Up and Coming Careers in Environmental Sustainability

In the face of dire predictions such as that from the World Wildlife Fund predicting the number of wild animals living on Earth will decline two-thirds from 1970 levels by the year 2020, people are beginning to examine their choice of employer or organization in terms of discernible levels of corporate social responsibility.  They’re hoping to tap into a greater purpose, in the business world, other than helping a company turn a profit.  If you’re among those looking for something more, you might consider asking a few questions that tap into deeper meanings.  Is the world a better, safer, or healthier place because of my company?  Is my organization involved in sustainability efforts?  Are we recycling, conserving energy, or reducing waste?      

One way to contribute to sustainability efforts is to work for a company that directly works to advance what is possible, in terms of renewable energy sourcing, reducing one’s carbon footprint, and contribution to wilderness conservation and sustainability efforts.  If you can’t find a gig in your area working for, say, a manufacturer of solar panels, a position as a Chief Sustainability Officer is probably the next best thing.

Here, without further ado, are a few ideas for career paths in sustainability.

I. Wind Energy Industry

There are a number of different types of positions available, within the wind energy industry; however, safe to say, it has experienced rapid growth in the past decade and is expected to continue accelerating; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Wind-generating capacity in the United States grew 39 percent per year from 2004 to 2009, and is expected to grow more rapidly as demand for renewable energy increases.”  The three major sectors relevant to wind power are manufacturing, construction, and operation and maintenance.

For example, if you’re interested in the manufacturing phase of wind turbine production, you might consider a position as a civil or electrical engineer.  The BLS estimates a 12 percent rate of growth for Environmental Engineers, who “Use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.  They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.”  If you’d like to learn more about wind power, there’s even an online journal dedicated to news in the industry.

II. Production Management

All mid-to-large-sized corporations need to make sure their production standards comply with government-issued environmental regulations.  Therefore, a career in production management may be for you if you don’t live in an area with many companies directly specializing in renewable energy or sustainable products.  According to Marylhurst University, production managers “Must be able to not only avoid a corporation failing to meet requirements but to find innovative ways to improve efficiency.”

Rather than seeing governmental regulations as constricting, Dan Roessler claims that sustainability can drive business driver for future products, more efficient operations, and greater profits.  How do production managers do this?  They focus on raw material usage and energy reduction, as well as managing the performance of important sustainability information on company marketing literature and online.  Reducing energy and material use requires data collection and analysis, then establishing an infrastructure that enables sustainability objectives.

III. Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)

Reaching beyond departments dealing solely with production, the Chief Sustainability Officer is also concerned with creating new strategies for being sustainable, as well as researching future programs and services that may be beneficial for the company.  The CSO is also the point-of-reference for any company initiatives related to sustainability.  According to Harvard Business professor George Serafim, “The CSO’s main responsibility is to help develop a sustainability strategy as well as map out how changes will be made,” as well as delegating authority.  In other words, the CSO is the ‘change agent.’

Because it is in the C-suite family of executive management positions, the BLS estimates a CSO’s median pay range to be over 102K a year—not bad for a position advocating for environmental sustainability.  According to Aglaia Ntili, companies need CSOs in order to go beyond greenwashing and meeting production compliance standards to being concerned with the social value created by the company via community initiatives or alternative energy use like wind or solar power at a company-wide level.

IV. Environmental Law

Although it’s not common for environmental lawyers to be employed by one particular company, full time, many lawyers specializing in environmental law act as consultants for a number of different companies.  However, it is important to note that environmental lawyers often represent regulated interests that may be polluters in their own right, and there are a variety of different types of cases that are heard.  For example, according to Legal Planet, a governmental attorney might, at times, “Represent environmental enforcement agencies and at other times may represent state facilities that are sources of pollution or other adverse environmental impacts.”

Still, it is possible to select the cases one works on, and the average pay for lawyers is around 115K a year, so that doesn’t hurt.  Many get involved in environmental law because they feel strongly about wanting to help enforce or change policy surrounding clean water and air, and they believe in their convictions strongly enough to want to get involved, in a tangible way.  Specialists in environmental law can also help advocate for nonprofit organizations.  According to Matthew Littleton of Harvard Law School, “Compared to the private sector, there is room for autonomy and responsibility at an early stage” when working for the federal government.

According to Katie Kross, there are a growing number of international jobs for people with bilingual skills based in Asia—China specifically.  There has also been an increase in entry and junior-level positions because of the general expansion of positions in sustainability.  Therefore, the overall opportunities in sustainability are expanding, so it’s a strong field that doesn’t show any sign of lagging, any time soon.

Do you see a career in sustainability in your future?  Share your thoughts or questions in the comments section, below.

Image Source: Chuck Coker

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