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EA Business Summit 2017: Q&A with Anthesis CEO Stuart McLachlan

This article originally appeared on the Environment Analyst website. Stuart McLachlan will be speaking at the EA Business Summit on June 21st – you can download the event program and sign up here.


Two weeks away from this year’s EA Business Summit to be held in London on 21 June, we get a preview of some of the issues to be explored on the day from one of our industry expert roundtable hosts, Stuart McLachlan, Chief Executive, Anthesis Consulting Group.

At the EA Summit 2017, Stuart McLachlan will lead a roundtable debate on ‘Scaling Consultancy Operations to Maximise Returns and Minimise Risk’. He is the chief executive and one of the founders of London-based sustainability specialist Anthesis Consulting Group, which currently employs more than 200 staff across the UK, US, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Finland, China, Middle East and the Philippines.

He has led the firm to complete several acquisitions, both in the UK and overseas, since it was established in 2013 to further its ambition to become “a market-leading global sustainability services and solutions provider”.

Environment Analyst put some key questions to Stuart covering topics which will be featured at the forthcoming event and relevant to his roundtable session, as follows:

EA: What are your general observations about the changing trends in the environmental/sustainability services market? And what have been the recent highlights for your business?

SM: Establishment of Anthesis as the ‘go to’ company for implementing value-adding sustainability outcomes. To be a credible delivery partner, you need to have deep subject matter expertise across the value chain, a global footprint with ‘boots on the ground’ in supply chains, and a strong focus on technology enabled solutions – having all these elements is very rare.

Of particular note is the potential for traditional environmental and sustainability consulting to be disrupted through replacement with digital solutions. We have made a start with the development and deployment of tools to bring data driven evidence to our clients in the areas of supply chain traceability and ESG/EDD reporting. The market is showing a greater demand for efficient and fast access to information to allow them to make more robust and reliable decisions.

EA: Emerging markets have recently illustrated their susceptibility to greater volatility than the larger, more mature markets (W Europe & N America), but at the same time they also offer significant growth prospects long-term. How do you balance international operations in the safer more stable markets vs more risky emerging markets (such as S America, SE Asia, Africa)? And where do you see growth opportunities?

SM: We will be in some regions because our clients want us to be there, but we are not exposed to the risk of local market fluctuations in these situations. We are in other markets both because they are relevant to our global clients, and because we also want to be players in these local markets. Asia is a relevant market for us; this is where we have 10% of our current staff, and is a region that offers much more potential, so it is a priority growth area. We are also open to opportunities in Africa. S America is currently a lower priority.

The North American market is moving fast and it’s a market that understands the connection between sustainability and business value. Relationships and procurement decisions in this region typically drive business elsewhere in the world. While there may be a step back from the drive towards sustainable development at the federal level, we expect strengthening commitment from key states and at the corporate level in sectors where we are strong. We therefore see future growth in the area of sustainable development.

Also, as we are still early in our journey as an organisation, we see opportunity to take market share in most regional markets. We will do this by being more ambitious, more market relevant and more innovative. At a corporate level, we are structured and funded to support our growth model.

EA: Despite unprecedented M&A activity in recent years, the EC/sustainability services sector remains highly fragmented – how do you see the trend for consolidation playing out?

SM: I see the potential for the resurgence of the ‘pure play’ sustainability specialists able to deliver tech-enabled integration of subject matter experts from across the value chain and often across the world. In this respect, strategic recruitment and bringing specific expertise from outside the sector, i.e. digital, will be essential.

At the same, the consolidation of small local boutiques is inevitable, I believe. The question on scale is the difficult one. I think it depends on whether, when clients think ‘product take back’, ‘security of supply’, ‘responsible brands’ etc., they think of sustainability. This is a more existential question for sustainability services firms. If clients do think that way, then the potential for scale is enormous. If they don’t, then the industry could be everywhere but nowhere. Our market positioning and related branding will need to be well thought out in the years to come.

Traditional environmental consulting in infrastructure and the built environment will continue to migrate to the consulting engineers, and EC firms will be in the engineer’s supply chains, or acquired by them. We don’t operate in this area as we work directly for many of the world’s largest firms. The different types of firms under EC or sustainability consulting banners need to be recognised.

History has shown that where EC revenue is derived from infrastructure and the built environment then M&A with consulting engineers works well. Where revenue is from other sources and is in support of a global corporate agenda, then integration proves more difficult. I see less M&A activity with the Big 4 [management consultancies] as they continue to retreat in some areas of sustainability and wrestle with where sustainability consulting fits, given it touches most of the core disciplines of these firms (i.e. questioning whether to embed sustainability or bolt it on as a revenue generator in its own right).


Stuart McLachlan will be hosting a roundtable at the EA Business Summit on 21 June 2017 in Central London which is focused on Scaling Consultancy Operations to Maximise Returns and Minimise Risk’. To view the full programme click here.

To reserve your place at the conference click here.


Stuart McLachlan, Chief Executive, Anthesis Consulting Group

Stuart McLachlanProven business leader having spent 20 years developing environmental, sustainability and energy consulting firms with experience of serving as a director on a FTSE 250 company. He has acquired and built companies across 15 countries and in addition to his focus on entrepreneurial and commercial leadership, he has passion for sustainable development and the relationship between sustainable futures and business success. Stuart is CEO and one of the founders of Anthesis Group. Within two years of trading Anthesis has become a leading global sustainability firm operating in Europe, US, Middle East and Asia. It has grown both organically and through the acquisition of seven boutique firms, and have assembled deep subject matter experts and technology specialists across the sustainability value chain. Its main focus is on the implementation of sustainability for major corporations, their customers and their supply chains.

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