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6 Sustainability Careers That Haven’t Occurred to You Yet


By Katie Kross

When it comes to sustainability careers, one of the things that makes job-searching so tough is that the field is so incredibly diverse. If you’re a job-seeker hoping to make an impact, chances are you’re already looking at roles in corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability departments at major companies. You may also think of working as a program manager or officer at a nonprofit or social entrepreneurship organization, or maybe a social impact or sustainability consulting firm.

But have you considered some of the other ways to make an impact? Here are six impact-oriented careers that you might not have considered yet.

1. Mission-driven brand manager

Interested in marketing? There are a lot of opportunities to put a traditional marketing skillset to work at companies that are making the world a better place with their organic, fair-trade, energy-saving or upcycled products. Maybe you’d like to help a company like Divine Chocolate sell fair-trade chocolate or Warby Parker sell (and give away) more glasses.

Many mission-driven companies are too small to have dedicated sustainability roles, but large enough to have marketing teams. To target these companies, make a list of the companies that interest you (a quick stroll through the aisles of Whole Foods or one of the national Green Festivals can help spark ideas) and set up job search agents on their websites. The B Corp job board also posts some of these roles.

2. University sustainability director

You may have thought about managing the footprint of a company, but how about that of a college or university? Many universities are bigger than small companies (one example: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has 29,000 students, 12,000 employees and annual operating costs of more than $2.6 billion) — and they face many of the same sustainability challenges as corporations. Besides managing efforts to make campus operations greener, university sustainability directors also often help create curricular and extracurricular education experiences for students.

If this sounds appealing, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has a weekly email bulletin that is a great place to look for campus sustainability job openings.

3. ESG portfolio analyst

Impact investing is a hot topic these days, but less attention is paid to sustainable investment — often called ESG (for environmental-social-governance investing) or SRI (for socially responsible investing). Jobs might include analyzing equities for ESG factors, managing a portfolio of assets, or managing shareholder advocacy campaigns related to environmental and social issues.

The USSIF and Eurosif job boards are good places to look for these roles. GIIN’s Job Board posts impact investing opportunities as well as ESG roles.

4. CSR account executive for a creative agency

For corporate sustainability to be meaningful, of course, it needs to be more than just public relations (PR). But PR and communications are still important pieces of the equation — and at some creative firms, the work can include managing stakeholders, designing products/campaigns to be more sustainable, branding social enterprises, or launching social marketing campaigns that change public behavior.

If you like creative storytelling and account management, you might want to check out the social impact work at firms like Edelman, Ketchum, Cone, IDEO, Fenton and others.

5. Post-graduate intern at an environmental NGO

When you hear the word internship, you likely think about summer or part-time roles you’d hold while still a student. Many job-seekers don’t realize that some nonprofit organizations often hire interns (or sometimes, 'fellows') for full-time, paid positions lasting 12 months or more. This type of engagement is often used as a low-risk way for nonprofits to bring someone on to see if they’re a fit for a more permanent position with the organization — so it can translate into continued long-term employment.

If you’re interested in NGO work, don’t assume 'intern' is synonymous with 'student.' These roles might be worth another look.

6. Foundation program officer

Foundation jobs are competitive, but if you have deep expertise in a particular subject area (for instance, you’re well-versed in global public health, water or climate change issues), or if you’ve worked for several years in a leadership role in the nonprofit sector, you may be a good fit for a role as a foundation program officer.

Foundations also often have roles in finance and communications, so you might also consider them if you have one of these functional skill-sets to tout. The Council on Foundations’ job board and Philanthropy News Digest job board are good places to start looking.

There is no one single career path in the sustainability space. The takeaway?  If you want to change the world for the better, don’t be afraid to look outside the box.

Image credit: Pixabay

Katie Kross is Managing Director of the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and the author of the book Profession and Purpose. Follow her on Twitter for job openings and career advice: @Katie_Kross.

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