Sustainable Practices Program | University of Colorado Boulder

Sustainability Careers: 4 Keys to Success

For years, many businesses perceived protecting the natural environment as a strategy that prevented achieving long-term profit growth. However, there’s evidence that the paradigm has shifted towards eco-friendly practices becoming a competitive advantage. Because of the potential for long-term growth and profitability, sustainability has become part of the model for a growing number of business organizations.

The shift has also influenced the labor market. Some businesses are looking to recruit accomplished leaders who provide leadership to handle the increasingly complex issues that arise from applying sustainable strategies. Because sustainability issues are themselves multifaceted and require interdisciplinary solutions, sustainability careers take on various forms and encompass several fields: waste management and reduction, renewable energy and energy efficiency, climate change, green building, and much, much more. Sustainability professionals are a diverse lot, with backgrounds ranging from business management to engineering and the pure sciences. However, all sustainability careers share a similar goal—that of ensuring the diversity and productivity of Earth’s biological systems for future generations.

Many corporations have begun to search for leaders to fill dedicated sustainability roles. To effectively address this challenge, any sustainable leader should possess the following 4 traits and skills:

Ability to Clearly Define Goals
Sustainability leaders should first define the goals they want the organization to reach in pursuit of implementing sustainable practices. They can decide the breadth of the organization’s sustainability program and balance cost-efficiency with environmental impact. Leaders who do not clearly define an initiative’s goals can expect a less-than-enthusiastic response, especially during a recession, when the survivability of a business is the first priority.

Diverse Employment Background
In many business-related careers, certain employers prefer job candidates who specialize in a field of expertise, such as accounting, finance, or marketing. However, leaders who pursue sustainability careers possess a diverse background that crosses occupation lines. Holding a variety of different positions and responsibilities can better prepare an individual looking to secure a leadership position in sustainability.

Flexibility and Leadership in the Face of Change
People and organizations can be very resistant to change, and the dramatic changes that often comprise a working sustainable practices initiative are no exception. Leaders can help workers adapt to changes in purchasing, receiving, budgeting, and energy consumption. The ability to lead change invariably depends on established leadership traits, such as patience and demonstrating a hands-on work ethic. By demonstrating commitment to sustainable practices and new initiatives, a strong leader can ease the churning waters of corporate change and slowly usher in new policies.

Ability to Present the Business Case for Sustainability
Many successful corporate leaders in sustainability have determined that green initiatives and a sizable bottom line aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, with innovations to data centers and architecture, just the opposite is often true. Still, many employees may not equate care for the environment with increased profits. A leader’s primary objective is to convince their organization that sustainability and profits go hand in hand. This means clearly understanding and defining the financial benefits, operational efficiencies, and competitive advantages of sustainable business practices.

If you’re looking to expand on your knowledge of sustainable practices and learn to lead your organization towards a green business model, explore the online Non-Credit Certificate in Sustainability Management programs offered by the University of Colorado Boulder. Students of the program learn to effectively present the business case for sustainability in either the public or private sector, depending on your specific interests.

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