As companies grapple with how to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, consultancies are locked in a battle of their own: developing the skills to meet increasing client demand for sustainability advice.
“They need a lot more people, and this comes at a time when they’re not just lacking in sustainability skills — they’re lacking in all kinds of skills,” says Fiona Czerniawska, executive director of Source Global Research, a data provider about the professional service industry.
In findings not limited to sustainability, Source Global Research recently found that one in five consulting firms said they turned down work because they didn’t have the right skills.
Neelam Chohan, associate client partner at Korn Ferry, the organizational consultancy, says the company has added more people to its sustainability teams over the past year “simply because demand is very high.”
The added challenge for consultancies is that helping clients achieve net-zero goals — reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to levels consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement and offsetting those they can’t eliminate — is a broad spectrum of consulting expertise and technical support required from sustainability specialists.
“The net zero work is split between two different types of consulting services,” explains Czerniawska. “There’s clearly work that’s specifically focused on that, but there’s a lot of net-zero work that’s embedded in other services.”
One example is supply chain management. For many customers, Scope 3 emissions – those outside of their control, including suppliers’ operations – can account for the bulk of their carbon footprint. However, for companies with vast global supplier networks, reducing this footprint is complex and requires the advice of professionals with supply chain expertise.
Customers may also want risk management experts to advise them on how to prevent the effects of rising temperatures from affecting their operations. “The risk of climate change has companies thinking about how they structure their business,” said Jonquil Hackenberg, Global Head of Sustainability and Climate Response at PA Consulting.
And, as with the integration of digital technologies across operations, the transition to low-carbon business models often prompts clients to seek guidance on how to make changes in corporate strategy.
“This is how you implement transformation and change management, no matter what you decide to do,” says Chohan.
With net zero and sustainability concerns touching so many aspects of business operations, companies need to ensure that consultants in all areas of operations – from energy, financial services and risk management to human resources – understand the climate challenge and its impact on the business.
“You need a multidisciplinary approach to solve problems like this,” says Hackenberg. “The challenge and opportunity is to bring different skills into one space.”
One way for consultancies is to do this internally, through new forms of leadership and professional development. For example, Oliver Wyman has three co-leaders, each with different industry experience, for its climate and sustainability work.
“One comes in with a background in financial services and risk, one comes in with a background in energy, and I get by [one] in corporate narratives and consumer branding,” says Simon Glynn, one of the co-leaders. “All these different disciplines are relevant to the climate.”
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In addition to conducting specialist training, Oliver Wyman has integrated climate content into the training models for consultants at different career stages. “Climate and sustainability are part of the toolbox that a consultant should have,” says Glynn.
Another option for companies to expand their sustainability capabilities is through acquisition. For example, in January, Oliver Wyman acquired Azure Consulting, a Perth-based firm with expertise in energy and natural resources.
One advantage companies have when recruiting talent is the enthusiasm of college graduates to work on practical sustainability projects. “The exciting thing is that you solve problems together instead of creating another PowerPoint [presentation]’ says Hackenberg.
However, Czerniawska says there is no substitute for having the right skills. She cites the pressure to reduce plastic waste: “You need people who really understand how to get rid of plastic, not just people who think it’s a beautiful thing.”
Still, argues David Gillespie, Oliver Wyman’s Head of UK & Ireland, passion matters. “You really need the hard skills,” he says. “But you want people who care about that. If someone is committed to something, you get that 10 to 20 percent extra.”