Sustainability consultants – have they just swapped the frying pan for the fire?
Working in sustainability is tough at the best of times and many sustainability professionals in large organisations find themselves struggling to make a significant difference and to influence people whose priorities are financial goals rather than attention to environmental impact.
Taking your qualifications and experience and becoming a consultant can seem tempting, you can stick to your own values, uphold your principles and make a difference where companies are inviting you in. What’s not to like?
As an employee your work is planned out, your targets set and your income secure; as a consultant the possibilities are enormous as are the demands – your time and skills are needed for your tax return and marketing strategy as well as your strategic and technical skills.
As an employee you have a role and a job description which brings you respect and recognition alongside support and interaction with colleagues; as a consultant you have to work to get the recognition and fit the consultant role and it can be lonely.
If you do a google search for ‘competencies a sustainability consultant needs’ you will get a list which superwoman (or superman) would find it hard to live up to – ability to inspire, project management, strategic thinking…I don’t recommend you do this as you will undoubtedly end up feeling inadequate.
Sustainability professionals are often not only highly qualified but also extremely motivated out of their concern for the continuation of the planet and the wellbeing of the living things (humans included) on it.
Sustainability consultants need to have a budget for ‘learning and development’ which not only covers keeping their professional skills up to date but enables them to develop the personal skills they need and to respond well to new situations.
As a coach I have helped people to renew their commitment to the business, become more confident at networking, make decisions about a new direction, handle difficult relationships, acknowledge and appreciate their strengths so they could take their business to the next level.
Consultants working alone or in small consultancies can be tempted to rely on their partner (whether business or life partner) or friends to help them and this can put unnecessary pressure on a relationship and demand skills and objectivity which people close to you can’t easily give.
In the corporate world ‘wellbeing’ is beginning to take the place of ‘sustainability’ or ‘environment’ as the must have for staff engagement; maybe sustainability consultants need to follow the lead and ensure their own wellbeing so they can work hard, deliver the best solutions and stay well.