On September 21, nearly 400,000 people marched through the streets of Manhattan, urging world leaders to take action to slow global climate change at the United Nations Climate Summit.
To no one’s surprise, news coverage was extensive, Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech to the U.N. went viral, and the public response is as varied as it is passionate. Search through the tangled psyche of the online community, and it’s clear that climate change is still a contentious issue.
But there’s no denying that the summit was a major show of awareness and support for the sustainable movement. Climate change is no longer just a back burner issue—at least for many big businesses. And that’s good news for the planet and those interested in sustainability careers. Here’s why.
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Corporations are leading the charge for climate action
While governments at the summit struggled to move on the issue, the loudest calls for action came from the world’s largest companies. Many made commitments to minimize their contributions to climate change, optimistic that their examples will steer other organizations toward greener practices and greater environmental responsibility.
Kellogg’s, L’Oreal, and Nestlé signed a nonbinding agreement to end their role in tropical deforestation by 2030. Apple, Google, and Facebook pledged to use renewable energy to power their huge data centers. Seventy-three countries and 1,000 businesses and investors signed a major World Bank declaration calling for global price on carbon. It’s considered the boldest step ever taken toward enacting taxes on old forms of energy, a policy that could have a huge impact on slowing carbon emissions.
Good for the environment, good for the bottom line
Having companies at the forefront of climate action reflects a widespread shift in the business world—one toward more consideration of the triple bottom line and systems thinking. According to the New York Times article “Companies Take the Baton in Climate Change Efforts”:
The corporate promises are the culmination of a trend that has been building for years, with virtually every major company now feeling obliged to make commitments about environmental sustainability, and to report regularly on progress. The companies have found that pursuing such goals can often help them cut costs, particularly for energy.
In other words, companies no longer need to choose between sustainability and financial health. Prices for renewable energy have dropped in recent years because of advances in technology, making wind and solar energy more affordable.
According to the New Climate Economy Report, low-carbon energy sources could “account for more than half of all new electricity generation over the next 15 years.” Some predictions estimate that the demand for solar energy is will double every two years through 2022.
Companies that have gone furthest in pursuing energy efficiency and other sustainable enterprises have seen a powerful effect on their bottom lines.
A new report by We Mean Business, a coalition that helps businesses transition to low-carbon economies, states that the internal rate of return on energy-efficiency investment for a U.S. business can be as high as 81 percent.
What does this mean for sustainability careers?
Simply put, the world needs more sustainability professionals. The U.N. Climate Summit breathed new life into the conversation about corporate sustainability, possibly starting the kind of momentum needed to make real change.
As more major companies prioritize sustainability practices in an effort to be both responsible and economical, the demand for sustainability professionals will undoubtedly rise. Facility and industrial managers, logistics managers, supply chain managers, recycling coordinators, and others who combine their existing skills with an understanding of sustainability will be key to making these companies’ pledges a reality.
In addition, sustainability specialists and chief sustainability officers are emerging occupations with a large number of job openings—100,000 or more—expected in the next eight years. Check out the O*Net Online career network to learn more about specific career opportunities in the green economy sector.
We may be on the cusp of a greener future in business, and a career in sustainability has never looked so promising. If you are passionate about protecting the environment and interested in advancing your career, the University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management program can prepare you with the skills and knowledge you need to be an environmental champion and compete successfully for jobs in the new global economy.