There’s no single path that can bring someone into a career in sustainability consulting. If you are considering working as a sustainability consultant, you might be curious about what it’s like to do this work day-to-day. In this post, we will share what it’s like to be a sustainability consultant at Paladino.
What does a sustainability consultant typically work on?
There are two primary project types that our consultants work on: third-party building certifications and sustainability strategy development. The third-party certifications can range in type and focus, including energy, carbon, resilience, and wellness. Our consultants grow to understand the essential certification requirements across rating systems like LEED, Living Building Challenge, WELL, GRESB, etc.
For the sustainability strategy development, this also can range from corporate reporting programs (i.e. CDP, AIA 2030), to helping organizations articulate their sustainability commitments and develop the strategies to support those commitments.
The balance of this work at Paladino continues to change in exciting ways. Ten years ago, certification projects made up most of our work, and each year the project load comes more and more into balance between helping clients to certify a project and helping a client to envision and achieve a more comprehensive sustainability strategy.
In all cases, a sustainability consultant needs to help clients and project teams to connect the dots between their established goals and their sustainability strategies. Our job is to understand the spectrum of sustainability solutions that are available, and then to narrow the field to those strategies that are most aligned to the clients’ goals.
On any given day, a sustainability consultant is providing detailed guidance to clients, coworkers, project teams, and the industry about how a specific green strategy creates a resulting effect.
Some consulting firms specialize on a particular building type or vertical, such as healthcare, hospitality, or higher education. At Paladino, our work is spread across commercial real estate, and includes multifamily, commercial, hospitality, and public sector work. It’s common for consultants at Paladino to work on a variety of building types on any given day.
“The bigger the building, the more complex it is. Those intricacies are what make projects fun,” said Paroma Chakravarty, an associate consultant with Paladino.
Collaboration and Project management are a big part of sustainability consulting.
If you are trying to envision the work, imagine a project load of between ten and twenty projects, at various stages of development, with a variety of teams, and converging deadlines. Successful consultants can communicate clearly, efficiently, and persuasively, buzzing between phone calls, emails, chats, and texts.
While each day won’t necessarily follow a pattern, project management skills are used daily. You need to have systems and practices that help you achieve visibility into the status and demands of these projects, and the discernment to know what should be prioritized and when.
Is a project kicking off, and demands focused attention to prepare for an eco-charrette? Is a project in the construction phase where you need to persist and follow up with team members to keep them on task? Is a project wrapping up and you need to guide the client’s communications team regarding their sustainability story? Each project needs you to transition between your strategic value line and your tactical value line, delivering what the project needs when it needs it and how it needs it.
Successful sustainability consultants have strong time management skills and can juggle priorities. It helps to come into the job with strong muscles on the project management front, and if this kind of work excites you, you will be glad to know that you will learn even more about successful project management over the course of your time as a consultant.
“It helps that I love being organized,” said Paroma, “No one can keep it all in their head, so you need to use or create systems and stay organized. You can’t wing it and rely on memory.”
Nash Emrich, senior consultant at Paladino adds, “The way each consultant juggles their priorities might be different, but prioritization and organization are integral to the job every day.”
JD Harper describes how she kicks off each day like this, “A typical day starts with planning out the day to make sure I’m clear on my goals for the end of the day – then I work backwards. I have a one-week lookahead each week with the Big Things that I need to get done so I can keep chipping away at the larger goals with longer timelines.”
Green building is extremely collaborative, and you will find yourself having conversations with several people a day, both internal and external. You’ll find your go-to experts while also building your own arsenal of knowledge.
Part of great collaboration also means that you will need to know when to ask for help. There’s no way to know every answer to every question from every angle. And even if you encounter the same situation on another project, there will be a new tangle that you haven’t approached before. So be comfortable saying “that’s a great question. Let me get back to you,” so you can bring in the right expertise.
You will learn a lot!
If you come from an architecture background where you are going deep on three or four projects, you will experience what it’s like to impact five times as many projects at any given time.
You will also learn about creative ways to tell your story and communicate your message. Sustainability consultants shift from diagrams to tables to narratives. You will develop techniques to match the story you need to tell the audience. Are they visual? Do they have short attention spans? Do they like deep dives? Do they prefer data? Do they prefer storytelling? You will build skills around all sorts of storytelling techniques as a consultant.
You will learn about leadership.
Even if you come into this position with a strong sense of sustainability and wellness best practices, you’ll learn how to be a leader to project teams and clients about the important connections that can be made between their sustainability strategy and their project. You will learn to understand your clients based on who they are and where they are in their journey so you can provide guidance that will help them achieve their unique goals. Says Nash, “It’s important to adjust the way we approach different problems with different people, even on the same project. We learn to pivot how we ask for things and talk about sustainability so that it’s meaningful to the person we are talking to at that moment.” He continues, “I’ve always considered myself to have leadership qualities and have had leadership roles prior to coming here but I’ve learned a lot to bolster that and learn to develop those skills in different environments.”
And in some of the tough situations that inevitably come up, you will learn to have difficult conversations, which is the cornerstone of leadership ability. Whether it’s challenging a client’s preconceived notions about sustainability or requiring a general contractor to adhere to the sustainability targets, or delivering disappointing news about a project strategy, as a consultant, you will have the opportunity to grow the leadership skills required for difficult conversations. You will learn to lean into abundance thinking and to help every team member find the silver linings in each challenge.
