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Surveys Indicate CSR As a Profession is Still in an Early Stage

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Investment & Markets

Professionals interested in the pursuit of a career focused on sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR) will either feel motivated or cautious based on the findings of two reports released this past week. One report by a sustainability and strategy consulting firm revealed data about the salaries that such consultants make. Another, by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), describes what it sees as the current state of the CSR profession.

The lack of a consistent definition of the corporate responsibility profession translates into the lack of dollars at first glance. But therein lies opportunity for those with a strong entrepreneurial streak. Professionals within this space still have a future--albeit a wild one.

Jennifer Woofter of Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC), a network of over 450 sustainability professionals, headlined a report on the salaries such professionals can make. The upshot is that folks interested in this field need to take the long view. Woofter, SCC’s founder, said in her video that revenues for new sustainability consultants with little experience are meager, often less than $10,000 a year. In other words, do not quit your day job or say good-bye to your current freelancing gigs.

But as the years of experience increase, and especially if professionals develop a targeted niche, the salaries become more respectable and even lucrative. Similar to other functions, larger and more prestigious firms lead to higher salaries. SSC’s survey shows that about 40 percent of its survey’s respondents make between $50,000 to $100,000 a year; about one-fourth generate over $100K. Benefits were not included in the figures.

That broad range of figures is reflected in the BCLC report, a joint effort between the U.S. Chamber, IBM and the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association. Its survey of CSR practitioners and academics reveals a profession still in flux. The lack of a defined curriculum and demand for CSR professionals is in part because of the classic “chicken and the egg” dilemma. Schools will not invest in a CSR program if they do not see a demand and businesses are still looking for clarity as to what CSR exactly means.

Some of the BCLC’s major findings include:

  • CSR is still a nascent profession. That is probably obvious.

  • There is still no clear deliberate career path. Hardly a surprise, as CSR professionals often come from all walks of life, from marketing to strategy to environmental, health and safety (EHS).

  • There are no clear leaders because a lack of educational capacity exists. Considering that the reality of working within a business is different from what we learn in the halls of academia, that may not be a problem.

  • Most CSR professionals should take risks. The report needles CSR practitioners for not confronting their employers on difficult issues. That is more the fault with top management than the CSR practitioners themselves. Many CSR managers will say that they approach the c-level suite all the time with ideas but often do not win buy-in on their plans.

Some of the BCLC’s findings are dubious, such as the claim that some CSR leaders are “disturbingly apathetic” and “ambivalent” about their profession, backed up by one quote. That is probably true of just about any field, including engineering, sales, and human resources. The Chamber’s ambivalence towards CSR is reflective of some of the organization’s statements in recent years, from likening President Obama to Muammar Qaddafi and its consistent “jobs vs. the environment” rhetoric.

We think it would be best to hear from CSR practitioners themselves about what they think of their profession now and share their thoughts about its future. Please enter your comments below!

Leon Kaye, based in California and who has recently returned from the Middle East, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Leon Kaye.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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