The ISSP: Professional Development for the Sustainability Practitioner

The green networking space is getting crowded. Countless online resources are available where green-minded professionals can connect and interact. But you know that a profession has truly arrived when bona fide professional associations arise to support and promote it. Several niche organizations have sprung up to serve professionals in specific areas like CSR or supply chain. Marsha Willard, the Executive Director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), believes her organization goes beyond niche to address the entire profession:

While there are other organizations related to sustainability, they tend to be focused on geographic area, framework, philosophy or sector. None are truly professional societies dedicated to supporting the professional development of practitioners globally, across sectors and philosophies.

Growing Fast
ISSP is currently a project of the Zero Waste Alliance and was founded by the following people:
-Darcy Hitchcock, co-author of The Business Guide to Sustainability
-Larry Chalfan, executive director of the Zero Waste Alliance
-Marsha Willard, CEO of AXIS Performance Advisors
-Dorothy Atwood, expert in sustainability management systems
Located in Portland, Oregon (again just named America’s most sustainable city), the organization officially launched a year ago after a period of research and planning started in early 2006. Ms. Willard and her colleagues brought together about 50 founding members, sustainability professionals from around the world, to contribute the initial content for the site.
Membership is now at 300 and almost every continent is represented. ISSP is hoping to reach the 500 mark by the end of 2008 and 1000 members within 3 years.
ISSP provides an online meeting place where members can connect with those who share common interests, work in common industries, or are tackling common problems. Members can post content such as tools, policies, case studies or any other resource they have used in their jobs. Every participant who uses this repository of peer-reviewed materials can rate content indicating which items have been most worthwhile. Members also have access to a Wiki for collaborative projects, and Forums to discuss sustainability issues. All are welcome – professionals, career-changers, academics, students, consultants, vendors – based on ISSP’s belief that all have something to offer.
ISSP is planning its first face-to-face networking and conference event. This inaugural national organizational event will take place at the end of the first day of the SustainPro Conference, October 29-30 at the Stephens Convention Center at Chicago O’Hare.
Each month, ISSP offers one-hour webinars allowing members to keep their skills and knowledge current. Some webinars offer practical how-to tools and other focus on broad trends and developments in the field. Topics have included:
-Life cycle assessment
-Leading edge government practices from around the globe
-Mapping your impacts
-Product certifications: what they mean
-ESG (Environment, social, governance) criteria: how they are used by the investment community to screen organizations
This fall, ISSP will launch its first distance education workshop — Leadership Secrets of Kick-Ass Sustainability Professionals – taught as a four-week course by Bob Willard, author of the Sustainability Advantage. The course will prepare participants to integrate sustainability into the culture and systems of their organizations.
Professional Development
One of the key functions of a professional association is to develop and maintain a definition of the profession – that is, what are the fundamental skills, competencies, and activities that define this professional role. To this end, the ISSP is working on a competency study to answer these fundamental questions. According to Ms. Willard, “This field is so new. People are coming into it with such varied backgrounds. We need to make sure we are all talking about the same thing when we refer to ‚Äòsustainability professionals’.”
Of course, competencies will vary somewhat according to particular specialties. But a core set of competency guidelines should emerge that will be useful for people considering entry into the field and for employers evaluating candidates. They are also useful guides to ongoing development for professionals already in the field.
Members have also expressed an interest in accreditation, so ISSP is considering developing a certificate program leading to professional accreditation.
Career Advancement
The ISSP web site offers a career section with job postings, job descriptions, salary studies, and other useful professional development resources. Discounted career coaching services are also available by professionals who combine knowledge of sustainability and career development.
ISSP offers varying membership dues levels for professionals and students. Group discounts are available for organizations with multiple members joining at the same time. The sustainability profession has definitely arrived, and ISSP wants to be your home for professional development.
Jim Witkin is a writer and consultant focusing on ICT4D and social enterprise. He is also pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management. You can reach him at jameswitkin at yahoo dot com

Jim Witkin is a writer and researcher based in Silicon Valley focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers on topics that include: sustainable business practices, clean tech, the environment and next generation transportation technologies. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. Contact him at

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