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Sustainability Jobs 101: Landing a Creative Career

By Shannon Houde

When starting a job hunt or considering a career change in the sustainability field, it can be helpful to think about how you can put your existing skills to work in this new context.

This past September, Net Impact London and I hosted a fascinating café style workshop with three diverse sustainability professionals who shared insights with a group of career changers. Net Impact is known globally for its inspiring career events geared towards prospective sustainability and corporate responsibility professionals.

Our talk was centered around four key questions, each of which I’ll be addressing in a separate blog post over the coming months:

  • What is a sustainability professional?

  • What are the core skills and attitudes of a sustainability practitioner?

  • How do you identify opportunities in sustainability and effectively access them?

  • How do you define success in the short and long term?

In the meantime, though, I’m going to introduce you to my fellow three panelists, each of whom has taken a very different route to their sustainability career. If you’re looking for inspiration, take a minute to read their stories – then share your own in the comments section.

Ben Richards – Head of Sustainability at Radley Yelder

Ben works in communications to help clients tell their sustainability story in a way that is clear and engaging for different audiences. Originally taken in on maternity cover, he has now been Head of Sustainability at Radley Yelder for over five years and heads up a team of six consultants. Ben’s route into sustainability was an unconventional one: he won a Ben & Jerry’s competition, which he says gave him credibility. He also volunteered at Friends of the Earth and WWF.

Ben’s Top Tips for getting a sustainability job:

“Find an organization that fits both you and your skillset, somewhere you’ll feel you belong. There’s no mold for a sustainability professional – they come in all shapes and sizes – so focus on what you’re good at and what you care about. Try everything to get in; competitions worked for me, and I think unconventional routes are good. They’re the ones that fewer people will take, so think outside the box.

Once you’re in the job, be patient. Sustainability is a long game. Empathy is another essential tool. We must meet people where they are. As a consultant, it’s a skill I use every day. Lastly, remember, you don’t need a ‘sustainability’ job title to be a sustainability practitioner – bring sustainability to you, wherever you are.”

Victoria Moorhouse – Senior Manager (Programmes and Operations) at the Sustainable Restaurant Association

Victoria spent ten years in management consulting, most recently in change management for Deloitte. She took a two and a half year temporary position with the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOCOG) to develop the largest peacetime catering operation in the world – a role that offered her valuable sustainable sourcing and supply chain experience. “We worked closely with the sustainability team because we were trying to deliver the most sustainable catering and waste operation in the world, as well as the largest,” she says. This was her first step into the sustainability arena.

Next, Victoria volunteered for Raleigh International in Central America as a project manager – something she says gave her the perspective and focus to align her career with her values. “I came back with fresh motivation and energy, did loads of research, called lots of people – including Shannon – and also got in touch with the Sustainable Restaurant Association.”  The networking and coaching paid off. They offered her a job leading the operations team – she started last week. Career changes and dream jobs are possible!

Gwyn Jones – Director at Association of Sustainability Practitioners (ASP), founder of Global Association of Corporate Sustainability Officers (GACSO)

Gwyn racked up two million air miles running management consultancies in Europe and Asia. After about 30 years, he realized, “This is a waste of time. Everything I was doing was destroying everything that I held dear and I was creating nothing that I felt was of value. I had loads of money, but it really made me sit back and think, ‘What the hell am I doing?"'

He walked out of that career with no idea what he was going to, but felt very strongly that he wouldn’t want to go back. For the past ten years, Gwyn has been exploring other things, eventually finding that turning his back on his old way of working was not the best path forward. “Gradually I realized that I could integrate the two – you can have a meaningful career and still make money.”

Gwyn worked his way into a the Director position at the Association of Sustainability Practitioners, an organization that aims to connect, challenge and support its members to answer the question, “How do we create a world in which 10 billion people can live equitably, in peace, on one planet.”

Gwyn’s thoughts on sustainability careers:

“Nobody really understands what sustainability is, so there are lots of routes to it. I used to illustrate this with what I called the ‘Career Map to Sustainability’ – it was a map of the London Underground: loads of entry points, loads of lines going around the place, and loads of points you can come out at. There’s no real structure to it. That’s the exciting part, but it’s also the difficulty.”

Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, coming next month. In the meantime, contact me today for a free 15 minute career coaching session to find out how I can help you target a creative career.

[Image credit: sahandsl, deviantArt ]



Shannon Houde is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the environmental, sustainability and corporate responsibility fields.

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