Finding a Career in Sustainability

sus·tain·a·bil·i·ty
/səˌstānəˈbilədē/
noun

  1. the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
    • “the sustainability of economic growth”
  1. avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
    • “the pursuit of global environmental sustainability”

The field of sustainability is a relatively new realm of business that is evolving and is now expanding at a rapid rate. According to the McKinsey Global Institute in 2014, 43 percent (up from 30 percent in 2012) of executives said their companies aim to align sustainability with their overall business goals, mission, or values.

It has been fully recognized we can no longer conduct “business as usual” due to the negative environmental impact it is having. Corporations and manufacturers are now taking responsibility for their carbon emissions and seeking ways to alter their practices to become more sustainable. As a result, sustainability consultants are in high demand.

career in sustainability
Credit: Pixabay

An important part of creating a sustainable business is recognizing the personal health and wellness of employees. There are more companies offering remote work opportunities, investing in employee incentives, and promoting a healthy work-life balance. It is now common to see employees taking initiatives to create green teams and organize work events to give back to their communities.

Many millennials (the largest percentage of the working age population), are seeking jobs that align with their values, and those that are sustainably focused are high on that list. To appeal to millennials, corporations are creating vacancies within their companies for corporate social responsibility managers and sustainability managers. So the question remains: How do you steer your career toward these enviable positions?

The Cover Letter

With little formal training being offered for these new positions, it is up to you to show your innovative nature and let your interest in sustainable practices shine through. You can do so by going through the tried-and-true methods of writing a well-crafted cover letter.

A cover letter demonstrates your abilities, relevant work experience, and personality. It’s important to start your cover letter off on the right foot by using the appropriate tone for the job you’re applying to. Something important to note is, although you may not be classically trained for the position you are applying for, your cumulative experience may allow you to compete better than you may anticipate.

The gig economy has many millennial job seekers with many different areas of expertise that may not all necessary align with one another. For example, perhaps you spent a six-month stint in Asia as a WWOOF-er before returning to the States and working as a restaurant manager while you got your undergraduate degree. Your overseas experience with natural resource management, combined with a stateside management background, may successfully set you up for a sustainability manager position.

The Interview

You can have all the experience in the world, but if you bomb the interview, you are very unlikely to get the position that you had your sights set on. Showing up dressed to impress and mentally prepared to your interview is key to your success. Your voice and level of confidence are representations as to how much you feel you deserve to get this position. Know that you are the right person for the position and it will help in convincing your interviewer.

To prepare, evaluate what resources you have available to you. Do you have any friends that work as recruiters that can help you to run through some interview questions? Perhaps you have a family member that is a respected executive that can offer you some pointers. Do a run-through with a trusted friend and have them give you some constructive criticism to enable you to build up your confidence in the days before your interview date.

The following are some common questions you will likely be asked during an interview for any industry position as well as specific ones for sustainability positions:

  • What can you tell us about yourself?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • Can you give an example of a time when you encountered a difficult situation and how you handled it?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • How do you define sustainability?
  • Why did you decide to go into the sustainability field?
  • What would be your first plan of action if you were offered this position?
  • Tell me about a recent challenge you faced while working on a sustainability project. How did you overcome it?

Finding a career in sustainability can feel intimidating, but do not let doubt overtake you if you do not find a position right away. Take each application process and interview as a learning opportunity to apply to vacancies that are yet to come. While you are searching the job market, take it upon yourself to get involved with local sustainability projects to both garner experience and use them as networking opportunities. Set your intention of finding the right position for you and your experience — with patience, the position will eventually manifest for you.