Sustainability Doesn't Sell ... Or Does It?

Let me start off this post on a downbeat note: Improving sustainability is not a high priority for companies, according to data from the recent Forrester survey of business decision-makers. The survey, part of Forrester's Forrsights research, was fielded to 2,600 executives with budget authority at companies in Europe, North America, and Asia during the fourth quarter of 2010.

When we asked these corporate decision-makers about their company's top business priorities, revenue growth was #1, customer retention #2, and cost-cutting #3 (see Figure 1 below). Improving the corporate sustainability posture? Oops, it's down at #10, with just 10% of respondents indicating that sustainability is one of their firm's high priorities for 2011. When we cut those numbers by industry grouping, utilities/telecoms and public sector/healthcare are highest, with 15% prioritizing sustainability, compared with a low of just 7% in financial services.

Now, I'd like to contrast that eye-opening data with a much more optimistic set of figures from our recent research about the growth of sustainability consulting services. My colleague Daniel Krauss and I have worked with many of the large consultancies over the past few years and seen their sustainability practices grow from practically nothing to very substantial businesses.

Among 21 consulting firms that we surveyed late last year, 17 have a dedicated sustainability practice, and five of those count more than 1,000 practitioners (see Figure 2).

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Aligning Your Sustainability Consulting Services Business For 2011

The beginning of a new year is always packed with planning sessions to recap the past year, reshuffle priorities, validate progress of corporate and product/service strategies, and come up with a road map to convert thoughts and concepts into actions.

We analysts in Forrester’s vendor strategy practice are regularly involved in these planning and strategy sessions, to act as an independent and objective mirror for higher and mid-level management layers at tech vendors and service companies. Together we map out and identify the implications of macro business and technology trends. In one of those sessions that I was recently invited to, the focus was on future business models in the tech industry. We can offer instant feedback if a vendor’s direction is in line with our market observations and advise them to refine their approaches to be best positioned for the future.

During 2011, I am going to leverage some of the information I have gathered over the past year and display in a couple of slides some key data points on an aggregated basis of vendor and market criteria, helping companies map themselves against industry peers and the market opportunity. I hope you will find them useful as either good discussion starters internally or for planning and validation purposes. I am planning to update these slides on a regular basis to present a fresh and condensed view on key supply- and demand-side indicators.

The first set, which I am offering today, is two slides (see below) targeted toward leaders in charge of their companies' efforts for sustainability consulting services business or evaluating if their companies should move into this market opportunity. Figure 1 contains key vendor criteria such as organizational setup and services mix, while Figure 2 summarizes our market estimates and forecast for 2010 and 2011.

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