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What does a sustainability manager do?

As sustainability becomes an increasingly important part of corporate life, more and more organizations are looking for someone to help them navigate crucial changes. While it can be an immensely rewarding position, the role of sustainability manager doesn't follow a simple checklist.  

So what is a sustainability manager, and what does their job entail? What skills are needed to excel, and what are the requirements to begin a career in this fulfilling field? 

What role does the Sustainability Manager play within a company?

Whether they are looking to create a more sustainable product or reduce the carbon emissions of their office spaces, sustainability managers assist organizations in walking the tightrope between their environmental impact and their business goals. 

Using the latest climate research and understanding the complexities of environmental management, sustainability managers help companies incorporate more eco-friendly business practices and ensure they remain compliant with all local and federal legislation.

Companies may hire a sustainability specialist to audit their entire business or to handle a particular project. The workload and responsibilities will vary depending on the company's previous engagement with green practices. Some businesses may have had a prior sustainability manager, while others might require a new hire to create company policies from scratch. 

Also commonly referred to as a chief sustainability officer, the position involves a great deal of analysis and breaking down data to different internal and external stakeholders. A sustainability manager must liaise with a wide range of people, including the media, to examine the business and inspire different groups to get on board with green initiatives. The role requires that they delicately represent the business' interests and highlight any potential concerns that could damage its reputation.  

What are a Sustainability Manager's main responsibilities?

An ideal career for people who enjoy tackling different challenges, the position of sustainability manager encompasses a wide range of tasks. Whether it's handling PR problems to conducting large-scale audits, no two days will look the same. 

When working as a corporate sustainability manager, you can usually expect the following duties to come under your job description; 

Assessment

  • Undertaking assessments to ascertain the organization's sustainability performance. These could range from individual office spaces to entire supply chain management systems. 
  • Identifying areas where the business could improve its sustainability practices. 
  • Participating in site inspections and producing sustainability reports with research-backed recommendations. 
  • Ensuring legal compliance, keeping up to date with relevant legislation, and advising where necessary. 
  • Continuous auditing to ensure all measures are implemented and supporting departments to make necessary changes. 
  • Monitoring and evaluating progress, collecting feedback from colleagues, and refreshing policies to ensure the company remains on track for its economic and sustainability goals. 

Creating awareness

  • Liaising with different stakeholders from senior management to the general public.
  • Designing and coordinating training sessions to update employees on new procedures and practices. 
  • Operating as a point of contact within the business for all sustainability-related questions. 
  • Working with relevant teams on marketing strategies to promote the company's sustainability projects.
  • Hosting external workshops to inform various audiences of the business' sustainability initiatives.

Taking an active approach

  • Researching the latest technologies to help cut or reduce carbon emissions. 
  • Finding suitable offsetting solutions that align with company values. 
  • Establishing relationships with media outlets to promote corporate social responsibility projects and handle any PR issues. 

Which skills should a Sustainability Manager have?

Successfully enacting eco-friendly changes on a large scale takes both heart and in-depth analysis. As we have seen, each day brings fresh challenges for sustainability managers, and they need a broad skill set to tackle their various responsibilities. If you are looking to start a career in sustainability management, demonstrate your abilities with the following for an eye-catching application. 

Analytical skills

Handling the constant push and pull between detailed reporting and big picture goals requires the ability to interpret vast amounts of data. Analyzing and condensing these findings into key recommendations takes great skill and a solid environmental science and economics background. 

Fundamentally sustainability manager jobs revolve around numbers. While you might be extremely passionate about one strategy, your sustainability policy is unlikely to pass a vote if the metrics don't add up. Data-driven sustainability programs are the most likely to succeed. But it takes analyzing a myriad of factors to find a solution that adds value to the bottom line to forward green policies.  

Industry insights 

The momentum garnered at this year's COP26 has deservedly placed businesses in the spotlight. While businesses can get easy eco wins with offsetting services, companies will struggle to achieve their sustainability ambitions without in-house expertise. 

The importance of the knowledge sustainability managers bring to the table cannot be overstated, but it takes a constant process of studying and staying up to date. But staying abreast of the latest industry changes can be difficult. Data on carbon emissions is scarce, and depending on the organization you work for, you could be juggling multiple layers of regulation. 

Knowing where to find recent Carbon Disclosure rules or the latest government directives is crucial. The best sustainability managers will curate a list of resources they repeatedly visit to keep their knowledge and skills relevant. 

Useful resources for sustainability managers 

Podcasts 

Magazines and journals  

Networks 

Attention to detail

Depending on the organization, you will likely sit in upper management and will undoubtedly interact with top-tier executives on a regular basis. To win over colleagues at every level, you will need to ensure a high level of accuracy at all times. As sustainability manager, you are the face of the company's eco-efforts. Skeptical team members are unlikely to get on board if you deliver reports riddled with mistakes or arrive late to your meetings.

