​How do we attract, retain and develop sustainability talent within the consultancy market?

17 May 2023 by Jack Porter
blog author

Tensions have been rising among workforces in the consultancy market as more businesses urgently call for expert sustainability support.

As an influx of consumers continue to turn their backs on companies with lagging ESG ratings, consultancies are currently having to address the elephant in the room – the distinct lack of sustainability talent in the sector.

Consultants brandishing an array of sustainability skills are still yet to flood the consultancy market, despite demand from businesses for external advice on implementing and embedding sustainability best practices. As a result, consultancies are now hiring specialist sustainability professionals to keep up with enduring demand, future-proof businesses and place them on the right trajectory towards meeting the climate agenda and social goals for greater success.


According to a recent study conducted by sustainability consultancy Anthesis, investing in sustainability is a triple win in terms of attracting top talent, supporting the climate crisis and driving business value. But you need to source the right talent to unlock the resources necessary to achieve this.

Research shows that a mere 17 per cent of companies are on the right path to meet their emissions targets calling for additional third-party support. But while consultancies boast a plethora of services to boost operations across all industries and functions, sustainability expertise is still a little thin on the ground.

Consultancies are therefore resorting to hire multiple sustainability professionals and turning to specialist recruitment companies to help them achieve this feat.


It should come as no surprise that many consultancies are currently hiring but it’s crucial to appoint the right people who will be the best fit for the company.

Many fast-paced and well-established consultancies are hiring multiple people at once but to avoid a high turnover of staff or a laborious onboarding mission, it would be advantageous to use a different viewpoint: utilise the workforce that already exists.

Staff are more likely to resign from a firm if they feel they don’t have the training, development or skills as the business grows exponentially. This can be avoided by investing and focusing on the key players already working for the business. By upskilling the current workforce with the right tools to avoid losing valued players and to further enhance their prospects, a business can experience greater, longer-lasting success.

Staff engagement will unearth the internal staff members who demonstrate a real desire but aren’t offered the opportunity. Upskilling those who are passionate about progression can help solve part of the problem, leaving your hiring process to be more focused on the particular skill gaps within the business.


Does your consultancy have skill sets internally that you can use to help address the skills gap? While sustainability has developed from a ‘nice to have’ into an ‘every company needs people with a strong sustainability skill set”, it is key to understand the type of person you should be looking to employ.

Acre ploughs through hundreds of job descriptions and we tend to see the same results – from strategy and project delivery to commercial development, team management and leadership, with very little sustainability presence. As consultancies grow and the market becomes saturated from a candidate perspective, the emphasis now lies heavily on the actual skills required within the team.

Acre’s bespoke and unique service utilises in-house behavioural assessment methods and benchmarks to create a more comprehensive view of a candidate’s abilities, and areas of strength and development.

By prioritising staff already included in the headcount, and developing their skill set to incorporate sustainability, you could not only save money but also reassess where your business priorities lie.

As the candidate market becomes smaller, a slight skills gap will naturally arise as candidates either try to enter the sustainability market or apply at a more senior level.

As a consultancy, which is more important for you when hiring – salary or skill set? Wider skill sets demand a more attractive salary or you could offer a lower salary but compromise on some of the skills.

The three most common skill sets across all job descriptions are Project Development & Delivery, Business Development & Strategic Growth. When hiring it’s important to understand where these skill sets rank in importance. Naturally, the more experienced the candidate, the more these skill sets will be covered. This is where it’s crucial that you understand the individuals in your team and their strengths and weaknesses.

Have you hired experienced candidates to focus on strategy, or hired specific candidates reacting to demand? I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you’ve managed to adapt to a market still going through significant growth.

Jack Porter has worked for Acre for the past four years and leads up the consultancy business in Acre. He has undertaken a wide variety of assignments with clients ranging from the consulting arms of technology giants and Big 4 advisory through to specialist SMEs helping large corporates transition towards Net Zero Carbon. Jack previously led the Energy and Sustainability consultancy for the Energy and Climate Change Team.

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