Evidence shows that integration and implementation of sustainability principles can be both strategic and profitable to businesses and stakeholders. But, how do employers actually implement effective sustainable business strategies? Organizations need professionals who can thoughtfully develop and put into action sustainability strategies that produce results. The challenge is finding professionals with the right set of skills and experience.
What does it mean to have a career in sustainable management?
Careers in sustainability optimize the intersectionality of people, planet, and prosperity—also known as the triple bottom line. Sustainable management is a formalized position intended to integrate and manage a sustainability strategy that is significant to the organization. Sustainable management supports an organization’s long-term success and resilience through minimized risk, cost savings, and avoidance. Depending on the size of the organization and your position, you may be responsible for:
- Meeting and exceeding compliance with environmental and social regulations
- Researching best practices of sustainability policies and initiatives
- Leading project management and implementation of initiatives
- Setting strategic and material sustainability performance goals
- Measuring, reporting, and optimizing the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives
- Proposing initiatives as well as the case for sustainability to leadership
- Building awareness and generating buy-in and enthusiasm within the company
What types of positions are part of a career in sustainability?
Sustainability is a lens through which small to large organizations across any industry can do business better. The sustainability role within an organization may include entry-level positions, such as sustainability associate, sustainability specialist, and sustainability coordinator to more senior-level roles, such as chief sustainability and more.
Sustainability roles and departments focus on:
- Sustainable supply chain and waste management and minimization
- Marketing and communication
- Sustainable product innovation and development
- Sustainability reporting, metric development, and management
- Ethics and governance
- Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing
- Employee engagement and diversity, equity, and inclusion
Some professionals tasked with leading sustainable business initiatives take it on in addition to another role and may not have “sustainability” in their title at all. They might start with smaller projects, such as managing raw materials through a supply chain or helping their department go paperless, and grow their sustainability role from there.
Other companies approach sustainability through risk management departments that have professionals dedicated to safety and environmental issues.
Sustainability career salaries
Salaries for sustainability professionals vary greatly and are dependent on industry, job responsibilities, regional cost-of-living, level of education, and the size of the business. Below are salary ranges for sustainability roles, such as sustainability associate, specialist, manager, and director.
According to PayScale.com, early career sustainability specialists who have a bachelor’s degree can expect a salary range of $42,000 to $79,000. Mid-career sustainability specialists can expect a range of $47,000 to $92,000. As of March 2021, ZipRecruiter reports that the average annual salary for a sustainability professional in the U.S. is $60, 547.
Senior-level leadership positions, such as chief sustainability executives, general and operations managers, environmental engineers, among others, can expect higher salaries. The following salary ranges might also require a master’s-level education:
What tools and skills does a sustainability manager need?
Sustainable business leaders use a range of skills to achieve their goals. While commonalities exist across the board, specific tools and skills will vary depending on the industry. First and foremost, sustainability professionals must be able to solve complex business problems by practicing systems thinking—analyzing whole systems by understanding how component parts interact with each other. They also must understand basic principles of economics, marketing, and accounting, as well as how to assess and interpret social, scientific, and business-related information.
Sustainability professionals must be effective communicators and leaders, because they may be in a position to inspire a team and engage with varied departments and stakeholders. According to the GreenBiz State of the Profession 2020 report, the fastest rising top skills and core concepts for dedicated sustainability roles include:
- Circular economy
- Presentation skills
- Creative problem solving
- Corporate sustainability
- Environmental, health & safety
- Data analysis
- Report writing
Bright outlook for sustainability careers
The employment outlook for professionals seeking new and emerging sustainability careers is bright. That’s because sustainability is becoming an increasingly critical part of business strategy and operations. In fact, GreenBiz has referred to the last 10 years as the decade of sustainability expansion!
Today, companies seek out sustainability professionals. According to the GreenBiz State of the Profession 2020 report, in 2012, only 45 percent of sustainability hires came from outside a large company, whereas in 2020 that number rose to 67 percent. This shows that sustainability isn’t simply being added to responsibilities, but it has become a professional position in its own right.
Drivers of this boost in sustainability positions include the increase in environmental, social and governance reporting, the continuing climate crisis, employee and customer demand, increasing awareness around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“These insights indicate greater demand for roles dedicated to sustainability within an organization, but do not quite paint the full picture. We know responsibilities of sustainability spared across multiple functions in a company, rather than falling solely on the dedicated sustainability role. Hence, in coming years, we may see a rising demand for sustainability-related skills embedded in the job descriptions of a wider array of roles.” —John Davies, VP and Senior Analyst, GreenBiz Group, State of the Profession, 2020
The following graphics show the drivers and urgency of key areas of sustainability and corporate social responsibility:
Major brands such as Unilever, Patagonia, IKEA, Microsoft, Danone, Nestle, and Tesla have led the way in making serious commitments and progress toward sustainability goals. According to The GlobeScan SustainAbility 2020 Survey, these companies were found to be leaders in sustainability due to:
- Integrating sustainability into their core business models
- Setting ambitious targets for sustainable development goals
- Establishing sustainability values and purpose
- Communication and advocacy
- Sustainable products and services
- Social engagement, human rights and health
- Circularity and zero-waste
- Environmental protection, carbon neutrality, renewable and alternative energy
“The pandemic has brought to the forefront the importance of social issues such as unemployment, inequality and poverty.” —The GlobeScan SustainAbility Survey 2020
These strategies and initiatives are not simply lip service to key drivers. They are backed by financial commitments:
Where do our UW Sustainable Management graduates work?
Professionals with sustainability skills have a competitive advantage in the job market and are in a prime position to be hired to develop sustainable practices in offices, manufacturing facilities, hospitals, retail stores, schools, government, power plants, wastewater-treatment plants, and other workplaces. Students and graduates of the UW Sustainable Management bachelor’s and master’s programs have gone on to pursue careers in:
- Building energy consulting
- Marketing and sales
- Environmental insurance management
- Parts production management
- Local government and public policy
- Renewable energy
- Community development
- Solar installation
- Landscape horticulture
- Product development and improvement
With a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management, a graduate could pursue positions such as:
- Sustainability specialist
- Solar operations surveyor
- Sustainability consultant
- Energy and LEED analyst
- Social compliance analyst
- Zero-waste program manager
- Renewable energy analyst
- Sustainable design coordinator
- Environmental analyst
With a Master of Science in Sustainable Management, a graduate could pursue occupations such as:
- Chief sustainability officer
- Director of sustainability
- Sustainability project manager
- Senior environmental programs specialist
- Supply chain manager, sustainability and energy
- Director of sustainable manufacturing innovation
- Sustainability coordinator
- Vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability
- Director of global environmental affairs
University of Wisconsin offers online bachelor’s and master’s degrees and certificates in Sustainable Management. Start your journey here.
Have questions about University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management? Contact an adviser at 608-262-2011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.