It might seem as if sustainability is a relatively new concept, but the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that the United States declared sustainability a national policy in The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The country’s commitment to sustainability was in order “to create and maintain conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations.”
What is sustainability?
In the years since NEPA was enacted, the public’s interest in sustainability has broadened. Not only has protecting the environment become a vital focus for conscientious citizens, it’s become an important goal for many organizations.
Even though sustainability is most often associated with environmental protection and conservation, it has significant social and economic impacts. A growing number of organizations from a wide range of industries are pursuing sustainable management business goals. This is opening up a variety of new careers that did not exist 10-20 years ago. One of the most promising positions is sustainability manager.
A Day in the LIfe of a Sustainability Manager
As sustainability becomes more and more important in the eyes of businesses, jobs revolving around sustainability will become more popular and will focus on aspects of sustainability that make sense for the specific organization. Sustainability professionals and managers can be found in all types of industries and can focus in many different types of sustainability. A sustainability professional might be called:
- Chief sustainability officer
- Global director of social and environmental affairs
- Vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability
- Environmental program manager
- Economic sustainability manager
- Supply chain manager, sustainability and energy
- Director of sustainable manufacturing innovation
Because sustainability is such a diverse field, some professionals may not even have “sustainability” in their job titles. Sustainability professionals can be business managers, distribution managers, production managers, accountants, compliance officers, and more, according to the BLS. What all these roles do share in common, however, is the concept of stewardship—the responsible management of resources.
What might a sustainability manager do?
Sustainability professionals seek to manage and improve an organization's environmental, social, and economic impact. They help organizations achieve their goals by ensuring that their business practices are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable, adds the BLS. The focus is on an organization’s long-term viability with an emphasis on implementing preventative actions. The overall goal is to ensure that people, planet, and profit can all prosper now and in the future.
Sustainability professionals have a broad range of duties that depend on the industry in which they work. The BLS notes that although their specific career paths might differ, sustainability managers promote environmental protection, social responsibility, and profitability in their roles. Some job duties might include:
- Researching and developing an organization's sustainability plans and presenting these plans to company leadership
- Enacting policies on an organization's energy use, resource conservation, and waste management
- Ensuring that an organization is in compliance with environmental, health, and safety regulations
- Building awareness of sustainability programs within the company
- Setting sustainability performance goals
- Project managing initiatives and leading a team that implements them
- Training personnel to participate in green initiatives within the company
- Measuring and reporting the effectiveness of sustainable initiatives
- Investing in fair-trade products and ensuring humane working conditions at supplier factories
- Remaining up-to-date on the latest green building certifications, trends, and green products
- Representing the company at trade shows, industry seminars, and professional organizations when sustainability is highlighted
Where can I find a career in sustainable development?
Sustainability issues are being addressed in numerous industries in the public, private, and government sectors. Many multinational corporations are keenly interested in developing and promoting a corporate social responsibility strategy.
Other places professionals with sustainability skills can find careers in economic development and careers in sustainable development include:
- Nonprofit institutions
- Environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
- Academic institutions such as universities and colleges
- Medical and research facilities
- Environmental consultancy firms
- Governmental organizations such as the EPA
- Manufacturing facilities
- Power and waste-water treatment plants
- Cities, towns, and municipalities
Finding a Job in Sustainability: Necessary Skills
Management positions in sustainability require at least a bachelor’s degree and typically a graduate degree. Sustainable business leaders are visionary agents of change and long-term thinkers. They are also highly creative and able to solve complex problems with big-picture, systems thinking. Other attributes and abilities that sustainability managers possess include:
- A firm understanding of basic economics, marketing, accounting, and law
- Ability to assess and interpret social, scientific, and business-related information
- Effective communication skills to explain new ideas and goals clearly to both superiors and company employees
- Strong management skills to be able to lead a team, supervise employees on sustainability endeavors, and coordinate with various departments
- Good public relations skills to work effectively and cooperatively with concerned citizens in local communities while presenting a positive image of the company to the public and the media.
Job Outlook and Expected Earnings
For sustainability professionals with a passion for travel, plentiful job opportunities exist in the global tourism industry. Promoting social and economic development objectives for specific tourism destinations through sustainable business practices is a very rewarding career track. Employment opportunities can be found in government agencies and international travel and tourism organizations as well as the private sector.
Sustainable development is an international concern, and careers in ecotourism are flourishing. It’s a great way to combine a love for travel and other cultures with a commitment to promoting responsible and sustainable travel opportunities.
For those with an interest in bringing sustainability concepts to the economies of developing nations, careers in sustainable economic development are ideal. These positions let professionals address a wide range of global challenges, including poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, and climate change.
According to a McKinsley global survey, year after year company leaders and other company employees are seeing an increase of importance in terms of sustainability and the strategic positioning of sustainability within organizations.
If you're a passionate traveler determined to reduce not only your carbon footprint, but also the global environmental impact of tourism, you could thrive in a sustainable development career. Open the doors to exciting professional opportunities with an MS – Global Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development from Johnson & Wales University.