Sustainability or CSR is an evolving, diverse and growing field. There are no prerequisite profiles or qualifications to enter this field, which makes it more challenging because there is no clear path. The good news is that our Salterbaxter North America team sat down to discuss key traits that successful sustainability and corporate social responsibility professionals share. Enjoy!
Know your niche
Sustainability and CSR is a broad field and professionals often come from different backgrounds – whether from law, finance, marketing and communications, through to more technical backgrounds in energy efficiency or environmental science. In the midst of such a broad spectrum, you need to know and communicate your niche, whether you are an authority in a particular aspect e.g. human rights, a specific industry or specific process like materiality etc. Being able to acquire and articulate that point of difference in a crowded, small and highly educated employment market will be crucial. As an example, at Salterbaxter, we combine sustainability strategy and communications expertise, so when we are recruiting we look for a people with a mix of these skills. If you are looking to move into sustainability, think about what skills you currently have, how these translate to sustainability and CSR and how you can acquire any sustainability specific skills which would complement these.
One of the most exciting things about working in this field is that it is relatively new and evolving. Therefore, in addition to theoretical knowledge, it is important to demonstrate long-term interest in the subject and to be familiar with current CSR and sustainability trends. You have to stay sharp, and that requires constant learning. This can be done through conferences, research, newsletter subscriptions, trainings or networking events. The community is still relatively small; therefore, it can be much easier to network and become familiar with current issues than in more established fields.
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Not just a job but who you are
The most successful professionals in any industry will tell you that in order to excel, you need to be fueled by passion for the job, the company’s mission or by the opportunity to solve a problem. This is particularly true and necessary for CSR/sustainability professionals. If you choose this career path, it (probably) means that you genuinely care about protecting the environment, raising awareness about hot issues and driving meaningful change within your communities. So, even if you’re not working directly in this field at the moment, think about how you can demonstrate your active involvement in the subject, whether working with a local community group or getting involved in a sustainability group at work. And being active on social media on related topics is a good way both to build your knowledge and network, and demonstrate your interest.
If you are interested in working on sustainability and CSR in a corporate setting, you need to be able to think about the subject from a business perspective. If you are looking to do a masters, for example, you may consider doing an MBA which incorporates sustainability, rather than taking a purely sustainability focused masters. Professionals in the field are required to have a good understanding of corporations’ business goals and results e.g. understanding how the business is performing, how your sustainability strategy affects sales or finally -this is one of our favorites – how your sustainability strategy can become your business strategy. If we, sustainability professionals, are successful at integrating these considerations into core business activities, “sustainability” and “corporate social responsibility” as a department or a career path may disappear in the future as we will become integrated into different business teams. Hopefully, the CEOs of the future will be those that come from a sustainability background!
As sustainability and corporate social responsibility becomes more widespread, new opportunities to contribute to the field will arise. We hope you will be prepared to seize them.
Best of luck!