How to Become a Sustainability Consultant (A Career Guide)

Wondering what a career as a sustainability consultant looks like? After all, sustainability is a highly innovative and in-demand industry. As more governments and businesses wake up to the realities of climate change, sustainability consultants are now needed more than ever. In this post, we look at what it takes to become a sustainability consultant and how to create a career you love.

Our Alpin consultants

At Alpin, our mission has always been to fight climate change. We do this by implementing sustainable practices to the construction and building sector. In this post, we feature some of our own consultants, who give their insights on what it’s like to work as a sustainability consultant. Get to know them here:

Sadaf Ghalib – Strategic Consultant

“I was always intrigued by sustainability, especially during the course of my Architecture degree and upon graduating, when I got to work, hands on, on several major projects which incorporated passive strategies in building design to align with the requirements of green building rating systems such as Green Star. I went ahead to pursue Masters degrees that focused on project management, sustainability and climate change, passionate to make a difference through acquired knowledge and my own experiences.”

Farah Ghanem – Energy Specialist, Innovation Officer

“My interest in sustainability consulting started with renewable energy and the struggle towards a greener future. After graduating from university, I started learning from friends and family about sustainability in the United Arab Emirates. This is how I became interested in combining my knowledge from my studies and expanding them into the broader sustainability and green future spectrum.”

Mohammed Hidayath Ali – Principal Consultant

“I was lucky enough to start my induction into this world right out of university. Back then, I wasn’t aware of a catch-all term that put these topics into a neat umbrella such as sustainability. They just happened to be cool elements that I used as electives as part of my Mechanical Engineering program. I initially chose this program because, for reasons quite mundane, it seemed like a natural progression, as it was related to what our family business did and so it was something I was familiar with.”

What is a sustainability consultant?

These days, most people are aware of the importance of sustainability. And no wonder. As the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 report lays out, the world must quickly limit global warming to 1.5°C. Otherwise, the effects might be hard, if not impossible, to manage. At the same time, buildings and the construction industry are together responsible for 40% of global CO2 emissions.

As more governments and businesses adopt green practices, the demand for sustainability expertise is only going to grow. Plus, more developers, owners, and investors are starting to see what a great ROI green buildings can have. That’s why green building consultants are highly sought-after professionals.

Why should you become a sustainability consultant?

One of the main reasons sustainability consultants choose their profession is because of the impact they can have.

In fact, most of our team members at Alpin ranked impact as #1 when asked why sustainability is an interesting area to work in. In the second and third place come applying skills to demanding and challenging projects and working in a rapidly changing and growing industry.

As Sadaf puts it: “I love many aspects of this job, it’s both fulfilling and exciting to be a part of it. As we know, construction is the top culprit when it comes to global emissions and we, as Consultants can do so much to manage this number. For example, establishing a baseline for energy and achieving an even better outcome and witnessing first hand, the results of our work; or achieving a high rate of waste diversion from landfill- all of it is super inspiring and makes me feel confident that we can strive to undo a lot of damage to the environment, and leave the planet in a better state than before.

As Consultants we are helping to push the boundaries of sustainability further. When we interact with people on-site, not all of them have a comprehensive understanding of what ‘sustainability’ is and why it’s needed. And it’s our job to inspire them, educate them about this, and showcase the benefits of embracing sustainability, not just to achieve requirements of rating systems, but also for the long haul. This can have both, a regional and a global impact.”

“Learning new things keeps me engaged. Also, as an added bonus, I can call myself a superhero ‘saving the world a dirham at a time’,” says Hidayath.

Also Farah appreciates the long-term results of his work. “The best part of the job is to take a wide view on the achievements over several years and projects and appreciate the tangible results of the work done.”

What does a sustainability consultant do?

Sustainability consultants help conceptualize, coordinate, and oversee sustainability practices. For example, they can work as project managers, business developers, designers, and in-house team trainers.

Within the building sector, sustainability consultants have in-depth knowledge of and can apply building science and energy-efficient principles. Daily tasks tend to involve interacting with different stakeholders, such as developers, owners, architects, and engineers.

For example, Sadaf explains what her workday typically looks like (not that there really is one):

“I have all sorts of days. If I am at the office, I am usually working on developing sustainability plans, conducting life cycle assessments, performing CFD analysis, or evaluating building enclosures as a part of commissioning – there’s never a monotonous day really. On other days I’m usually on my project sites, where I conduct environmental inspections/audits and progress meetings with clients and contractors, discuss pressing sustainability aspects such as waste management and sustainability implementation etc. One of our major projects in the region is the Dubai World Expo 2020. I’m currently working with Contractors on site and supporting them to meet Expo KPIs for materials, energy and water efficiency, and waste management during construction and operational stages. ”

Green building consultants can, among other things, specialize as LEED consultants or commissioning agents.

And these days, sustainability consulting uses a lot of technology. This is used to improve design and construction practices, gather data to monitor energy and water savings, and in other ways positively impact the construction industry. For example, at Alpin we use software for Computational Fluid Dynamics Modeling and Life Cycle Assessment and drones for building inspections. Our innovation department, Alpin Innovation Labs, focuses on many of these and other technologies.

What types of projects do sustainability consultants work on?

