Sustainability has been front of mind for many companies over the past several years, with both investors and consumers demanding clear, public sustainability commitments as well as transparency and accountability in their delivery. The growing need for sustainability professionals is squeezing available talent, and a recent article by GreenBiz suggests that tomorrow’s sustainability champions can be found in today’s consulting firms.
The demand for sustainable companies is clear: an April 2022 study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value included a survey of more than 16,000 people from 10 countries, and showed 67% of respondents reporting that they were more willing to apply for and accept positions from environmentally sustainable companies. Consumers are also showing a strong preference for companies with an ESG focus, with a 2021 PwC survey indicating that 76-80% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that stands up for ESG commitments.
As businesses develop their own in-house sustainability teams, they frequently look to outside consultants to provide the in-depth support and expertise needed to successfully spin up Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) programs, tens of thousands of whom are hired every year, early in their careers. New consultants are often already well-versed in sustainability programs and standards thanks to the growing number of undergraduate and graduate-level educational programs, and even majors involving policy or analytics often provide a sizable level of exposure to ESG.
Consultancies are now actively seeking candidates with ESG experience built into their education, and they are rapidly building a cadre of experts with a wide variety of sector, geographical, and team experience. The result is a growing body of well-educated, well-trained practitioners who will be well-positioned to serve as in-house sustainability experts in the coming years.
One such practitioner, Heather Zanoni, spent almost 7 years with KPMG as part of its Climate Advisory group before becoming Senior Director of Sustainability & ESG at Dick’s Sporting Goods in early 2021. "My KPMG background? You can't replicate that level of access," she said. "I had worked with pushing-100 clients by the time I left. I had conversations about these really big issues across all industries, across the top 1,000 companies in the world."
That level of exposure and experience is being replicated in thousands of young consultants at Big Four and boutique firms all over the world, and savvy businesses will be on the lookout to capture their talent for their own, using their knowledge and skills to further in-house ESG initiatives.