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Ecological transition: a game changer for consultants?

26 May 2021
By Charlotte FOSSE and Alexandre PEDEZERT, Audencia Grande Ecole students.

Last December 12 marked the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. This landmark event ambitioned to turn the world in the direction of low carbon development. Despite the goodwill displayed, we must admit that the results are mixed. Thus, societies need right now to engage in a radical transition to new models: from political institutions to citizens, all parties are concerned, and companies are no exception. As students in consulting, we wonder what might be the impact on consulting firms and consultants. Maxime Bahuau, engineer in energy efficiency, and Carolin Tüns, Sustainable Development Consultant/Architect from Inddigo, a consulting firm engaged in the ecological transition, accepted to answer our questions.

 

New challenges for companies

 

Today, “companies must be prepared to face new legislative and regulatory challenges” imposed by the ecological transition, highlighted Carolin Tüns. Indeed, the ecological transition is not something new, and companies now have the tools to face the constraints it imposes. Thus, to make sure ALL economic actors comply with its requirements, they have been translated into very concrete laws. The 2019 PACTE law [1] in France is a good example as it forces companies to consider all social and environmental issues related to their activities. The life cycle analysis is another problem companies must deal with.

The increase in legal and administrative constraints forces companies to adapt their business model. Employee travel and use of renewable energies are issues they are now tackling. For instance, Apple announced in 2018 that their global facilities are power supplied with 100% clean energy.

But above all, as Maxime said, “being present in the ecological transition represents a true opportunity in terms of attractiveness for companies”. Indeed, as stated by the Greenflex ADEME 2019 barometer [1], for 63% [2] of the French, a company offering sustainable products enhances their trust.      Plus, more and more executives are concerned about these issues, as a study revealed in 2019 [3]: 78% of executives are willing to change jobs for a company presenting ecological values. Therefore, it is becoming crucial for companies to implement new practices if they want to keep attracting top executives and stay competitive.

The good news is the pandemic hasn’t undermined this commitment to the ecological transition. Indeed, on May 3, 2020, 90 business leaders signed an article in Le Monde to encourage a faster ecological transition [4]. And as Carolin and Maxime pointed out during our interview, the pandemic has imposed new constraints and has created new business opportunities, forcing companies to hasten their transition to a more sustainable model. Hence, we are seeing today a real commitment from companies to the ecological transition, with new issues to address.

 

New imperatives for consulting firms

 

The ecological transition is an unavoidable and lengthy process. To face this paradigm shift, big consultancy firms are adapting. They have created new positions such as CSR and Ecological Transition Consultants, and new units. KPMG launched its sustainable development department in 1993, PwC did the same in 1994, and the number of consultants has been increasing since, proving there is a real awareness on this matter. Concretely, this new kind of consultant handles the implementation of sustainable practices in the companies advised. It also exposes the main risks related to climate change, as shown in the report published by McKinsey in September 2020 [5].

The ecological transition is not solely a matter for big consulting firms. Indeed, small and local consulting firms also have a role to play. Inddigo is one of them. This French consulting firm has been working with a wide range of French public players for almost 30 years on the challenges posed by the ecological transition at different levels, from waste management to building renovation. Their main strength? Their territorial anchoring. The proximity with clients helps consultants understand their needs, and thus support them in their evolution, whatever their ambition or their means. Inddigo is demonstrating one thing: it is possible to build new business models on the values of the ecological transition and make it work.

 

New roles for consultants

 

Consulting firms will be affected by the ecological transition, and so will consultants. As mentioned earlier, consultants are dealing with new missions regarding the sustainability of companies. But they are also changing their way of working, introducing a significant environmental dimension in their offers. Big firms such as Deloitte try to include the carbon impact in their recommendations to clients and to raise their awareness of the environmental effects.

In smaller firms, such as Inddigo, consultants’ commitment to ecological sustainability goes further. As Maxime pointed out, their role is to look beyond clients' specifications, they are here to challenge requests and offer the most adequate and sustainable solutions. But challenging your client and raising awareness requires an interdisciplinary approach, as climate change imposes very different constraints on a wide range of actors. Thus, we believe that future consultants will need hybrid skills to face these new challenges and support all actors in their missions.

Consultants should not only be advisors but also raise public and clients’ awareness on relevant topics. They have the expertise and, with the development of digital tools, they can educate people on important issues. The participation of Inddigo in the online “Assises de la Transition Ecologique” is an example of this public involvement.

Yet, it is crucial to keep in mind that clients will remain the final decision-makers. Thus, if consultants want to deliver the right message, they must keep the qualities that have always been at the core of their profession, listening and patience, and combine them with their personal engagement, to develop the conviction that might inspire their clients to follow their lead.

 

In conclusion, the ecological transition is happening today, and all the departments of companies will be impacted. As the paradigm changes, consulting firms will have a choice to make: take the lead or endure. We believe this issue is too important to take feeble measures and consultants must engage in this debate. Their future is at stake. So, which firms will be part of the 4th wave of the consulting industry?

 

References

 

[1] PACTE, Le Plan d’Action pour la Croissance et la Transformation des Entreprises. 2019, September. https://www.economie.gouv.fr/files/files/2019/PACTE_Juin2019/bro-a4-pacte.pdf

[2] Baromètre de la consommation responsable - GreenFlex/ADEME - Edition 2019. May 2020. https://www.greenflex.com/offres/produits-consommation-responsables/marketing-responsable/barometre-consommation-responsable-2019/

[3] Environnement : pour 8 cadres sur 10, leurs employeurs sont trop timides, Cadremploi, October 30, 2019. https://www.cadremploi.fr/editorial/actualites/actu-emploi/detail/article/environnement-pour-les-cadres-leurs-employeurs-sont-trop-timides.html

[4] Tribune, “Mettons l’environnement au cœur de la reprise économique”, in Le Monde. 2020, No. 23426. May 5, 2020. p. 28.

[5] McKinsey on Climate Change, McKinsey & Company, September 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Business%20Functions/Sustainability/Our%20Insights/McKinsey%20on%20Climate%20Change/McKinsey-on-Climate-Change-Report-v2.pdf

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