Analyst firm, Verdantix, carried out a survey looking at the current and future engagement, awareness, and perceptions of 52 sustainability consulting firms, assurance providers, software vendors and not-for-profit organisations.

Results of the survey found that the highest brand preference for sustainability consulting was achieved by Ernst & Young, sustainability assurance by KPMG, sustainability software by Microsoft and in the not-for-profit category by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

Findings showed that 16% of the 250 sustainability decision-makers surveyed have hired Ernst & Young compared with 14% for KPMG, 12% for Deloitte and 12% for PricewaterouseCoopers (PwC).

“Global firms and entrepreneurial ventures are battling it out in the sustainability market to develop brand recognition in multiple countries and achieve brand preference over competitors,” said Verdantix Industry Analyst and author of the report, Patty Satkiewicz.

“The Big Four accounting firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC – have secured the strongest brand preference in both the sustainability consulting and sustainability assurance markets. Since this is a market which requires deep pockets, the Big Four’s dominance already looks ominous for their competitors,” she added.

Looking at specific service areas, sustainability consulting saw Ernst & Young lead with a brand preference score of 39%, relative to 37% for KPMG, 33% for Deloitte and 30% for PwC.

Among the top management consulting firms, Accenture achieved a score of 22% beating McKinsey on 21% and Bain on 15%.

KPMG achieved the highest brand preference score in the sustainability assurance market with 36%, just ahead of Ernst & Young with 35% of survey respondents indicating a positive brand perception.

Bureau Veritas reached 22%, the highest brand preference for a supplier outside of the Big Four.

In the software category, Microsoft leads global brand preference with heads of sustainability, as a provider of software for sustainability management with a score of 39%. Close behind is SAP, with 38% followed by Oracle and IBM.

Among the not-for-profits, CDP and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) top the brand preference list, scoring 57% and 61% respectively. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reached a brand preference score of 48% and the UN Environment Program 44%.

“The Big Four’s global scale and their willingness to make strategic investments have enabled them to out-muscle management consultancies in multiple markets” said Verdantix CEO, David Metcalfe.

“Even in the assurance market, the Big Four now have higher brand awareness than the global environmental certification players like DNV, SGS and URS Corporation.

“The fact that most not-for-profits in the sustainability sector still have more brand recognition than global software firms like Oracle reflects the step change that corporate marketing departments need to make to engage with newly appointed sustainability leaders,” he added.

Leigh Stringer

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