Sustainability in Engineering and Design Consultancy
This research explores how sustainability influences the way in which the engineering and design (E&D) consultancy perceives itself in society, as a means to identify opportunities to shift this perspective and enable more strategically sustainable outcomes.
Through interviews with six global E&D firms, a set of nine suggested hypotheses emerged. These hypotheses formed the basis for analysis and discussion of how the E&D firm manages social, environmental and economic capital, with a focus here on social capital, as a platform for exploring the firm’s perceived role in society.
By first recognising the inconsistencies in meaning and interpretation of sustainability in E&D consultancy, this study then explores the reported challenges in making sustainability operable through implementation, assessment, and valuation of sustainability principles. The role of power and influence in the client-consultant relationship is explored as a framework for understanding the limitations in defining, prioritising, and delivering project objectives, and the implications for strategic sustainability. The firm’s approach to social capital is explored- namely human resources management and community and societal relations- revealing a compartmentalised approach, thereby limiting the firm’s opportunities to capitalise on system- rather than local- optimisation.
The hypotheses, analysis, and discussion reveal that these firms have generally adopted sustainable efficiencies in their behaviour as an organisational entity, but also in how they advise through their core service offerings. The progression from sustainable efficiencies to strategic sustainability was identified as being crucial to seizing competitive advantage in E&D consultancy’s future markets, where through a systems approach, the shift to strategic sustainability begins with a shift in perspective.