Careers in sustainability are still relatively new in the corporate world. This makes it an exciting field—sustainability personnel can forge their own path for success in the field, and have the freedom to approach challenges with creativity and innovation. But, while you may be passionate about being green and committed to helping companies reduce their environmental impact, you may not be sure what a career in sustainability is all about—or how to get one yourself.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Sustainability professionals help organizations achieve their goals by ensuring that their business practices are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable.”
This means that employees working in corporate sustainability roles balance their employer’s goals with practices that are environmentally responsible and promote the public good. Fortunately, in many cases these concerns are aligned, and more and more companies are realizing the benefits of approaching business with sustainability in mind. As an example, sustainability officers can identify efficiencies and energy-saving measures that are not only good for the environment, but also help companies save money and build brand equity.
A Career in Sustainability
There is no defined career path for people working in the sustainability field. Often, sustainability professionals move into the job from careers in related fields such as industrial management, logistics management, or civil engineering.
Specific job titles vary between companies and can include sustainability manager, director of corporate responsibility, director of sustainability, and vice president of sustainability. Professionals with sustainability knowledge can also find roles in other areas such as marketing, environmental planning, or engineering.
The sustainability field is on the rise and growing in career opportunities and importance.
Similarly, functions and responsibilities can also vary depending on where a person works. In general, employees with sustainability leadership roles spend their time developing and implementing sustainability plans, and analyzing and reporting the results of these actions. Sustainability professionals are also responsible for making sure that companies are in compliance with environmental and health protocols.
Sustainability professionals come from a broad range of backgrounds and have degrees in everything from humanities to scientific fields, but almost always hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. According to the GreenBiz Group’s “State of the Profession 2013,” the most common degrees held by professionals working in the field are in business/management, engineering, and environmental studies.
University degrees in sustainability are becoming more common, and are a great option if you’re just starting out and know that you want a job in sustainability once you graduate. However, if you are already in the workforce and are interested in switching to a sustainability profession, a certificate program is a great alternative. Many schools, like UCLA Extension, offer certificate programs that can prepare you for success in this field.
The Green Future
The good news is that data suggests that sustainability is becoming ingrained in the corporate ethos. The “2012 Greening of Corporate America” study indicates that companies view sustainability as both a way to be competitive and to distinguish themselves. Of executives surveyed, approximately half attributed lower health care costs and greater worker productivity to investments they had made in sustainability. Executives also cited the following benefits:
- 92% saw a drop in operational costs
- 88% saw an improvement in their company image
- 74% saw higher customer retention and attraction
The report also found that a larger number of companies now have dedicated sustainability budgets—the number went from 31% in 2009 to 43% in 2012. Along with that increase, 60% of companies said that they had a person or team of people whose entire job function was related to sustainability.
Things are also looking rosy from the perspective of workers employed in sustainability fields, 86% of whom report being satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, the GreenBiz Group “State of the Profession 2013” found.
The sustainability field is on the rise and growing in career opportunities and importance. All this is good news for sustainability professionals. For those looking to enter the field, now is the perfect time to get the education and credentials you need, and to make your mark in this exciting field.