EVENTS & INSIGHTS / INSIGHT

Sustainability Jobs 101: Three sustainability leaders share their creative career journeys

by Shannon Houde

Have you thought innovatively about career opportunities and how to put your existing skills to work in the sustainability context?

Last month, Net Impact London and I hosted a fascinating café style workshop with three diverse sustainability professionals who shared insights with a group of career changers. Net Impact is known globally for its inspiring careers events for prospective sustainability and corporate responsibility professionals and I’ll be speaking at the global conference in Silicon Valley later this month.

Our talk was centered around four key questions, each of which I’ll be addressing in a separate blog post over the coming months:

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  • What is a sustainability professional?
  • What are the core skills and attitudes of a sustainability practitioner?
  • How do you identify opportunities in sustainability and effectively access them?
  • How do you define success in the short and long term?

If you’re interested in hearing the outcomes of these conversations, keep an eye on my blog and follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter (@walkoflifecoach).

In the meantime though, I’m going to introduce you to my fellow three panelists, each of whom has taken a very different route into their sustainability career. If you’re looking for inspiration, take a minute to read their stories – then share your own in the comments section.

Ben Richards – Head of Sustainability at Radley Yelder

Ben works in communications to help clients tell their sustainability story in a way that is clear and engaging for different audiences. Originally taken in on maternity cover, he has now been Head of Sustainability at Radley Yelder for over five years and heads up a team of six consultants. Ben’s route into sustainability was an unconventional one: he won a Ben & Jerry’s competition which he says gave him credibility. He also volunteered at Friends of the Earth and WWF.

Ben’s Top Tips for getting a Sustainability Job:

“Find an organisation that fits both you and your skillset, somewhere you’ll feel you belong. There’s no mold for a sustainability professional – they come in all shapes and sizes – so focus on what you’re good at and what you care about. Try everything to get in; competitions worked for me, and I think unconventional routes are good. They’re the ones that fewer people will take, so think outside box.

Once you’re in the job, be patient. Sustainability is a long game. Empathy is another essential tool. We must meet people where they are. As a consultant, it’s a skill I use every day. Lastly, remember, you don’t need a ‘sustainability’ job title to be a sustainability practitioner – bring sustainability to you, wherever you are.”

Victoria Moorhouse – Senior Manager (Programmes and Operations) at the Sustainable Restaurant Association

Victoria spent ten years in management consulting, most recently in change management for Deloitte. She took a two and a half year secondment with the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG) to develop the largest peacetime catering operation in the world – a role that offered her valuable sustainable sourcing and supply chain experience. “We worked closely with the sustainability team because we were trying to deliver the most sustainable catering and waste operation in the world, as well as the largest,” she says. This was her first step into the sustainability arena.

Following the secondment, Victoria volunteered for Raleigh International in Central America as a Project Manager – something she says gave her the perspective and focus to align her career with her values. “I came back with fresh motivation and energy, did loads of research, called lots of people – including Shannon – and also got in touch with the Sustainable Restaurant Association.”  The networking and coaching paid off! They offered her a job leading the operations team – she started last week. Career changes and dream jobs are possible!

Gwyn Jones – Director at Association of Sustainability Practitioners (ASP), founder of Global Association of Corporate Sustainability Officers (GACSO)

Gwyn racked up two million air miles running management consultancies in Europe and Asia. After about 30 years, he realised, “This is a waste of time. Everything I was doing was destroying everything that I held dear and I was creating nothing that I felt was of value. I had loads of money, but it really made me sit back and think, ‘What the hell am I doing?'”

He walked out of that career with no idea what he was going to, but felt very strongly that he wouldn’t want to go back. For the past ten years, Gwyn has been exploring other things, eventually finding that turning his back on his old way of working was not the best path forward: “Gradually I realised that I could integrate the two – you can have a meaningful career and still make money.”

Gwyn worked his way into a the Director position at the Association of Sustainability Practitioners, an organisation that aims to connect, challenge and support its members to answer the question “How do we create a world in which 10bn people can live equitably, in peace on one planet”.

Gwyn’s thoughts on Sustainability Careers:

“Nobody really understands what sustainability is, so there are lots of routes into it. I used to illustrate this with what I called the ‘Career Map to Sustainability’ – it was a map of the London Underground: loads of entry points, loads of lines going around the place, and loads of points you can come out at. There’s no real structure to it. That’s the exciting part, but it’s also the difficulty.”

Check in on my blog and follow me on social media over the coming months to read in depth what these three sustainability practitioners and our engaging workshop participants had to say about working in sustainability.

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