Sustainability Jobs: Working for the Environment

If you are passionate about the environment and building a better future for the world, you might want to consider pursuing a career in sustainability. There are lots of job options to choose from that cater to all types of interests and skill sets.

So what does it mean to work in sustainability? What does the future look like in this space? And what are the types of careers and opportunities out there for those who want to make the world greener?

Being Green Is Getting Easier

Even just a decade ago, looking for sustainability jobs felt pretty niche. Fewer companies and organizations were explicitly focused on sustainability, and the ones that were were often utility companies or businesses that were selling sustainable products or mission-driven organizations.

Today it’s hard to find companies that don’t mention sustainability in their annual statements and public pronouncements. This is true for companies across industries.

And this won’t be changing anytime soon. More organizations are hiring Chief Sustainability Officers and making measurable commitments to being greener that they can be held accountable to.

Moreover, there’s more demand for sustainability than ever. Investors are pushing for quantifiable results, governments are setting regulations to make it happen, and workers are looking for jobs with companies that care about being green.

ESG Investing Is Growing

Global assets under management invested in ESG mandates in triliions of US dollars

Companies have always looked to give back to their communities, typically under the term Corporate Social Responsibility. Making charitable donations, raising awareness of important social issues, and volunteering are typical ways companies have performed CSR.

But now companies tend to perform these and similar activities under the term ESG, which takes a broader view of an organizations’s environmental, social, and corporate governance. Instead of focusing solely on the profits a company can generate, the ESG movement asks companies to look the effects of their actions on all of their stakeholders, including their employees, customers, and the communities they operate in.

Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession, the Boston Consulting Group has consistently found that half of investors still say it’s important for companies to meet their ESG goals even at the expense of short-term financial performance. Moreover, BCG’s quantitative analyses of various industries find that companies’ valuations and margins have a positive statistically significant correlation with performance in non-financial ESG goals.

This growing interest in ESG from investors is driving companies to take sustainability much more seriously, incorporating it into roles and practices company-wide.

Greener Governments

Beyond investors and businesses, governments at all levels are focusing more on sustainability and resiliency. While the pandemic has rightly consumed much of governments’ focus, it’s also led to a greater appreciation and awareness of the need for sustainability and the health of our communities.

While the Green New Deal hasn’t yet been passed at the federal level in the US, similar legislation that directs funding to green projects and tightens environmental standards is being passed at the state and local levels. Voters in Portland, Maine recently passed their own Green New Deal legislation, and last year New York City put its own Climate Mobilization Act into law.

The expectation is that environmental regulations and government spending will continue to drive growth in jobs in sustainability.

Sustainability Jobs For Meaningful Work

Recruiters and hiring managers across industries report that job candidates increasingly care about their employers’ missions. People want jobs with companies that care about more than just making a profit. So roles in sustainability or at companies where sustainability is prioritized are becoming more desireable.

Additionally, sustainability studies programs and degrees in sustainability are growing at universities. Particularly notable is the growing number of so-called green MBA programs that combine traditional business school courses with those covering sustainability, environmental science, and renewable energy.

These changes in the job market and higher education send strong signals that the desire for jobs in sustainability and greener companies is here to stay.

Examples of Sustainability Jobs

Obviously any role with sustainability in the title or within a sustainability department is going to be a green job. But there are many other jobs that provide opportunities for driving sustainability efforts. These can include:

  • Urban Planner
  • Architect
  • Geologist
  • Ecologist
  • Electrical Engineer
  • Supply Chain Manager
  • Photovoltaic Engineer
  • HVAC Technician
  • Wind Turbine Engineer
  • Industrial Designer
  • Construction Manager
  • Environmental Lawyer

While these are just a few examples, there are some common themes we can see. Some of these jobs involve designing or building physical infrastructure or products. Others involve creating new sustainable technologies and practices. And others involve measuring environmental impacts or holding people accountable for them.

Keeping these themes in mind is important because they can help you find opportunities to implement sustainability in an even broader range of roles and functions.

Beyond learning about sustainability and the environment generally, one of the most important ways to prepare yourself for working in sustainability is to learn more about what’s going on where you live. Engaging with local efforts and participating in events for environmental awareness are great ways to see how sustainability intersects with and affects so many parts of our economy and society.

Volunteering for a local community-based organization that focuses on the environment is a great way to get this sort of exposure. Another easy way is to sign up for our Daily Breather email that gives you regular updates on the air quality where you live.

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