Who’s hiring in sustainability?

Talent Show

Who’s hiring in sustainability?

[Editor's note: This week’s Talent Show welcomes guest author Joseph Aamidor, a product manager at Johnson Controls.]

Graduation day is fast approaching, and with it thoughts of entering the work force – or perhaps starting work in a new field. For those searching for a job in sustainability, I’d like to expand on an article I wrote about sustainability job search strategies. In that article, I listed three types of sustainability jobs:

Government/nonprofit jobs, which provide a solid grounding in energy and environmental subject matter;

Corporate jobs, which work internally to help enterprises develop voluntary initiatives and comply with regulations; and

Vendor and service roles, which typically are sales-oriented, providing products that help organizations improve their sustainability performance.

Each job group offers different experiences and demands different skills. And job search strategies will vary, too, as each will have different application requirements. The Weinreb Group CSR Jobs Report includes more background on the trends in these categories.

For my part, my career has spanned these different groups and I have seen firsthand the variations between them.

I began as a consultant at ICF International (Nasdaq: ICFI), developing GHG emissions inventories for governments and businesses. I also worked in efforts to roll out a new voluntary government partnership that helped freight companies reduce their fuel consumption (and thus their GHG emissions). The expertise I gained from working with government officials, and the commercial skills I developed as a consultant, gave me valuable experience – which I then applied in the private sector as a sustainability software pre-sales engineer. I developed an understanding of the sustainability-related business issues that prospective software buyers were facing. I was also able to demonstrate how IT could help them.

I currently work at Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI), serving as product manager for one of our energy management software products – and daily using the skills I gained as a consultant and a pre-sales engineer.

Through my exposure to these categories, as well as developing a solid background in energy and sustainability issues, I’ve been able to identify some pointers that might help sustainability job seekers. The key is to manage and execute a more targeted search of the most relevant positions, in addition to finding the right role. Sustainability is still a nascent issue for many organizations -- so sustainability roles, by definition, are going to have significant variations. Let’s look further into these job groups:

Government/nonprofit jobs

These jobs are primarily research and/or policy focused, in addition to developing and implementing programs and initiatives based on this research. An example of such work would be in building trends or developing a program like Energy Star, to improve building efficiency.

Typically, these jobs provide a strong foundation in the given subject matter and are well respected throughout the industry.  And if you are able to see your way through the lengthy application process for a government job, you will have the opportunity to build a solid foundation as a subject matter expert. If time is of the essence, however, a non-profit with a specific focus of interest or a consulting firm serving government clients might be a better match.

Corporate jobs

These jobs include any sustainability officer or manager who works for a company that is investing in its “sustainability posture;” that is, policies, initiatives and investments relating to sustainability performance. There typically are two components to these jobs: (1) helping the company become a better steward of the environment and (2) collecting and reporting performance metrics that help make a stronger case for the company as a good steward. These jobs can be exciting. They allow employees to effect change and define what likely will be a new department. And they often provide an entrepreneurial opportunity within a larger company.

There can be significant variation in the skills companies seek to fill these positions, based on maturity of the sustainability posture and the industry of the company. For example, a manufacturing company probably would seek individuals with energy experience, to help reduce costs for what likely is an energy intensive operation. And a retailer may seek someone who can communicate improvements effectively to customers.  Some corporations will look for candidates with strong sustainability experience, but others will look for an individual with strong knowledge of the company’s own operations. Depending on which is more important, companies may hire from within or search outside the organization.

Key questions to ask when applying for such a job are: how does the sustainability department interact with other divisions, how much influence do those other divisions have over them, what’s the size of the department’s budget and what are the company’s overall sustainability goals (which would become your goals, as an employee in that department). This kind of role can also lead to a consulting job – using past experiences within the company to advise other enterprises.

Vendor and service jobs

This group includes any company that provides a service or product to organizations that seek to become more sustainable (e.g., reduction in environmental impact or energy consumption). There are many consulting firms that sell professional services, and a growing number of software providers that are providing technology products. Large and small companies alike are included. Within these jobs there is typically less focus on a deep knowledge of energy and sustainability issues -- although individuals with this skillset will prove to be valuable assets. For example, I've seen plenty of sales people and marketers in sustainability jobs that apply more to their core skills -- while also learning about sustainability issues during their tenure.

Vendor/service positions are the most entrepreneurial. That’s because the companies involved are either very small with growth aspirations or they are providing a new service to a customer -- in the hopes of making it a core product or service in the future. In addition, the application process may be very informal. In a crowded market with many companies trying to out-maneuver each other, there is a focus on finding and attracting the right talent. Raising your hand and engaging the employers – whether or not there is a job posting – may result in success.

While thinking about what each job category offers, keep in mind there isn’t a step-by-step roadmap to follow when seeking a sustainability position. Targeting the job category that most closely aligns with your career goals and current skills, however, can be a valuable first step in the process.

Photo of businessman holding a green earth by Photosani via Shutterstock

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