The employment outlook for professionals seeking new and emerging sustainability careers is bright. That’s because sustainability is increasingly becoming a critical part of business strategy and operations.
In 2014, 43 percent of executives said their companies seek to align sustainability with their overall business goals, mission, or values—up from 30 percent in 2012—according to McKinsey Global Institute.
Major brands such as Apple, Walmart, Nike, and almost every other Fortune 500 company have led the way, making serious commitments to sustainability efforts, including:
- Energy-use reduction
- Resource conservation
- Pollution prevention
- Waste elimination
- Transportation efficiency
- Building design
- Human rights and community development
Demand for Sustainability Skills
A key driver of these commitments is the strong financial benefit of instituting sustainability practices. But to achieve their sustainable business goals, organizations in every sector—from pharmaceuticals to automotive to food production—need qualified professionals with the skills to take on the challenges of the sustainable revolution. From McKinsey’s 2014 Sustainability & Resource Productivity report:
“If the scale of the resource challenge is unprecedented, so, too, is the know-how available to address it… Companies that seek to get and stay ahead need to find the right people with the right skills; conventional practices and talent may not be enough.”
Employers need professionals who can:
- Apply systems thinking
- Implement and manage sustainable business practices
- Help balance budgets to meet the triple bottom line
- Understand energy production, consumption, and environmental impact
- Apply technology and information systems that support sustainable development in an organization
- Promote sustainable strategies inside the organization and beyond
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.
Sustainability is a diverse field that encompasses a wide variety of professionals who may not have “sustainability” in their job descriptions. Sustainability professionals can be business managers, distribution managers, production managers, accountants, compliance officers, and more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Students and graduates of the Sustainable Management program are pursuing careers in:
- Building energy consulting
- Solar installation
- Marketing and sales
- Environmental insurance management
- Parts production management
- Local government and public policy
- Renewable energy
- Landscape horticulture
Rise of the Sustainability Leader
In the 2015 article “Leading in a World of Resource Constraints and Extreme Weather,” Harvard Business Review described three megatrends in corporate sustainability: resource constraints and rising commodity prices; climate change and extreme weather; and radical, technology-driven transparency—all issues that require new leadership and prompt the “rise of the Chief Sustainability Officer.”
The number of chief sustainability officers (CSOs) tasked with driving “the formulation and execution of an organization’s sustainable strategy” has grown substantially over the past few years, according to a Harvard Business School white paper. The number of companies with full-time sustainability officers doubled between 1995 and 2003, and doubled again between 2003 and 2008. Other sustainable management occupations can be expected to follow this trend as well.
“The development of new skills, like systems-thinking mindsets, is lagging far behind where we need to be.”
—Harvard Business Review, 2015
Sustainable and Environmental Management Job Titles and Salaries
Among professionals who are primarily responsible for sustainability in their organizations, job titles, descriptions, and salaries vary considerably and are usually dependent on prior work experience. Location may also be a major factor in the number and type of sustainability positions available.
In general, sustainability professionals in managerial roles help their organizations lessen negative impacts on the environment and community by advising other leaders on what should be improved. They may also develop sustainability initiatives, put them into action, and supervise those working on the projects.
The average salary for a sustainability manager is $72,706, according to PayScale’s 2015 national salary data. Professionals with advanced skills and experience in sustainable management can make more than $100,000 per year.
With a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management, a graduate can 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
According to O*NET, sustainability specialist is considered a new and emerging “Bright Outlook” occupation projected to have 100,000 or more job openings between 2016 and 2026. Sustainability specialists are responsible for addressing organizational sustainability issues, such as waste-stream management, green building practices, and green procurement plans, and made a median salary of $69,040 in 2016.
With a Master of Science in Sustainable Management, a graduate can 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
Chief Sustainability Officer
According to O*NET, chief sustainability officer (CSO) is a new and emerging occupation. CSOs communicate, develop, or execute sustainable business strategies and help their organization profit from the push to become more sustainable. The median salary for a CSO in 2016 was $181,210.
Based on salary data from Recruiter, CSO salaries range between $144,000 and $216,000, and the average annual salary is $183,800. The data also show that compensation for CSOs increased by more than 30 percent from 2004 to 2010.
In the video below, Steve Howard, chief sustainable officer for IKEA, explains why zero waste, renewable investments, and other sustainable business practices have “gone from a nice-to-do to a must-do.”
TED Talk: Let’s Go All-In on Selling Sustainability
University of Wisconsin offers online bachelor’s and master’s degrees and certificates in Sustainable Management. Start your journey here.
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