Considering a career in sustainability? Start here.
October 5, 2021
By Tiffany Rozell*
When you were in high school, meeting with your career adviser or counselor, were you ever presented with a career in sustainability as an option? If yes, I would love the name of your adviser, to send them a thank-you card! If not, you are not alone, though the journey to finding your sustainability career can feel lonely at first. The field is relatively new, and even the term “sustainability” can mean different things to different people. The good news is that not only are there many careers focused on sustainability or supporting functions, but they are also competitive and well-paid roles.
Evaluate your options
There are the obvious science and engineering-based careers, but they are only a subset of the functions that need passionate and educated people driving change. There are technical roles requiring two years of education or less, such as that of a wind turbine technician which has a national pay scale of $38K to $68K. A quick search on Indeed shows 67,876 open positions related to sustainability. Moreover, organizations in every industry—including textiles, agriculture, automotive, finance, hospitality, energy, and entertainment—are bringing sustainability roles to the C-suite and embedding environmental-based roles throughout their structures.
Find your “why”
If you have a young adult in your life who is looking at making career decisions, ensure that they are aware of viable sustainability roles as an option. If you are like me and have already completed your higher education and started a career path wholly unrelated to sustainability, it is not too late to adjust course. When I became a parent and looked around at the world I was handing to my daughter as my legacy, I decided I was going to drive meaningful change to leave our Earth in better condition for the next generation. I chose the path of earning a graduate degree in natural resources from the Virginia Tech Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program, but this isn't necessary to help you play a role in professional sustainability.
Start with your own organization
You don’t have to quit your job or your field to make sustainability your focus. Spend some time in self-reflection so that you can articulate to yourself and to others what you are looking for. Then get the word out there; you may be surprised at how much support you can get to integrate sustainability into your professional agenda! Ask around your organization and understand what initiatives may already be underway. There may be an employee resource group you can join to help lead employee initiatives. Is there an existing environmental policy? If so, is it accessible to your colleagues? If these things do not exist, talk to your HR representative about leading an effort. Maybe you, like me, desire to spend a majority of your professional share-of-mind in sustainability strategy and execution. The industry for sustainability Managers, Directors, Specialists, and even Chiefs of Sustainability is on a steep incline. More organizations are posting job openings for these types of positions every week.
Use your network
The most valuable advice I can give you is to conduct informational interviews with professionals from a wide range of industries and career paths, to narrow your focus before jumping into a graduate degree. I conducted over 20 informational interviews with representatives from many industries, and no one declined my request. Use LinkedIn to grow your network. Feel free to start with my account; I am more than happy to bring passionate people into my network and connect you with others.
*The original version of this post was published on Tiffany’s blog on Let’s Cut Carbon. Published with author’s permission.
Tiffany Rozell is a project management professional with extensive experience coaching intercultural teams in designing, developing, and implementing IT solutions. She is a mother, a traveler, and the author of a website that serves as a guide to live a greener life: letscutcarbon.net. She holds a Master of Natural Resources degree from Virginia Tech.