Andrea McCormick is Head of Sustainability at OVO, the UK’s third largest home energy supplier. She has over a decade of experience in the field of sustainability and climate change, working across sectors in consultancy and industry roles, and holds a Masters in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London. .
Most of us want our work to have a purpose and that feeling is only getting stronger as we emerge from the peak of the pandemic. In a recent Gartner survey, 56% of people said Covid made them want to contribute more to society.
For those looking for purpose at work, a career transforming business into a force for good ticks a lot of boxes.
Thinking of making the switch to sustainability? Here is my take on what you need to know.
A career in sustainability requires you to wear many different hats
A successful sustainability professional must first and foremost be a technical expert. You may be the only person in your company to have the word “sustainability” in your job title.
So your colleagues will expect you to advise them on everything from climate science for biodiversitycarbon footprint, recycling and the circular economythe politics of international climate negotiations, modern slavery, social impact, energy management, air qualitycontaminated land management, responsible sourcing, diversity and inclusion, and around 100 different social and environmental governance (ESG) reporting frameworks.
And, believe me, they won’t be happy with you if they find out about the office toilet paper does not come from FSC-certified forests.
In addition to having the in-depth knowledge of a technical expert, you will also need to be a generalist expert. During a typical week, you will practice a range of different skills.
Strategist, Organizational Change Agent, Project Manager, Consultant, Workshop Facilitator, Compliance Officer, Risk Assessor, Due Diligence Analyst, investor Liaison Officer, Report Writer, Customer Complaint Manager and, finally, Employee Engagement Champion.
The depth and breadth of a role in sustainability is enormous – that’s what makes it such a fascinating job. But that’s not why many people say they chose this career.
It’s not uncommon for people like me to refer to “the mission” – to ensure that the human species can survive and thrive on this planet for generations to come. I can’t really think of a more worthwhile goal than that.
So what’s the problem ?
Making the leap to a career in sustainability doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to gain technical expertise in all the different skills you will need.
Training courses can help fill knowledge gaps. Many universities and accredited professional institutes offer courses that will introduce you to the basics of sustainable business – such as the science behind it, the basics of carbon accounting, specialized terminology and developing the business case for investing. in sustainability.
And many of the skills required are transferable.
The result of all this? With the right opportunity, hard work and a bit of luck, it’s entirely possible that you’ll become a full-fledged corporate sustainability professional.
Careers in sustainability: we’ve come a long way since the 1970s
But to make it easy would cheapen the value of the unique expertise that has been built in our industry over decades, from the era of environmental health and safety compliance in the 1970s, to to creating sustainable value as we know it today.
The trick is to be both the technical expert and the generalist expert. Influencing and leading change within the company (from the factory floor to the boardroom) is as much an art as it is a science.
Based on the experience of my own professional background, I argue that this art can only truly be learned through hands-on experience under the guidance of an established practitioner who knows the pitfalls and tricks of the trade.
The mentorship I’ve received from seasoned sustainability professionals has been invaluable in preparing me for the challenges I’ve faced, from advising clients during my consulting tenure to my current role as in-house sustainability manager.
Demand exceeds supply for green jobs
According to LinkedIn, the growth of green work exceeds the growth of green talent. It is not difficult to understand why.
For sustainable business models to become the new normal, every company will need sustainability talent to support and create change. But it takes time to develop the talent pool.
To fill the growing talent gap, it is imperative to attract more people to sustainable development careers now and provide them with the experience and mentorship they need.
We owe a great debt of thanks to the generation of sustainability professionals that came before us. They have dedicated their careers to sounding the alarm and fighting to put environmental and social crises on the corporate agenda – long before “sustainability” was fashionable. In doing so, they laid the essential foundations of society transformation it must now happen urgently.
It is undoubtedly a great responsibility for today’s sustainability professionals to take on this task. But it is also a great privilege – to be part of a movement that has taken many years to form and to be here at what we all hope will be the turning of the tide in this crucial decade of stock.
So if you’re thinking about starting a career in sustainability, don’t hesitate. It may take a while to learn the ropes – but there’s never been a better, more exciting or more important time to join this movement.