So, you want a career in sustainability. What does that mean, exactly? Perhaps it means that you want the title of Manager, Director, Vice President of Sustainability for a business entity, wherein you can lead an effort to improve the sustainability of the business, using your skills and knowledge gained in (fill in the blank).
Is your background environment, health and safety (EHS), communications, public relations, marketing, employee relations, operations, risk management, government relations, procurement, investor relations, or something else? What is the best background for handling the sustainability function in a corporation, and more importantly, what are employers looking for when they are looking to hire a sustainability leader?
As someone who has been in the job market for the past several months, I have encountered many different approaches:
- Steering committee: Many companies are moving toward a steering committee approach, wherein many different functions are represented on a senior level committee that develops the strategy and oversees the performance.
- Greenhouse gas emphasis: There seems to be a very strong emphasis on experience and skills with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction as a qualifier for sustainability positions. Many companies consider GHG reduction to be synonymous with sustainability and don’t understand that there are many other issues to be considered. In these situations, having LEED certification may be a requirement.
- Outside talent: More and more companies are creating a leadership position in sustainability and going outside their companies to fill the position.
- Marketing background: A recruiter at a very prestigious firm recently told me they would not consider someone with an EHS background for sustainability positions, as they consider EHS to be a technical background, more qualified for dealing with issues related to “parts per million and that sort of thing”; Instead, they look for people with communications backgrounds and experience dealing with NGOs for those positions.
While it’s important to have someone with strong communications or marketing skills to present the accomplishments of the company in a strong, credible fashion, is having the function led by someone without a technical understanding of the issues a formula for greenwashing mistakes?
Who leads sustainability in your company? For those of you leading sustainability initiatives, what skills or experience do you think are most relevant to your job?