The growth of corporate sustainability (CSR) over the past decades, along with its positioning as a central element of corporate strategy, has given birth to a new category of professionals.
Sustainability professionals are those within companies and organizations that spend most of their time designing and performing activities related to environmental, economic and social aspects of the company. Research from various sources* has shown that since the introduction of the term ‘sustainable development’ in the late 1980s, there has been a constant growth to the number of companies with full-time sustainability managers. Since 2000 the number of such companies has increased by 400%. More than 60% of sustainability professionals have been in the field for less than 10 years, showing that this is a rapidly growing area.
So what does the job entail, and what makes the role essential to a company?
The top task for sustainability and CR professionals is the development of the company’s sustainability strategy. The goal is to ensure the company’s positive impact on the three pillars of sustainability – People, Planet, and Profit – and to demonstrate to the company’s responsible attitude.
For example, the top three CSR topics in the eyes of shareholders and investors are currently environmental: the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the reduction of energy consumption, and publishing a sustainability report to know more.
This last requirement is another essential CSR professional’s task. Developing a robust sustainability reporting process, which allows companies to be transparent and communicate their sustainability performance and goals to all their stakeholders. Indeed, more than 50% of companies have a sustainability team or professional which is responsible for the preparation of the sustainability report.
The fact that these issues are of vital importance to stakeholders makes the role of sustainability professionals even more important, since they are the ones with the knowledge and skills to monitor, evaluate and report the organizations’ sustainability performance.
This is good for everybody involved. Companies that make sustainability an integral part of their core strategy, values and mission will also benefit by enhanced brand image and reputation, by increased employee and stakeholder engagement and by an increased positive impact on the environment (such as reduced CO2 emissions).
The role is well-paid, but sustainability professionals in the business/industry sector have the highest salaries (US $58000 on average in US). But it’s not only financially rewarding: more than 70% of sustainability professionals, in all sectors, report being satisfied or very satisfied)with their work.
Recent research has also shown that these professionals actively seek additional training. Indeed, in order for sustainability professionals to fulfill all the tasks of their jobs and satisfy the requirements of shareholders and investors for more information, they are in need of ongoing education. This shows that they must continually acquire specialized knowledge and be up-to-date with the best and latest practices in the field. This is also evident by the fact that more than 25% of companies claim that they need a new team with a new skill-set in order to prepare an effective sustainability report.
Overall, it seems that the sustainability and Corporate Responsibility profession has been booming the last few years, with thousands of companies hiring professionals with specialized education in the field. In North America alone, according to recent research by the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE), more than 1000 companies are expecting to produce sustainability reports in 2016.
To cater to this increased demand for professional skills, numerous companies have sprung up to train CS professionals. CSE and SustainAbility, for example were two of the first companies worldwide to provide certified educational programs and specialized advisory services for Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility. These companies recognized early the need to empower this profession and create a global new trend, contributing to the creation of thousands of new companies and CSR related jobs globally.
Now in its tenth year since its establishment, CSE is taking the next step by establishing its Sustainability Academy (http://sustainability-academy.org) as the leading source of information and affordable education on Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility issues globally. See their various upcoming courses here.
With this kind of demand from employers, it looks like the sustainability profession is the job of the future.
State of Green Business 2015 (https://www.greenbiz.com/report/state-green-business-report-2015)
The State of the Profession. Practitioner’s Survey 2015. The Environmentalist, IEMA (http://www.environmentalistonline.com/article/practitioners-survey-2015-highlights)
CSE Research on Sustainability Reporting in North America (http://www.cse-net.org/article/805/sustainability-reporting-trends-north-america)