Monday, August 25, 2008

Emerging Careers in Sustainability Consulting

Read an interesting overview of the career opportunities in sustainability consulting; both in traditional management consulting as well as with new boutique consulting firms (article on Triple Pundit). I think the E&C consulting industry is also a viable source of career opportunities as well.

(note: I posted a column on this market trend in the spring; CNET published an article on "Green is the new opportunity in consulting").

Both management consulting and engineering services firms (or engineering & construction firms; 'E&C's) are investing in sustainability practices. Management firms are building practices in environmental risk management, sustainability strategy (including organizational design, change management, as well as process design) and carbon management strategy.

The global E&Cs, such as Bechtel, CH2M, URS Corp, have some type of 'sustainability' practice. In many cases, this service offering is focused more on CSR reporting and strategy development; both growing segments.

I work with the global E&Cs as part of my practice, and I believe the bigger opportunity for 'talent' to enter this field is to focus on specific segments such as: buildings / facilities, energy development, water, transportation, and environmental. 'Sustainability' is being incorporated into many of these markets; with most of the interest coming from clients who want to manage their energy costs, minimize use (and costs) associated with resources such as building materials and water; and also manage environmental risks associated with past and current practices.

I actually think there is more potential for professionals who focus on these specific market opportunities in the short term, as industries such as process mfg, discrete mfg, energy development, retail, and real estate, for examples, are all turning to E&Cs for solution development and deployment.
Read more!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Breaking the bond of the "Gatekeeper"....

You know who he (or she) is.

That person you have to deal with to get access into a client's organization. Could be the actual buyer, but many times is just someone who is paid to say 'no', and really does not have any power to say 'yes'.

And you are stuck with him...or her.

How do you break the bond?

I worked with a client this spring; providing business development services to access and develop new strategic accounts in the global Engineering & Construction sector. We had one global E&C account with revenues over $6B, but my client (software company) had very little visibility and access into the account. My role: providing company & industry insights, access to key executives, and refine the sales strategy; complementing and assisting the account manager and his team.

And his main contact in this company was simply...a pill. Someone who was almost hostile to the account manager, who in turn was oblivious to the verbal assault. But someone who did have the power to affect the terms of an enterprise level deal.

Ok, we can just go around him, using my relationships (which were at a much higher level in practice management).


This gatekeeper made it be known that we were NOT to go around him....everything HAD to be coordinated via him.

(Where's Dr. Phil when you really need him?)

Plus, the guy always wanted to meet over lunch.....hmmm; wonder why?

A new strategy was needed. One that minimized the gatekeeper's impact, kept the account manager motivated, and hopefully one that could turn this around.

What was accomplished:

- Killing with kindness (not a great ROI given the level of effort, but there was some minor amount of 'R')

- Me working with my relationships, and providing my account manager with 'plausible deniability':

("Honest, Mr Gatekeeper; I did not know Scott was talking to Ms. SVP of Corp. Dev!!")

- Appealing to the Gatekeeper's primary need: perform less work. We told him we could get other staff within his organization involved, and run all decisions through him. All the power, none of the hassle.

- Finally, working with executives (I was developing some 'benchmarking' for the industry....gave me a reason to reach out) who had a vested interest in our success (the SVP of Process Mfg, and key program managers who wielded enormous influence), and getting them to support our gatekeeper (not that easy to do, given the gatekeeper's internal reputation, as it was).

Rocket science? No.

Lots of lunches? Yes.

Thinly disguised compliments? Sure.

To summarize: taking a chance on alienating the gatekeeper (via my role....note: why do I have to be the bad cop?), getting key influencers involved, allowing the gatekeeper to maintain his position of authority, supporting him via other internal leaders (which made him feel good), and putting him in a position where he had to go forward or would be perceived as truly a gatekeeper.

It's funny, but gatekeepers do not want to be perceived as gatekeepers.

Who knew.
Read more!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Business Models for Social Networking Sites

As a follow up to a previous post (here) on the need for social networking in sustainability communities, and the potential of social networking on a personal / individual level (here), there are some business strategies that may be followed for growth in this space.

Companies such as Viridus, Celsias, Ning groups, and others need to leverage their most important attribute: their network of users. The challenge is how to grow the network and retain & engage members; without alienating them. Facebook, for example, has growth exponentially; has attracted demographic groups beyond that of the college crowd, but still had a revolt on their hands when they reduced the (perceived) privacy of their users with new tracking applets. They are big enough, so that this was a minor bump in their growth; for a start up, that error could be disasterous.

How do we leverage the community? Here are some revenue building initiatives that may apply in the sustainability sector:

  • Provide market research opportunities to outside corporations (allow corporations to test their brand image; new product releases, or to attract new talent via surveys)
  • Allow targeted ads for user pages, profiles, groups, etc
  • Design for internal use on a company's intranet
  • Set up job posting (similar to E-lance and and job searching service
  • Build in knowledge management (i.e. search, knowledge sharing, virtual communities, groups) and license third party access from vendors who may provide specific content and expertise

One area that intrigues me is building an internal site for a corporation; essentially creating a virtual community of sustainability professionals inside the firewall. The social networking company might also provide access to 'federated' data; profiles and groups outside of the firewall, with voluntary 'opt -in' procedures for users. This would minimize / eliminate any privacy concerns, and also motivate specific users groups to join, if they thought there were advantages to do so (job search inside a company, internal networking, specific content they were seeking).

