Eco-Professionals: Next-Generation Norms

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By Christoph Auch, Professional Education Lead, Climate-KIC, for The Beam.

Sustainability in the workforce is increasingly important, and can prove a rewarding pathway for a wide range of professionals both today and long into the future.

Living low-impact, when it comes to the environment, is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life. And in many ways making a sustainable difference through your works, in professional life, is quickly following suit.

The trend tracks the evolution to the sustainable living behaviors we see today. Simple measures like separating recyclables from landfill, a change that occurred some years ago, is now accompanied by comprehensive low-carbon living  —  such as embracing e-mobility, installing rooftop solar, and choosing an environmentally-friendly diet.

In 2017, the workforce and the directions in which career trajectories track is the new frontline in the way in which individuals can make a positive impact on the environment. And it’s informing the business world, education, and the way in which millennials are making job choices.

Not long ago, sustainability played only a minor role in tertiary education. This has changed considerably over time, where today more than 1,000 higher education leaders have signed declarations and ratified commitments to foster sustainability in university education programs, according to research carried out at the University of Sienna and published in the Journal of Cleaner Production in 2014.

This trend has been echoed in the business community also, with a 2011 McKinsey study finding that businesses are embracing sustainability  — and for reasons far beyond reputation or so-called greenwashing. And the result of doing so, according to the McKinsey survey respondents, was that it made, “a positive contribution to their companies’ short- and long-term value.”

Participants from “The Journey” are visiting a farm at ZHAW University in Switzerland and learning about environmental benefits of aquaponics and hydroponics.

To deliver these sustainable initiatives right across a business, the values and execution must be embedded right throughout an organization, argues Ellen Weinreb from U.S.-based recruiters Weinreb Group. The flip-side of this is that by doing so, the workplace itself is more attractive to potential employees  —  delivering a significant win-win.

But this does not apply equally across all generations. The 2014 Deloitte Millennial Study demonstrated that more than half of the millennials surveyed indicated that they were interested in working for a company with ethical standards. And more importantly, they overwhelmingly found that business could make a profound impact on two of the leading issues facing society. “More than 80% of Millennials believe business has the potential to address… climate change/protecting the environment and resource scarcity,” the Deloitte authors write.

So, what then are the skills for delivering sustainable outcomes within a business? A recent study points to the importance of leadership skills. The U.K.’s Responsible Business Network, a charity supported by the Prince of Wales, found that a lack of leadership is a potential roadblock in businesses traveling down the pathway to sustainability.

Such barriers can occur for a number of reasons. Often when executing sustainability strategies, you may be confronted with multifaceted challenges, and be equipped with limited resources, which will require developed personal leadership skills to push through. The ability to assess contextual complexity, and how wider trends can influence an individual business strategy, is also important, as is stakeholder management and the capacity to collaborate across a supply chain, if eco-outcomes and products are to be the result.

This complexity may paint a daunting picture. However, the makers of change when achieving sustainability within a business can take many shapes. The US Department of Labor says that sustainability goals can be pursued by a range of professionals within an organization including “business managers, scientists, or engineers.” The findings were published in the 2012 report ‘Is a Sustainability Career on Your Green Horizon?’ The report finds that sustainability professionals can have previous experience as industrial managers, logistics managers, environmental scientists, civil engineers, or recycling coordinators. As such, there are few set pathways to a career in sustainability within business, but many, reflecting the need for a ‘whole of business approach’ to achieving sustainable goals.

As such, being an agent for sustainable change does not require a discrete set of qualifications or experience. However, acquiring a relevant professional toolkit, that can be called on when overcoming challenges, can be an asset. EIT Climate-KIC offers what it calls Spotlight and Catalyst courses across a range of sustainability themes, which can impart the knowledge, skills, and competencies specifically targeted at sustainable innovation and implementation.

Sustainability in business and the workforce is increasingly important, and while achieving it is certainly not simple, it can prove a challenging and rewarding pathway for a wide range of professionals both today and long into the future.

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The Beam Magazine is an independent climate solutions and climate action magazine. It tells about the most exciting solutions, makes a concrete contribution to eliminating climate injustices and preserving this planet for all of us in its diversity and beauty. Our cross-country team of editors works with a network of 150 local journalists in 50 countries talking to change makers and communities. THE BEAM is published in Berlin and distributed in nearly 1,000 publicly accessible locations, to companies, organizations and individuals in 40 countries across the world powered by FairPlanet.

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