Green Gigs: How Sustainability Careers have Evolved Over Time

Sustainability certainly isn’t a new concept, but the concerns driving it have become mainstream issues over the last few years, there have never been so many individuals committed to the cause. As well as making more environmentally friendly choices in their personal lives, the employees of many businesses have decided to make sustainability the focus of their professional lives as well.

Green business

And between the mindset, working environments and the roles themselves, our working lives are significantly different from that of previous generations, especially for those who take sustainability seriously. Now that the wider world is understanding how necessary it is to take care of the environment, careers in sustainability have evolved a great deal over time.

Sustainable roles are impacting wide business decisions

While sustainability roles were once few and far between, it’s increasingly common for companies to have entire departments dedicated to this cause. Moreover, people working in these positions have reported that, while they previously felt excluded from wider business discussions, they are now having a greater impact on major decisions. “Rather than banging on the door and asking ‘can we come in’, the door is now open and we’re learning to hone different skills,” Martin Gettings, head of sustainability at one UK property company, explained to edie. Meanwhile, fellow sustainability professional Jonathan Horrell said his team has gone from being “cajolers” to “consultants”.

In many cases, these roles involve working more closely with other departments. Coca Cola’s chief sustainability officer Bea Perez, for example, told Greenbiz that she more closely aligns with their marketing team “as purpose and sustainability becomes embedded in brand positioning and communications.” Others are even rising to leadership positions — perhaps the most impressive example being H&M’s appointment of Helena Helmersson, its former sustainability manager, to CEO. Global leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder says that sustainability consultants are particularly helpful to brands who aspire to “building leadership teams that will make a difference — contributing to environmental quality, long-term economic prosperity, and social quality”.

The demand for sustainable jobs is growing

As consumers grow increasingly interested in sustainability, businesses hoping to win their custom are trying to meet that demand. For example, the Deloitte Resources 2019 Study reported that two-thirds of businesses believe their customers want them to embrace renewable resources, and 72% of companies are actively publicizing their sourcing of renewables. Meanwhile, the same proportion also reviewed or changed their energy management strategies in response to US and global climate change reports issued in late 2018.

In order to make these sustainable changes, companies need to recruit people to help implement them. America’s green economy is worth $1.3 trillion in annual sales revenue, having grown by over 20% in three years, and now employs ten times more people than the fossil fuel industry. The London School of Economics estimates that 10.3% of current US jobs are ‘green’, but a further 9% may be working in ‘indirectly green’ jobs — financial analysts, for example, who forecast or analyse the financial costs of climate change.

And the current rate of growth may only be the beginning. “The green economy can enable millions more people to overcome poverty and deliver improved livelihoods for this and future generations,” explained ILO deputy director-general Deborah Greenfield. Indeed, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), shifting to a greener economy could potentially create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030.

Green building

There is a greater variety of sustainable roles

With more businesses increasing their commitment to sustainability, this has broadened the types of jobs available. Speaking at the All Ivy Environmental and Sustainability Career Fair, program manager Shaun Hoyte explained that “companies you wouldn’t think would be investing in sustainability initiatives” in fact are, creating plenty of diverse opportunities. “There are jobs in finance, such as renewable energy finance. There are jobs in energy efficiency. There are jobs in sustainable fashion, sustainable wine. I think sustainability transcends across all business market segments,” he added.

Sustainability has many different subcategories, so a sustainable role could mean working in conservation, climate change, policy, law, or agriculture, amongst other sectors. This variety is demonstrated by National Geographic’s list of the fastest growing green jobs, which lists everything from green builders and wave energy producers, to natural scientists and urban growers. And having a sustainable role doesn’t necessarily mean working for an organization with an exclusively environmental focus. As writers note: “Though the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’ often invoke the idea of environmental scientists […] many Sustainability careers are often focused on helping organizations and companies run more efficiently, thereby increasing their profits, pleasing their customer base, and creating a sense of well being among the community.”


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