As environmental responsibility becomes increasingly important to businesses, a new field is emerging to help guide them through the process.


A report by consulting firm Green Research reveals an influx of new sustainability consultants worldwide – 40 percent of whom entered the industry less than three years ago.


The growth is led by a large number of small firms. The research shows more than 60 percent of sustainability consultants work for a firm with fewer than 10 employees, or on their own.


The report takes a closer look at who the consultants are, showing that most have educational backgrounds in the profession and applied sciences fields, such as agriculture, business, education, engineering, law and public administration. In addition, an evolving focus on engaging and motivating consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviors has created demand for researchers with a knowledge of anthropology, psychology and sociology. [The Most Ethical Companies Revealed]


Sustainability consultants have diverse professional experiences. The most common areas of previous work include environmental work, management consulting and engineering, the research found.


The consultants are working on a wide variety of projects. The report found that business-oriented sustainability consulting tends to focus on strategy development; developing, measuring and reporting metrics; and project planning and management; meanwhile, energy, carbon and waste dominated consultants' technical project dockets in 2011.


The report suggests the industry has a bright future. About half of those who have consulted for at least a year report a growing demand for their services, while 60 percent are predicting strong conditions over the next six months.


But they also could face challenges, according to the research. Chief among them are businesses' lack of a sustainability budget and the vast amount of education most clients need regarding socially responsible efforts.


The research was based on surveys of more than 500 sustainability consultants worldwide.


Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.


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