Sustainable business is a broad term that includes a focus on corporate environmental, social and economic sustainability: what’s referred to in the business world as the “triple bottom line” of people, profits and planet. Jobs include chief sustainability officer, sustainability director, sustainability consultant and more. Sustainability business professionals come from a wide range of backgrounds, including business and finance, natural sciences, engineering, the social sciences and the humanities.
Most sustainability business professionals have a bachelor’s degree, often in environmental sciences, environmental studies or business management, and many have a graduate degree, such as a Master of Business Administration or a master’s degree in some form of environmental science or policy. A growing number of colleges and universities offer sustainability-specific degrees, such as a Master of Science in sustainability. Regardless of educational background, professionals usually need several years of hands-on work experience in sustainability before they can move into high-level management positions like director or chief sustainability officer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), salaries can range from $80,860 for transportation, storage and distribution managers to $166,910 for chief executives.
Sustainable Manufacturing Managers
Sustainable manufacturing includes manufacturing traditional products and goods using more efficient and less wasteful methods, as well as manufacturing sustainability technology itself. Thus, sustainable manufacturing managers oversee the production of everything from clothing and cars to wind turbines, solar panels and compost bins.
Industrial engineers often take on roles in sustainable manufacturing management. According to the BLS, these professionals “plan, direct, and coordinate the production activities required to produce a vast array of manufactured goods. These managers may also be responsible for improving the industrial production process and to find ways to reduce waste and improve efficiency, while remaining in budget.”
On average, sustainable industrial manufacturing managers receive a salary of $89,190 annually. Most have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, environmental sciences or business management, and some have graduate degrees, especially if they have moved up the management chain or plan to do so. Demand for manufacturing managers with sustainability expertise is expected to grow as companies look to use fewer resources, spend less on energy and prevent pollution. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2012 Green Goods and Services Survey revealed that more green jobs can be found in manufacturing than in any other area, including construction, professional, administrative or transportation.
Sustainability mangers work for companies, colleges and universities and consulting agencies, developing sustainability goals and plans for their organizations, and then working to implement these plans and evaluate their success. Sustainability managers may also oversee and work on specific sustainability projects (like greenhouse gas emissions inventories and waste and energy audits), be involved in environmental health and safety planning (including compliance with regulations) and work to increase employee engagement in sustainability.
Since the work of sustainability managers covers a broad range of functions, there is no one set degree path, though these managers typically have bachelor’s degrees in related fields like environmental sciences, environmental studies, management, engineering or sustainability. Higher-level management positions typically require a graduate degree (such as in environmental management, sustainability, or business) and years of work experience. General and operations managers earn an average annual salary of about $116,090.
The job outlook for sustainability managers is good. A 2011 Green Biz survey found that 86 percent of large companies had at least one full-time employee who spends all of his or her time working on sustainability, five percent more than in the previous year. Of the companies surveyed, 38 percent employed a sustainability executive at the vice president level; at 34 percent of these companies, a director or senior director served as the highest-ranking sustainability executive.
Sustainable Human Resources Managers
Most people think of sustainability only as it pertains to the environment, but it also includes social and economic factors like living wages for employees, work/life balance, access to health insurance, safe and discrimination-free workplaces and support for a workforce that is growing in diversity, from gender to ethnicity to economic status. More and more human resources, management, communications and other “people-focused” professionals are becoming part of sustainability teams that emphasize sustainable practices in the workplace. Their work includes:
- Carrying out environmental best practices and policies.
- Engaging employees in sustainable behaviors like recycling and using public transportation or carpooling to and from work.
- Encouraging employee volunteering.
- Educating employees about environmentally and socially responsible investment options for their retirement plans.
- Developing and implementing hiring and management policies that promote diversity and equity, and retain high-quality employees.
- Promoting a culture of community.
Employers ranging from large enterprises to small businesses face sustainability issues like these, creating a demand for human resources and other people-focused employees who can think critically and communicate well. Human resource managers who can bring a sustainability-based perspective to their work are valuable as they can help their employers recruit and retain high quality-employees who are looking to work for companies that are trying to make a difference. They can also help foster a positive culture of sustainability in the workplace.
As the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation explains,
“The HR function is critical to achieving success in a sustainability-driven organization. Sustainability practice pervades every aspect of doing business and needs to be embedded across an organization at all levels, becoming an ongoing change process. Since the prime focus and skills of HR professionals include organizational process, change management and culture stewardship, they should take a leading role in developing and implementing sustainability strategy.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for human resource managers was $99,720 in 2012. Those involved in management of companies and enterprises, or professional, scientific and technical services could earn $112,000 or more.
Sustainable Finance Professionals
Sustainability career paths in economically-focused fields include sustainable investing, environmental economics, environmental accounting, energy efficiency financing and more. The roles of such professionals can be more theoretical (for example, researchers, professors and government officials) or applied (investment advisers, financial specialists, risk mangers, carbon accountants, etc.). Bentley University, a business-focused institution, provides a great list of sustainable finance-related careers, from socially responsible investment to community and economic development finance.
As more state and federal regulations concerning issues like climate change and renewable energy emerge, career paths in sustainable finance may grow as a result. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on sustainable finance professionals, the broader financial analysis field is expected to grow 16 percent by 2022, and in 2012, financial analysts earned an average annual salary of $76,950.
Finance professionals typically have a bachelor’s degree in a related field like accounting, economics, finance, statistics, mathematics or engineering. Most advanced positions require a master’s degree, like an a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a master’s degree in finance. Once employed, financial professionals are often sponsored by their employers to become licensed or certified through organizations such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or the CFA Institute, which offers the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credential.
Many sustainability professionals work as consultants, helping companies, government agencies, nonprofits and other entities operate more sustainably — from designing a firm’s sustainability strategy to conducting sustainability audits to developing risk management and compliance assurance plans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Some organizations do not employ their own sustainability professionals, but still seek advice on sustainability practices. Such organizations frequently hire consultants from sustainability firms to offer specialized skills and services, as well as additional temporary manpower for specific projects.”
Examples of sustainability consultant firms include Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte and PriceWatershouseCoopers. Sustainability consulting is a growing business: According to a 2012 report by Environment Analyst, “CH2M Hill, Tetra Tech, URS Corporation, Golder Associates, AECOM and 15 other companies are spearheading the global environmental consulting industry with combined EC revenues of $10.6 billion in 2011, a 10.4 percent increase from the previous year.”
Sustainability consultants come from a wide range of backgrounds, but typically have a bachelor’s degree and years of work experience in related fields like environmental sciences, social sciences, business management or engineering. Depending on the type of consulting, credentials like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) AP certification may be required or prove helpful for those looking to advance.
A quick search of sustainability consultant jobs on Glassdoor.com in May 2014 revealed positions with salaries ranging from $40,000 to over $160,000. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on sustainability consultants, they estimate that environmental specialist positions will increase by 15 percent by 2022, with an average annual salary of $63,570 as of 2012. Likewise, management analyst positions are expected to grow by 19 percent by 2022, with an average annual salary of $78,600.