Consulting in tough economic times

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Courtesy of Richard MacLean & Associates, LLC

Charles Dickens penned that famous line in A Tale of Two Cities to describe the range of social impacts brought on by the turmoil of the French revolution. The global economic revolution is in a similar state of turmoil: widespread economic recession contrasted with niche shelters of growth and economic opportunity. Home Depot, Caterpillar, and Pfizer may be laying off thousands of workers, but McDonald’s is planning to spend US$2.1 billion to open 1000 new stores. Where might comparable safe havens exist in the environmental consulting world? And what is the overall mood right now among consultants?

Consulting Safe Havens

In an economic downturn, businesses follow a very predictable pattern. Management invariably curtails all forms of discretionary spending, right after freezing staff levels and imposing travel and living expense restrictions. Nice-to-do projects become forget-about-it projects. Projects and programs must be either essential (e.g., preexisting commitments, regulatory requirements, mandates by top executives) or they must directly support activities that have significant short-term payback or other business characteristics deemed vital (e.g., providing major liability and risk reduction, supporting the introduction of profitable green products and services, resolving a crisis du jour).

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