FWD Impact as a Capstone project in the Bard MBA in Sustainability program. Learn more about the FWD Impact team.

Bard College MBA

Image removed.The Bard MBA in Sustainability focuses on the business case for sustainability. We train students to see how firms can integrate economic, environmental, and social objectives, the triple Bottom Line, to create successful businesses that build a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA Program will transform existing companies, start their own businesses, and pioneer new ways of operating that meet human needs, while protecting and restoring the earth’s natural systems. The Bard MBA is a low-residency program structured around “weekend intensives” with regular online instruction between these residencies. Five of these intensives are held each term: four in the heart of New York City and one in the Hudson Valley. Residencies take place over four days, beginning Friday morning, and ending Monday afternoon. Learn more today.

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