A key challenge for this scenario would be how to integrate into other KM and intranet systems, so that the social networking site was not a siloed application.

Read more!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Will Crisis Management drive Sustainability Adoption? (also published on

(This post was also published on

Recent conversations with sustainability execs, including those in the product - centric industries (CPG, discrete mfg) and in technology firms, have centered around adoption of internal sustainability programs (that is: executive sponsorship and enactment of internal initiatives to create a sustainable organization and business model).

A central issue comes up: how to convince executives that sustainability programs are critical to the welfare, brand, and growth of their company?

As in any nascent market or as part of a new management trend, there are always 'thought leader' executives that 'get it' quickly; in this case: they understand the sustainability value proposition for their company, and more importantly, may articulate the specific programs and initiatives that need to be executed to acheive success.

But many execs are viewing sustainablity with a jaundiced eye; it may appear to be 'one more corporate exercise' as one exec told me. And many view sustainability as an additional layer of compliance (more on this in a future post).

This is not to denigrate or judge those executives who don't get it; the incentives for most of these people are ones that you would expect:

- Increase profitability
- Find and develop new product and services lines, or expand to new markets
- Attract and retain the best talent
- And, keep the company out of trouble (i.e. regulatory compliance, product liability mgt, maintain positive press and brand image, etc)

So what may drive sustainability adoption broadly throughout various sectors, beyond that of the 'thought leaders'?

Perhaps the lessons of the environmental regulations wave in the 1970 - 1980's are applicable; when corporations were hit with a multitude of regulations, such as hazardous waste rememdiation, toxics management, and clean air and water requirements.

I worked with corporate environmental officers in the leading process, discrete, and energy companies in that time period, and I was frustrated when I tried to advance proactive strategic environmental risk programs. The value proposition was simply: it pays to stay out of trouble by investing in such a program on an enterprise level.

This sales approach was not extremely successful.

Clients would listen and adopt strategic programs after a crisis hit; a spill or leak of hazardous materials, or evidence of disposal at a Superfund site, for examples. It is hard to invest in the future, especially for events that have not been experienced.

The driving force of adoption of more proactive, strategic environmental risk managment programs was 'crisis management': some companies found themselves in significant risk, in terms of past environmental management practices (or legacies'), with associated regulatory, cost, legal, and negative public image issues as a result. When viewed in this light, proactive strategies (such as sustainability) that encompass processes, people, and products, look like very good investments after all.

When we view sustainability program adoption today, there are certainly those companies who are visible due to their proactive approach (think Walmart), but: we are also drawn to environmental and health crisis's that have occurred; the Mattel issue with it's suppliers was a highly visible example of the need for a corporate sustainability program (or at least a sustainability initiative for the supply chain).

I would advance the idea that in the near term, the vast majority of corporations (i.e. those that are not 'thought leaders', and are in the population within 2 standard deviations of the bell shape curve of their sector) will not adopt sustainability programs unless faced with a crisis; either their own or one from a competitor or well known company. The crisis may not be a major one, but could be big enough to cause negative impacts on brand, customers or employees. They could be: product returns, worker health & safety, past environmental liabilities, losing key talent to competitors, or have a supplier face the same issues.

I don't think this adoption driver will continue on indefinitely, but given the lagging economy and business investment in key sectors (construction, manufacturing), many companies may defer on moving forward with enterprise level programs. When the economy turns around, adoption will probably hit some level of inflection point in the near future (2 years), where sustainability programs will not be a 'nice to have', but will be necessary to compete. But I do not think we are there yet.
Read more!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Quick review of "Profit from the Peak" book: significant investments in sustainability and infrastructure?

I was provided a copy of "Profit from the Peak" from John Wiley & Sons, a new book on the history of fossil fuel development, and the associated investment opportunities that take advantage of emerging energy development as well as in targeted segments of 'traditional' oil & gas (i.e. discovery, development, refining, and distribution).

Just started reading it a week ago, but noted an area of particular interest: how the maturation of oil field development and 'peak oil' have spurred incredible investments in infrastructure (including development of sustainability / alternative energy projects).

There is a general consensus that we are past 'peak oil' (the optimum rate of production), and discovery of new major oil fields is not anticipated. Therefore, Middle East countries, who are awash in royalties, are now investing in and building infrastructure for refining, chemicals production, and distribution (will they invest in the retail side?).

This level of investment in infrastructure by Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Bahrain is simply amazing. These countries are investing in engineering & construction services to the general level of $350 billion in the near future. The reason for this investment level: the oil producing companies in the Middle East have determined that they if they can control more of the downstream lifecycle for oil & gas, they can substantially increase their profitability, compared to that associated with oil production. And with production and development investments not predicted to rise appreciably given the state of peak oil, this is the time to invest in other parts of the lifecycle.