Communication skills

As a sustainability manager, you need to act as a leader within your organization. Companies bring you on board for your expertise and to help communicate what people often see as high-brow concepts to stakeholders at every level. 

Having solid communication skills is vital. Whether in person or over email, you need to be confident and assertive in your recommendations while remaining an approachable member of the team. A great sustainability manager is also an excellent storyteller who can present their green objectives through a lens that will appeal to their different audiences.  

Flexibility

As we have seen, a sustainability manager will be juggling economic and ecological ambitions at every turn. To achieve their aims, they have to become adept at changing tack, whether it's the communication style they use or the sustainability strategies they employ. 

With so many stakeholders and moving parts involved, having a flexible approach is crucial. Being willing to switch up your methods when your current tactics aren't working or legislation throws you a curveball will stand you in good stead. 

Patience

Sustainability management is a long game. Changes don't happen overnight, especially in large corporations. On days where your suggestions seem to fall on deaf ears, it's crucial not to get disheartened. Staying focused on the task at hand and remaining patient is a key skill for successful sustainability managers. 

A pragmatic approach

Another essential skill for any sustainability manager to cultivate is the ability to prioritize. The role requires extensive big-picture thinking, but it takes a lot of small gains to reach your goals. To be a successful sustainability manager, you need to be able to pick your battles. 

Unfortunately, there will always be decision-makers you cannot sway and barriers you cannot surmount. Taking a strategic approach to your to-do list is the only way to ensure you don't get bogged down on fruitless tasks that can take your eyes off a bigger prize. 

Passion

All jobs have their bad days, but having a genuine passion for your work can help you through. Whether it's handling a particularly tricky stakeholder or managing the stress of such significant responsibilities, knowing that what you do has a real impact on climate change can make it all worthwhile. 

What is the average salary of a Sustainability Manager?

The average salary of a full-time sustainability manager ranges between $60k to $115k a year. As sustainability issues become increasingly important, large-scale companies might expand their efforts and hire several team members to tackle these challenges. Global organizations might even hire a director of sustainability responsible for the strategic planning and budgets of managers across several continents. 

Outside of the corporate world, sustainability managers are also hired by government agencies and within other sectors such as education or healthcare. Many sustainability managers go on to start private firms and work as consultants. With so many routes to take, there is scope to tailor your career to specific interests or financial ambitions. 

What career paths can you take to become a Sustainability Manager? 

Because the role of sustainability manager is comparatively new, there is no one path to securing your dream position. While most posts will ask candidates to hold a bachelor's degree, it's not entirely necessary if you have the right experience. So, what routes can you take to become a successful sustainability manager? 

Higher education

Most sustainability managers will have a bachelor's degree, typically in environmental science. However a quick LinkedIn search will reveal successful sustainability managers with a host of different academic backgrounds including; 

  • Environmental engineering
  • Forestry
  • Food Science and Nutrition
  • Geography 
  • Business Management
  • Biology 

As the field of sustainability management is still evolving there are a number of paths students can take but as a general rule a degree linked to a scientific discipline is favoured. 

Specific sustainability management degrees are emerging, but there is not an expectation for candidates to have completed these for the time being. However, it's worth noting that companies may ask for a master's degree or an MBA in environmental policy or economics for particularly competitive positions. 

As careers in sustainable development increase in popularity, employers may require specific qualifications and postgraduate degrees from future generations of candidates. If you are currently enrolled in college, it would be a good idea to pick up a few supplementary courses in sustainability management alongside your regular degree program. Securing an internship or shadowing sustainability professionals could also help you stand out from the crowd. 

Accreditation 

As is the case in many roles, it pays to be a member or gain certification from a professional association to further your career as a sustainability manager. The Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) is a fantastic starting place, but other societies might be relevant to your particular field or location. Some certifications or memberships to consider include; 

Memberships

  • CSR Board.
  • Public Sector Sustainability Association (PSSA).
  • International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP).
  • European Association of Sustainability Professionals (EASP).
  • Society for the Environment (SocEnv).

Certifications 

  • Associate Member of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (AIEMA) from IEMA. 
  • Health, Safety, and Environment for site operatives from the Construction Industry Training Board from CITB.
  • Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management from IEMA.
  • Advancing Net-Zero Carbon (Buildings) from the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC)

Previous work experience

The role of sustainability manager is still a relatively new concept, and specific academic qualifications are still in their early days. Extensive years of experience in logistics, communications or marketing, or project management could make you a strong candidate even without a relevant academic qualification. Large organizations or companies with a particularly challenging project may favor someone with real-world work experience over recent graduates. 

When applying for positions, let your previous accomplishments shine. In your resume, outline tangible examples of sustainability initiatives you have enacted and what they achieved for your last employer. Include hard facts and figures as well as any testimonials you have to demonstrate your analytical and interpersonal skills from the get-go. 

Are you passionate about combating climate change? If you would like to create a more sustainable business, check out more carbon-busting tips in our comprehensive guide to greener corporate travel.