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ISSP Certification Helping to Improve Sustainability for All


By Maureen Hart

On Jan. 26, TriplePundit ran an opinion piece by Bard MBA student Alistair Hall on the topic of the sustainability professional certification provided by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), alleging the process furthers ethnic and socioeconomic exclusion in the sustainability movement. We at ISSP are writing to correct what we feel are inaccuracies in that article.

Mr. Hall addresses important concerns about the representation of historically underprivileged communities in the sustainability movement. In fact, those communities are among the most heavily impacted by the problems that sustainability professionals seek to address. ISSP is doing its part to rectify the continuing socioeconomic and racial stratification in academia and the professional world by ensuring that those working in the sustainability field are highly trained and have the skills needed to tackle environmental, social and economic injustice.

ISSP Sustainability Professional Certification is based on more than five years of collaborative research with hundreds of established sustainability professionals and organizations from around the globe. This effort includes a 2010 Core Competency study, a 2013 Job Task Analysis, and our 2015 survey of those hiring sustainability professionals on the critical knowledge, skills and abilities required by businesses and others in need of sustainability assistance. ISSP has also reviewed work done by others on the critical competencies for sustainability professionals (Weik et al, 2011 and the ongoing work at NCSE), and we’ve found close alignment with what our own research has identified. The certification process continues to evolve with input from sustainability professionals around the world to ensure a comprehensive picture of what it takes for practitioners to bring real value to organizations without degrading the reputation of the field as a whole.

Training and qualifications are needed to ensure that sustainability efforts are truly moving the needle on the problems we are facing, and are not just a form of greenwashing. In addition, a detailed understanding of what expertise sustainability professionals should and should not be expected to provide, and what qualifications they should have, needs to be standardized as much as possible to assist organizations seeking their support.

Since ISSP formed in 2007, the field of sustainability has attracted thousands of people from a variety of backgrounds who are doing work in this field and claim the title “sustainability professional." While the field has been enriched and informed by this diversity of expertise, it has also created inconsistency in practice and definition, which in turn has created a serious problem in the understanding of the magnitude of the problems we face and what is needed to make progress. If the billions of tons of carbon emissions ‘saved’ reported in all the corporate sustainability reports published in the last decade had been sufficient, COP21 would have been a meeting about how we have already solved the climate change problem.

We believe that, in order for the field and its professionals to be taken seriously and be granted due credibility and in order to truly make progress, there needs to be some definition and standardization of the competencies employers and seekers of consultants can come to expect.

Yes, the world needs more sustainability managers. Indeed everyone needs to be proficient in sustainability concepts, skills and abilities so that sustainability becomes standard practice in every organization and community around the world. In fact, this is the reason for ISSP’s two levels of certification:

  • The Sustainability Associate (ISSP-SA) level is for anyone in any field to show that they understand the core sustainability concepts that everyone should know and incorporate into their day-to-day activities.

  • The Certified Sustainability Professional (ISSP-CSP) is for individuals in roles responsible for implementing sustainability throughout organizations.
A key component of creating a more sustainable world is the pursuit of equality, including economic, environmental and social justice for all. We realize that diversity is key to making this happen. As an international organization, ISSP recognizes the importance of inclusiveness. In particular, we recognize sustainability practitioners in lower-income countries are just as necessary to achieving long-term global sustainability as professionals in the developed countries. The ISSP certification process does not dictate where a practitioner gains the required knowledge, skills and abilities. While ISSP membership is not a requirement for certification, ISSP provides significant membership discounts to professionals from lower-income countries.

ISSP is not seeking to limit who can be engaged in sustainability work. Rather we are trying to ensure that those who are engaged have sufficient knowledge, skills and abilities to really make the efforts count. The sustainability field is still in its beginning stages, but we look forward to helping expand the number of organizations and individuals improving sustainability practices everywhere. There is no time to waste.

Maureen Hart is executive director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, which works to make sustainability standard practice through empowering professionals to advance sustainability in organizations and communities around the globe.

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