And that requires skills and labor in engineering design, construction, and operations; along with significant requirements in materials (i.e. steel, cement, networks / telecom, monitoring systems, chemicals, etc).

What does this mean for the AEC sector, and for sustainability (specifically alternative energy development)? Some thoughts:

  • Many of the global AECs are currently very active in the Middle East, and have set up new operations / offices there. The talent required to deliver on these projects is coming from multiple locales: India, China, EMEA, US. But talent availability remains a bottleneck.
  • Given the huge level of investments and associated demand for talent, many of these global AECs are somewhat strapped for talent here in the US. One executive told me that between the two markets of Iraq rehabilitation and UAE development, that the US market for them has become secondary.
  • The 'greenfield' opportunities (building new facilities, as opposed to retrofitting older ones) means that owners are very open to new technologies and designs; particularly those that will optimize use of precious resources in the area, such as water. Two primary sustainability markets are benefitting as a result: alternative energy development (solar PV), and water treatment, distribution, and recycling.

What does this mean to cleantech start ups? Build relationships with practitioners in the leading global AECs; not the corporate development or business development leaders. Why? The practitioners, in most cases senior program managers with client relationship and deployment responsibilities, are the ones who can make decisions on integration of new technologies, since their clients are the ones will who pay (as opposed to investment on the part of the AEC firm). I think this applies to early stage cleantech firms as well, that may still require success in a 'test bed' or pilot demonstration before scaling to a larger infrastructure project.

Interesting reading....may post again on other topics in this book.... Read more!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Social Networking column published on ENN

ENN (Environmental News Network) has published my column on "Why the Sustainability Community needs Social Networking"; originally published at

Link for the ENN article is here. Read more!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Another twist on social networking....

I read a blog by Maguerite Manteau-Rao, who provides some thought provoking questions around whether 'social networking in green is dead' in a recent Cleantech blog post.

(At the personal or individual level this is probably true, but not necessarily at a business / corporate level). In particular, she also asks: "what type of behavioral strategies are needed in sustainability"?

I think that there is far too much pressure on individuals to be sustainable; there are certainly specific opportunities out there (saving energy, minimizing GHG impacts), and there are those people who will serve as thought leaders and take it upon themselves to drive change. But for the mass of people (i.e. to 'cross the chasm'), daily life and getting by are the key drivers of day to day behavior. There are regulatory, brand mgt, revenue generation, and production cost drivers that need to evolve, until individual behaviors evolve.

So, from this standpoint, 'behavioral strategies' should be reviewed and modified (if necessary) by those groups (industry, government, education) who want to modify manage behavior (i.e. buying products, getting involved in social initiatives etc) on the part of individuals.

From a 'professional' standpoint (that is: those individuals who will make their living in the sustainability field), there are ample opportunities to change behavior; if for no other reason than to live a lifestyle of choice (and to satisfy intellectual and moral needs). I just wrote a column on TriplePundit on this opportunity. Read more!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Column on TriplePundit: 'Why the Sustainability Community needs Social Networking'

This column is a re-post of a column I wrote last week; click here to get to the article. Read more!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Exit Strategies for Sustainability Reporting companies?

Over the past few months I have had discussions with a number of sustainability technology firm execs, as well as with other tech execs that follow this field.

One particular question keeps coming up: what is the growth and exit strategy for these companies? Many have started with compliance (such EMS or EHS) as the building blocks, while others are new and have built the applications for customizable reporting for the myriad of NGO protocols out there.

While sustainability reporting is just taking hold here in the states, in Europe it has been adopted at a higher rate. Those companies providing such reporting technologies are now faced with the issue of building off this installed base, or seeking additional customers. Up - selling to the base may include providing additional functionality (i.e. I talked to one firm that is building a 'fraud control' set of features, for managing social impacts associated with fund disbursements in sustainability programs). Obtaining additonal customers can be acheived by acquisitions; which also allows for building a broader solution. One trend seen: EMS and sustainability reporting firms acquiring emerging GHG inventory application companies. Perhaps here in the US we will follow this trend of market evolution and consolidation in the next 12- 24 months.

But at the end of the day, it would seem that these firms should be part of a broader set of solutions, or embedded in a enterprise level platform, in order to meet the demands of clients. While reporting is important, I think the real value is in developing and implementing the workflow necessary to manage and improve sustainability processes, which means the reporting tool must be integrated into supply chain, product management, CRM, financials, and other ERP modules.

So, shall we see M&A activity in this sector in the next year? Consolidation of sustainability application companies (such as that of IHS's strategy)? Larger compliance / GRC platform companies such as BWave, Agentis, and SAP make key acquisitions in the GHG management space?

There are questions as to the viability of these growth strategies; a peer of mine on Sand Hill Rd. thought that 'we could develop a Linux platform and open it to developers, which could drive a lot of the sustainability tech firms out of business' (or general words to that effect).

That is certainly possible, although I think a more likely outcome will be that the lagging economy will reduce the overall urgency for sustainability reporting, with tech firms struggling to find paying customers and gaining leadership or market share. The near term result will be a lot fewer of these firms in the next 12 months, with a potential follow - on phase of acquisitions by larger platform companies.

Just a thought.... Read more!