Questions To Ask When Hiring A Sustainability Consultant

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How will your methods protect our company’s bottom line, credit rating and credibility with federal agencies, investors, stakeholders and the public?

Your consultant should be familiar with ISO 14000-based frameworks and data handling methods and, should ideally be an ISO auditor. If not, the reports and disclosures they generate on your behalf will likely not meet the guidelines set out by regulatory agencies. Due diligence in this area is of utmost importance because it is your organization, not the consultant, that will bear the consequences of incorrect audit scope or unverified claims. Regulatory agencies are following United Nations guidance on acceptable protocols. All of the the U.N.-accepted protocols are based on ISO.

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Have you taken your own company through the process you are proposing to us? Are you carbon neutral? What initiatives are you a signatory to?

If a consultant claims expertise in sustainability measurement and reporting, they should have gone through the “measure, reduce, contribute” process themselves. If they are not reporting to U.N. frameworks, caveat emptor. Their reporting, third-party verification, and ratings should be publicly available for review.

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How do I make sure that any carbon offsets we may buy are valid and high-quality?

Millions of carbon offsets from multiple registries have recently been cancelled because they were generated using methodologies that are now outdated and their validity has been called into question. Carbon offsets are defined under Dodd-Frank as securities that must be registered and traded through a licensed broker-dealer. Your sustainability consultant should know this and should be able to guide you toward a source of offsets that were generated using current methodologies, are listed on a U.N. -approved registry, and are the appropriate type for your needs, including co-benefits that maximize your “S” & “G” performance scores.

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Which frameworks and benchmarking platforms should we report to?

After you’ve discussed your company’s needs with a consultant, they should be able to direct you toward the initiatives and frameworks that help you meet the goals you described (and not toward costly programs that don’t). They should know how each of these platforms interrelates with others and which goals and regulatory concerns they satisfy.
“Where should we report to ensure the lowest possible interest rate when seeking financing? How do we maximize our performance when reporting to U.N. SDGs and other programs? What reporting, if omitted, could lead to unintended penalties in the marketplace?” Hire someone who can thoroughly answer these questions for you.

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What protocols are your tools based in? What are the data sources? How often are they updated? What internal company information do we need to gather and what is the best way to present it?

Your organization’s assets and carbon footprint are unique. This means that great care must be taken to include all relevant data and to gather that data in a way that is in accordance with the requirements of the frameworks you report to. Claims that are questionable because supporting data is lacking or improperly sourced can lead to regulatory troubles, lost contracts, and damaged credibility. Your consultant should be using globally-accepted methods for determining your carbon audit boundaries. (Pssst! That’s ISO 14001.)

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How do you we improve our Scope 3 (supply chain) performance? Can you help us validate and develop Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)?

Ask these questions in two directions:
First, as an organization that hires vendors, and secondly, as a vendor to other organizations. Companies are quickly becoming incentivized to hire other companies that improve their ESG scores because that improvement travels up the value chain. An organization cannot claim Net Zero Emissions without a carbon neutral supply chain. This is a globally-accepted ISO definition. Companies that ignore ESG improvement and reporting will drag their clients down with regard to materially significant performance metrics and will lose those contracts. The consultant you hire should understand how ESG improvement comes full-circle.