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How Sustainability Consulting Identifies Your Most Valuable ESG Issues

Knowledge is the foundation of sustainability programs that drive business value and cultivate an ethical corporate culture. Bolstering your sustainability program with strategic consulting ensures that the individuals tasked with running your program not only evolve their understanding of sustainability management and strategy, but also fill institutional capability gaps along the way.

Consultants are often relied upon as extra resources who can facilitate materiality assessments, calculate impacts, or write reports, but the most value a sustainability consultant can bring to you is to help embed sustainability into your company’s culture to ensure that your programs and initiatives stick. Here’s how.

Strategic Consulting Helps You Stop Wasting Time & Money

One key area a consultant will help you to address is to figure out which sustainability issues are worth spending your valuable time and resources on. Knowing which issues can deliver real business value requires a combination of sustainability expertise and input from those who understand your company deeply, including its market position, business model, and capacity to innovate.

In the world of sustainability, we know that often what gets attention is when business leaders must respond to an important RFP, a stakeholder survey about sustainability, or even a shareholder resolution. Often companies in this situation operate in a crisis or reactive mode. They find themselves tempted to take the (sometimes) quick and seemingly logical route of addressing the issues requested.

This is a critical opportunity to bring in a consultant who will help you avoid wasting resources on issues that are not actually a good use of your time or money. Expert advice helps companies avoid missteps, such as publishing internet-sourced or boilerplate policies, or embarking on initiatives that they cannot realistically implement and therefore will have ultimately to course correct.

Almost always, the list of things requested by stakeholders is too long to address properly, so the work must be prioritized. In other words, regardless of where you are on the sustainability journey, issue analysis remains a critical component to making the value of responding to requested issues outweigh the costs.

Strategic Consulting Helps You Determine Which Issues Provide Value

Four key financial levers will help you determine whether a particular area of sustainability work will create or protect value for your company. Your long list of stakeholder-requested issues should be prioritized based on the degree to which working on them will have a positive impact on these four factors:

  • Risk mitigation
  • Brand enhancement
  • Cost savings or efficiency
  • Revenue growth

Evaluating issues against these four factors might sound simple enough, but do not be fooled. Each factor requires two types of expertise: sustainability and business.

Sustainability Expertise

On the sustainability side, a consultant with both deep and broad knowledge adds considerable value. Often, all of the risks associated with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are not readily apparent to those tasked with responding to sustainability requests. For example, it may not be obvious how efforts to enhance brand can highlight unattended ESG impacts, or how a short-term focus on ESG issues can derail long-term opportunities for cost savings.

A lack of insight into new ways of thinking about corporate social responsibility and emerging business models can also cause a company to completely miss opportunities to stay or become competitive. These are the types of insights a sustainability consultant brings to the analysis.

Business Expertise

In the area of business expertise, identifying who has what knowledge and expertise within a company to help apply these four factors may seem obvious. But consultants are adept at framing the knowledge and roles to help identify, and communicate with, the best people for each issue. Because sustainability work spans so many business functions, it pays to pinpoint the right people and gain essential engagement from them early in the process.

These business experts provide critical insights to ground sustainability analysis in what is real and true for a particular company. Without this, it would be impossible to gain a clear, company-specific understanding of short-, medium-, and long-term risks and opportunities within the context of sustainability concerns.

Skilled consultants bridge the gap between the varied perspectives in the room to bring out the best ideas and most useful information. With the right combination of sustainability and business expertise identified, a consultant can provide educational workshops, meeting facilitation, training programs and tools to complete the process of surfacing those sustainability issues that have the potential to deliver the most value.

Strategic Consulting Helps You Deliver on the Sustainability Promise

Even when the highest value areas of work are identified, sustainability teams battling many competing demands can still struggle to get approval and implement effectively. Being able to consistently and effectively communicate how the work is creating value is critical for program success, even for companies further along in their sustainability journey. The value-based analysis that sustainability and business experts deliver together produces a much stronger business case for the work proposed, making it easier to get the buy-in and engagement needed to move forward.

A high level of engagement is also facilitated by a clear and detailed plan of action. An experienced consultant will not only support the strategy development process, but they can help sustainability teams successfully navigate the complexities and pitfalls of moving from strategy to implementation. The more disciplined a team can be in structuring and detailing a clear plan of action – with timelines, responsibilities, and a logical organization – the greater the chance of success.

By focusing on knowledge transfer during your sustainability consulting engagement (and by investing in a sustainability management system), you can empower those tasked with addressing sustainability to dramatically reduce the time it takes to build, implement, and achieve results from a business-aligned strategy. The benefit to the company is a sustainability program that delivers on its promise of outperformance.

Think you might benefit from sustainability consulting? Contact Sustrana today.