Sustainability consultants tend to work on projects that are significant for their communities. These can include new residential areas, landmark buildings, and major projects like MEGA or GIGA projects. Sustainability consultants work on a diverse range of projects. You can work on transformative projects all over the world with people who care about green buildings and sustainability just as much as you do.

Some of the projects our sustainability consultants have worked on include:

Dubai 2020 World Expo

The Dubai 2020 World Expo is one of the most significant projects in the region right now. Alpin was the project’s official Design Phase Commissioning Authority.

Mostadam Green Building Rating System

In 2019, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia launched its own green building rating system, Mostadam. This rating system is aligned with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals. Alpin was the technical partner of this project.

Infrastructure projects

We have worked on several of the region’s leading infrastructure projects. For example, some of these projects include King Khalid International Airport, the Doha Metro Gold Line, and the Abha Airport Terminal.

Residential developments

Alpin is regularly contracted as a sustainability consultant for community-shaping residential developments. Some of the residential projects we’ve worked on include Al Zahia Gardens and YAS Island Zone A in the United Arab Emirates,

Hospitals

We also work on other significant projects, such as hospitals and health centers. Some of our proud achievements include Burjeel Medical City and the Noor Al Ahly Hospitals in the United Arab Emirates.

How to become a sustainability consultant

To become a sustainability consultant, you need to have a university degree in a related field, such as architecture, engineering, or construction management.

As this is a global industry, international experience is a clear advantage. While our headquarters are located in Masdar City, United Arab Emirates, our consultants are educated and have worked in different countries, such as the UK, the US, and Australia.

Industry demographics

Construction and development is still a male-dominated industry. But the good news is that the number of women is growing.

At Alpin, we’ve established our own Women Network to support women in the industry. Currently, 40% of our positions are occupied by women (up from 19% in 2017) and at least 50% of our interns are women.

Want to know more about what it takes to become a sustainability consultant as a woman? Read our article on women in construction to learn more about the challenges and opportunities for women in the industry.

Internships

The most common way to start out in the industry is, as is the case in most industries, by participating in a sustainability consulting internship program.

Internships are a great way to get hands-on experience and they open doors to full-time opportunities. For example, at Alpin, our internship program is our most important channel to find talent.

But how do interns get ahead? Farah gives some insights:

“Rely on self-study instead of continuous mentorship, experience different types of projects, and engage in any presentation opportunities. Finally, study completed projects and understand the workflow that led to the success of this project.”

Learn more about how to get started as an intern.

What does a sustainability consultant’s career trajectory look like?

Sustainability consulting is a flexible career option and sustainability consultants can choose to take their careers in many different directions. However, a typical career trajectory might look something like this:

  • Internship. You start as an intern and get recruited as a full-time employee.
  • Junior roles. As a junior sustainability consultant, you might start looking into specializations (for example, you want to become a project manager or a LEED consultant).
  • Senior roles. Senior sustainability consultants might take on management roles and lead teams. By now, you have a clear specialization.
  • Leadership level. At the leadership level, you are a key person in your company.

What should you look for in an employer?

What’s the first thing to ask yourself when considering different employers?

It’s this: Do you want to work for a major consulting firm or a smaller, boutique consultancy?

Major consulting firms often come with brand recognition. Boutique consultancies, on the other hand, tend to offer a faster learning curve.

Another consideration is your employer’s company culture.

At Alpin, we want to offer interesting work that helps you get ahead, as well as a healthy workplace.

And as studies show, healthy workplaces tend to increase productivity and performance.

We’ve created our workplace with this in mind. That’s why we offer great benefits, a WELL-certified office (the first one of its kind in the Middle East), and Alpin Healthy, our employee wellness program. As a result, we got selected as the “Most Improved” company in the Daman Corporate Health Awards.

What qualities do you need to get ahead as a sustainability consultant?

As in any industry, some qualities will help sustainability consultants get ahead.

Farah mentions technical skills to deliver quality services, soft skills and communication skills, expectation management and planning, and time management and prioritization.

“I believe one should have an engineering or construction based background, technical knowledge, a passion for sustainability and of course- a keen interest to learn and lead with changes in technology. Taking on an internship is also valuable to get exposure to different sustainability projects and may help establish where you might be a perfect fit,” says Sadaf.

Hidayath adds: “This is an evolving field, where the bar is always moving, new topics are coming in and changes are being made to existing models, so sustainability consultants need an ability to learn rapidly and navigate topic areas where there may be no one to turn to for the right answer because everyone is learning by doing.”

When we asked the rest of the Alpin team to chime in, specific skills and qualities include:

“A belief in sustainability goals and targets and that our generation will leave a healthier world and environment for our children.”

“Communication and relationship skills because consultancy is about long-term relationships.”

“Leadership and organizational skills.”

Overall, and when asked to rank the most important skills from a predefined list of qualities, the #1 skills Alpiners consider as important is specialized knowledge and expertise. A close second is a willingness to learn and people skills is the third most important quality. As #4 comes communication skills.

Want to learn more?

There you have it. Now you know what a sustainability consultant does and what your career journey can look like.

Want to learn more about how you can become a sustainability consultant? Read more about a career at Alpin here.