Areas of Interest, Sustainability

If you are interested in combining your business skills with your passion for environmental and/or social change, there are lots of possibilities, including full-time roles or other ways to incorporate these themes into lots of other “traditional” business roles. Some key questions to ask yourself include:

  1. What kind of impact do you want to have? What issue do you want to work on?
  2. What kind of organization do you want to work for? (i.e. what sector – nonprofit, government, large company, small company, B corp)
  3. What industry do you want to focus on?
  4. What kind of work do you want to do in the organization? (i.e. role)
  5. Do you have a geographic focus?

Most large companies and many small ones have dedicated teams of professionals working on corporate sustainability—sometimes also called corporate citizenship or ESG (environmental, social, and governance) management. Corporate sustainability teams work on a wide range of issues—from setting environmental performance goals, to developing strategies to mitigate energy consumption, water usage, and waste, to sourcing more sustainable raw materials, implementing labor and human rights standards in their supply chain, investing in social and community impact programs, and communicating product sustainability to consumers, among other activities. Some companies have teams large enough to have specialists working on particular issues; others have small teams of generalists. It’s also worth noting that impactful opportunities for driving sustainability in a company often exist in core business functions, not exclusively within the sustainability department.

People holding sustainability management positions consistently rank strategy development, reporting, and working with peers as the three primary things they spend their time on. People in these positions will develop and spearhead sustainability initiatives, facilitate stakeholder buy-in through the company, and compile annual sustainability reports.

Example Job Titles

  • Manager of Sustainability & ESG, United Airlines
  • Environmental Program Manager, Intel
  • Sustainable Materials & Innovation Program Manager, REI\
  • Director, Sustainability Strategy, PepsiCo
  • Sustainability Impact Manager, Danone

Supply chain managers are responsible for helping design, implement, and improve the supply chain of the organization. Supply chain managers are typically very detail-oriented and adept at working in systems and with mathematical models.

Example Job Titles

  • Director, Secondary Packaging, AB InBev
  • Sr. Sustainability Manager, North American Supply Chain Innovation, Nike

The work that sustainability consultants do, like the work of consultants in general, varies greatly. A study found that firms were most likely to bring in consulting firms to assist with reducing carbon emissions, implementing already-established strategic initiatives, and to achieve specific goals that require specialized knowledge, such as the pursuit of LEED certification. Consultants need to be able to work independently, be knowledgeable about sustainability, and have to be able to work with a range of different clients and stakeholders.

Example Job Titles

  • Lead Associate, Renewables & Environment, Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Sustainability Consultant, ERM
  • Consultant, ESG Strategy, Korn Ferry

Facilities managers are responsible for overseeing the operations and maintenance of building and facility portfolios. Facilities managers need to be able weigh the financial cost vs. the benefit of various building investment decisions, need to have a firm grasp on how to audit a building across a range of metrics, and need to be willing and able to design and implement initiatives to improve these metrics.

There are a wide range of positions and categories of financial jobs that marry finance with sustainability and the titles and nomenclature surrounding these functions varies greatly as well. Professionals working in “green finance” can be doing a range of things from screening certain investments out of portfolios to finding creative ways to finance low income housing. A professional looking to enter this field needs a solid understanding of financial markets and investments as well the ability to understand sustainability and environmental impact reports.

Example Job Titles

  • VP, Global Sustainable Finance, Morgan Stanley
  • Investment Officer, Grantham Environmental Trust
  • Investment Director, Mission Related Investing, Cambridge Associates

What You Need to Know

Sustainability priorities vary greatly from industry to industry, driven in part by the issues the companies deem most material to their business and stakeholders. Managing supply chain labor standards might be a high priority for an apparel manufacturer, for instance, while an airline might list fuel usage (and associated emissions) as their number one sustainability issue. MBAs interested in working on sustainability would be well-suited to focus on one or two industries, and should understand the key industry drivers.

Some of the important topics you need to be familiar with include: