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IN THE SHOES OF A SUSTAINABILITY CONSULTANT

Photography by fauxels from Pexels

November, 13th 2020

Olivia Sprinkel and Diana Rose come from different backgrounds and life experiences. What they share is their job position: the role of sustainability consultant. Together with Staiy, Olivia and Diana share their insights and challenges of the role.

Words By Elisa Felici

Olivia Sprinkel

It is worth mentioning that the role of a sustainability consultant is very broad and it can cover multiple roles,’ says Olivia Sprinkel when asked about her and Diana’s occupation. 

Ever since companies started seriously engaging with sustainable development challenges, the role of sustainability consultant has become pivotal in guiding businesses to implement, communicate and internalize what ‘sustainable’ corporate behaviour should be.

Olivia Sprinkel and Diana Rose are among these valuable individuals providing companies with objective and qualified advice. To them, a sustainability consultant helps businesses to ‘confidently take a step, whatever their journey may be’. There are many things companies can do and actively change.

As Olivia mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, what characterizes the role of a sustainability consultancy is its ‘variety’.

Great diversity exists in Olivia and Diana’s backgrounds. On the one hand, Olivia is a sustainability strategy and communications consultant. Specialising in the apparel sector, her latest consultancy job was for a company specialising in school uniforms: the challenge was on how to manufacture them in a sustainable way.

Diana, on the other hand, has a Master’s in environmental technology and a technical grounding in sustainable water management. While she claims not to be ‘an engineer at all’ but much more of a ‘words person’, Diana works to translate complex technical information into a language comprehensible by the general public and stakeholders. 

Despite these differences, Olivia and Diana both believe effective communication to be crucial in their job and in a business’ capacity to be sustainable.

Diana Rose

“There are a lot of technical and scientific tools that we can use to measure improvements. It is making these meaningful and tying them into what people are talking about that makes the real change.” – Diana Sprinkel

In consultancy, internal as well as external communication is crucial. Olivia actively works to define a company’s vision, ambition and goals concerning sustainability based on who they are, their culture and their practices. Similarly, Diana stresses the value of ‘storytelling’. Consultancy is very much defined by the client: as clients and objectives change, the sustainability consultant must be able to adapt to the company’s culture to create a story which is authentic and engaging for those within and outside the company.  

What Diana and Olivia are constantly challenged with is this crucial question: how to reconcile sustainability with businesses whose main goal is, put simply, profit? How can one develop an effective sustainable vision and goal within a structured system of production for consumption?

In the fashion industry, Diana and Olivia see a big shift happening. This balance between sustainability versus the need for profit, however, is yet to be found. According to Olivia, the quality and use of materials is a significant issue. ‘I just saw this morning that only 30% of people consider the material of the garment when buying it, which I find really surprising,’ she says. In Diana’s opinion, water management and working conditions are also salient aspects. ‘Water is a very tangible asset but it is invisible to the consumer,’ Diana explains. ‘It plays a huge part in the life cycle of a fabric, and the issues around water are both in the quantity used and, as a finite resource, how that is managed in a local area.’  

speri.dept.shef.ac.uk

There are indeed ways to address this. And this is where Olivia and Diana’s valuable work comes into play. The pressing issue of sustainability can lead companies to innovate and think ‘outside the box’. ‘There’s a question of business models and it’s interesting that a lot of the larger companies are recognizing the need to shift to other business strategies that present new business opportunities,’ Olivia says. Secondhand resale and rental platforms is one example. Levis is one the latest brands to have launched a secondhand platform for their jeans. This concept also really gets people’s eco-conscious brains ticking. Olivia argues that brands have a deep responsibility to engage their consumers in what they are buying and whether it is a responsible purchase’. While this is certainly a step forward, Diana mentions the importance of a company’s employees in actively adopting sustainability measures, saying, ‘I think companies have quite a long way in improving their internal communication, where employees can be engaged and become part of the sustainability innovation’.

All three of these dimensions are elements Diana and Olivia touch upon as sustainability consultants. The strategies Diana and Olivia provide need to be ingrained in the company’s infrastructure: ‘You can’t just write a strategy and walk away, it has to be embedded.’ With them, sustainability takes a top-down and a bottom-up approach where the information has to be operationalized and internalized across the whole company.