You will also learn to hold people accountable. Because sustainability is an integration role, you will interact with people in all parts of the project, and sometimes they may not respond on time, or provide the information needed to progress the sustainability goals. It might drive you a little crazy. Part of being a sustainability consultant is holding people accountable and making sure they stay on track.
Kelly Ryan, an associate consultant at Paladino, had this to say about growing as a leader, “The management team really supports my development as a project leader. I’ve gained a lot of confidence managing clients and leading meetings with 15 to 20 people on them. I didn’t have that when I started here, and I have it now.”
You will learn about sustainability.
You’ll learn more about what you know about, and you’ll learn lots more about what you don’t know about. Our consulting team dives deep on a range of issues from wellness to resilience to sustainability. You will build expertise around the full range, with the ability to develop deep expertise in the topics that are most compelling to you. Energy, HVAC systems, biophilic design, carbon, water, air quality, materials, climate change, business strategy, developer pro forma… the list goes on and grows all the time. If learning is exciting to you, being a sustainability consultant might be a good fit.
There are continual opportunities to grow technical skills. We’ve had consultants join us with a strong background in the LEED construction credits, and in a short period of time they are exposed to the broader range of LEED requirements, and also to other rating systems and their technical aspects such as WELL, Fitwel, and others.
In addition to the on-the-job learning that comes with the daily work, Paladino has monthly education topics and uses social channels to share innovative ideas, new developments, and best practices. So the drumbeat of learning and inspiration is always playing within the firm.
Kelly had this to say, “I knew the basics when I came to Paladino, and now I am so much stronger in my knowledge. I can talk confidently about what makes a building energy efficient now and I couldn’t do that three years ago. Working here has focused my attention on embodied carbon and how to measure it with EC3, for example.”
What we want you to know before you become a sustainability consultant.
You need technical skills to do this job – a background in architecture, engineering, or construction, for example, is important to succeed as a consultant. Just as important, though, is that you need motivation, drive, and a willingness to engage and learn. There are a lot of ways to succeed as a consultant, and at Paladino, we find ways to elevate talented people – so if you are going to be a consultant, you should know what you want to get out of it. Career paths are rarely a straight line, so you don’t have to have a choreographed plan to get from here to there, but you should have a vision for what you want to accomplish through your work in sustainability consulting.
Every company has its own culture, and even firms in the sustainability industry can vary widely. At Paladino, culture is important to us. We seek out candidates who share our commitment to strong company culture and are ready to learn and grow with us.
Working in rating systems can bring intellectual challenges and help you build your knowledge in exciting ways – but we don’t want to overstate the excitement of working on a LEED application, especially because working on LEED applications can be a significant part of an associate consultant’s daily work. The key to it, according to Paroma, is to “recognize the role that you have in helping owners and developers to embrace green building and sustainability.” The LEED checklist work is the product, but the real impact comes from connecting the LEED strategy to the business strategy. If you slow down, and continually make the connection between sustainable real estate and the client’s values, you can have a huge impact on their next project.
It’s an exciting and motivating line of work.
For goal-oriented people, working on a project as large as a commercial construction development, and seeing sustainability come to life through our contributions is exciting. And with certification projects, there’s no option to miss a requirement or let something slide. You have to finish it. And if you like working towards a finish line, this line of work could be a good fit.
JD puts it like this, “I like knowing that every day I can chip away at the larger piece of the goal for a project. When there are moments where I might get discouraged because of a setback or an obstacle – I think about what my goal is on the project and how I can reframe the obstacle to overcome it by thinking about the opportunities that exist.”
There’s a lot that goes into a sustainable project, and through the hard work and focused attention of sustainability consultants, buildings are getting better. The industry is changing, one building at a time, and it’s happening thanks to the guidance and leadership of these teams
Even when a consultant is in the nitty-gritty where it’s hard to connect the work to the change we want to see in the world, eventually you will see the changes that were made in the project based on our guidance, you will be reminded that this work matters.
Therefore, the consultant’s role as an integrator is so important – and is also one of the most exciting and useful aspects of what we do. In addition to managing a certification, our role is to integrate the individual pieces and parts of a project and to understand how they fit together. This is true of the sustainability strategy that we provide, and of how we get people to work together. We get to learn about the different team members and teams themselves and how to motivate, inspire, and encourage them. Nash puts it like this, “Our role as an integrator is really important and is one of the things I most enjoy about work. It allows some freedom and flexibility that isn’t there when you have a more siloed role with a limited scope performing sustainability within an architecture or engineering firm.”
The sustainability consultant often sits at the same table as project executives and leaders and can influence their decisions. To get to the same point can take decades of advancement in architecture or engineering firms. Nash had this to say, “Back when I was still an associate consultant, I got to sit in meetings with the VP of a Fortune 500 company or executives at one of the largest real estate firms in NYC, and they listened to me.”
There are many ways to be a green building consultant. Some people are generalists, and they know a little bit about a lot of things so they can put all those pieces together and see synergies. Some people are specialized in one area and they are an expert for one kind of thing. We have both types of consultants here – along with a range in between, knowing that there are a lot of different paths to becoming a green building consultant. If you’re interested in learning about opportunities to work with Paladino check out our careers page here.