Sustainability consultants earn less than peers, survey finds

2nd June 2016

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James Hartley

In-house sustainability professionals earn more than their counterparts in consultancy, a poll of the sector has found. The pay gap is around £5,000 in the UK.

Recruitment consultants Acre, communications specialists Flag and sustainability management consultants Carnstone asked people working in corporate responsibility and sustainability (CRS) about their pay, job roles, career satisfaction and qualifications.

The majority (61%) of the 1,296 respondents came from the UK, 18% from the rest of Europe, 11% from the US and 10% across Asia, Australasia, Africa and South America.

The finding lays to rest the perception that consultants are better paid than those working in-house, the according to a report accompanying the findings. Globally, the average difference between those working in-house and those working for consultancies was just under £9,000 when the survey was last carried out in 2014, but this has now increased to 10,000.

The pay gap may be partly due to the high level of competition in the consultancy sector depressing fees, the authors said. Just over half (52%) of all consultants earn salaries of less than £50,000 compared to only 44% of those working in-house.

The difference was not offset by bonuses, the survey found. Just over half of all consultants received bonuses, compared with 63% of those working in-house. Even allowing for bonuses, 48% of consultants receive less than £50,000 a year, compared with 40% of those working in-house. At the upper end of the salary scale, 4% of in-house respondents earned more than £180,000 compared with 1% of consultants.

The survey also revealed that the pay gap between men and women working in the sector was closing. Globally, average salaries for men have dropped by 1% this year (£67,000 in 2016 compared with £68,000 in 2014), while women’s salaries have risen by 5.6 % (£55,000 this year compared with £52,000 in 2014).

Women are now occupying more of the top jobs. In-house roles saw a 7% increase in the number of women at director or head of department level, taking the total to 44%. There was also a pronounced increase in female representation at manager level with 59% CRS manager level jobs now occupied by women, an increase of 11% on 2014.

The rise in women occupying senior roles in consultancies was more modest: there was with a 3% increase in women with director or partner roles, taking the total to 30%.

The survey highlights the differences in pay according to role, type of organisation and gender:

In-house (large companies with more than 1,000 staff)

Director/head – the most senior CRS person in the organisation has an average total remuneration of £121,000 (£111,000 in the UK), though many earn a lot more. They are more likely to be male than female, though the number of women in this role has increased compared with previous surveys.

Manager – people in these roles earn an average remuneration of £59,000 (£52,000 in the UK) and are much more likely to be female.

Adviser/analyst – people in these roles are likely to be female graduates earning around £51,000 (£39,000 in the UK).

Assistant/team member – these are junior roles who provide support to others in the CRS team. They have an average remuneration of £34,400 (£33,900 in the UK) and are overwhelmingly female with around five years in full-time employment.


Director/partner – these roles are three times more likely to be male than female. Their average salary is around £79,000 (£78,500 in the UK).

Senior consultant – these are also likely to be men. On average, they earn £51,000 (£50,000 in the UK).

Consultant/analyst – these are predominantly female, earning about £39,000 (£37,000 in the UK).

Writing in the report, Jeremy Oppenheim, founder of consultancy SystemiQ and former programme director for the New Climate Economy project said that demand for expertise in sustainability remains strong across all sectors of the economy.

However, he argued that sustainability professionals were underpaid relative to the expertise and value that they offer, on a median wage of less than £60,000. He suggested this is due to those working in the field undervaluing themselves because of their passion for the job or that not enough companies full appreciate the economic value which the sustainability team brings to their business, with a tendency to see sustainability as a necessary but marginal investment.


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