Careers in sustainability

 

In brief

Sustainability is less a sector and more a highly diverse area that cuts across many industries – broadly, a 'job in sustainability' means performing a role that combines environmental, social and economic factors, and has a strong focus on environmental or social justice issues.

You might be interested in working in sustainability because of…

  1. a value you hold (for example, an accountant may really care about the social and environmental regeneration of their local area and choose to work for an organisation romoting this),

  2. a knowledge base you have (for example, you might hold a degree in a sustainability-related subject or have previous relevant work experience),

  3. the career opportunities this growing sector presents, or

  4. a combination of the above.

Whatever your reasons for considering a career in sustainability, the main thing to remember is that 'sustainability jobs' covers a broad range of roles. While it used to be that sustainability roles primarily sat within the energy and environment sector, the growth of sustainability as a value for companies worldwide means you can find opportunities across all the areas we explore on LSE Careers' employment sector webpages – from private companies to public bodies, education and research institutions and charities.

These opportunities can vary from organisation to organisation; for example, an administrator working for a social justice charity could be considered a 'job in sustainability', just as much as a sustainability manager for a footwear production company can.

Although generalist sustainability roles do exist (for example, sustainability officers or sustainability consultants), most sustainability-related jobs will have a focus, typically dictated by the organisation's activities or mission.

Check out the UN Sustainable Development Goals for a helpful framework of the broad range of sustainability issues companies might choose to prioritise.If you're interested in sustainability, reflect on the issues you really want to work on and the role you wish to play in these, as this can help you decide which opportunities to apply for or identify the experience you need to get.

Sustainability is interdisciplinary and employs graduates from a range of backgrounds.Whilst structured graduate and internship programmes are currently rare, opportunities are becoming more common, so watch this space!

Where can you work?

  • Sustainability consultancies – there are a growing number of boutique sustainability consultancies, as well as many larger consultancies.See the Financial Times list of leading sustainability management consultancies and also our Careers in consultancy webpage.
  • Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – large, multinational organisations in sectors such as banking and fast-moving consumer goods have teams which monitor and report on sustainability targets, as well as coordinate and implement sustainability initiatives.
  • Public sector – roles can be found in regulatory bodies, research institutes, local authorities, think tanks, charities, NGOs and international organisations.
  • Sustainable finance jobs – within wealth and asset management, there are an increasing number of investment roles including ESG, responsible investment and impact investing.
  • B Corporations – B Corps are an example of how the private sector is changing to become more sustainable.These are 'businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose'.B Corps can be found in virtually every sector.
  • Please refer to our energy and environment webpage for information on working in renewable energy, environmental consultancies, environmental policy and regulation, and conservation.

What's changing in the sector?

The roles and companies offering jobs in sustainability are varied, and evolving in response to changes in political, business and social environments.

Sustainability is rapidly becoming more important to businesses and organisations – many are responding to extremely concerning scientific reports, changes in regulations, mounting stakeholder pressure (e.g.clients and consumers, investors, employees) and other business risks (think of all the supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 or the Suez Canal blockage).

The number of people working in sustainability is increasing as existing businesses employ people specifically to focus on sustainability and identify necessary changes to minimise sustainability risks and harness any opportunities.Further, a growing number of more traditional roles are now taking responsibility for monitoring, reporting and managing factors within the sustainability agenda as part of their regular duties.Don't be surprised to see sustainability-related tasks appearing in more job descriptions in the near future.

Of these growing opportunities, the greatest growth is predicted in areas including climate change, biodiversity (nature-based solutions), circular economy, emissions management and corporate sustainability, as more companies set ambitious net zero carbon goals.

Useful websites

CareerHub – showcases jobs, events and networking opportunities for LSE students

Sustainability jobs boards

ACRE – market-leading sustainability and ESG recruitment agency

Charity Job – a large UK jobs board for non-profit, social enterprise, community interest companies (CICs) and voluntary jobs

Countryside Job Service – a jobs board for environmental professionals

Guardian Jobs Sustainability – a jobs board for sustainability roles

Green Jobs – links to a wide range of job sites including opportunities in renewables, energy and environment

Third Sector Jobs – a specialist jobs board for charity, non-profit and voluntary sectors

Sustainability resources

ACRE's How to Start a Career in Sustainability – includes an A to Z of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability job titles

EAUC - Scotland Sustainability Careers Guide – provides a good overview of the variety of opportunities available

EDIE – sustainability professionals' network and news board

Ethical Corporationmagazine – a sustainable business news board and magazine by Reuters

Sustainability magazine – a sustainable business news board and magazine

Useful Information

Routes in

Introduction

While some larger organisations, such as consultancies or multinationals, offer graduate schemes, many smaller, more specialised organisations will advertise on specific websites or rely on interested applicants making a speculative application. This means that building your network and connecting with relevant alumni and others in the field, for example through LinkedIn, can be an important way to find out about possible openings.

If you're looking to gain experience

Large consultancies, such as PwC, have well established schemes including insight days, spring weeks, internship schemes and graduate programmes.

In a competitive space, relevant experience is vital to demonstrate your commitment to the environmental sector. Gain experience through volunteering, organise work shadowing and make speculative applications. Could you choose an undergraduate or master's level dissertation with a relevant focus? Many applicants also have a relevant master's degree.

If you're early in your career

Many energy companies have graduate schemes that don't require prior knowledge or experience. However, for entry level roles with an environmental focus you would usually be expected to have relevant experience.

Arrange to speak to current practitioners about what they do - this offers a great opportunity to find out more and to build your network. There may be opportunities for volunteering or part-time research.

If you have more experience

Specialist recruitment agencies can be useful for graduates with several years of relevant experience. For example:

ACRE - includes CSR, environment, energy and responsible investment.

Allen & York - includes international development, energy, environment and CSR.

If you're changing career

If you choose a master's degree to support your move into the sustainability sector, you should also look to gain some practical experience in any areas you are interested in. Make the most of the LSE alumni network and relevant LinkedIn groups, talk to people and see how you can leverage your dissertation to undertake relevant project work.

Some schemes exist for career changers looking to work in sustainability. For instance:

On Purpose - A year-long programme for those looking to transform their career and work in purpose-led organisations.

Not sure what to do next?

LSE Careers is here to talk over your career plans with you, whether you're just starting to explore your options, or you have a clear idea of what you're aiming for. You can book a one-to-one appointment with a careers consultant on CareerHub to discuss your thoughts.

Job roles

Roles and organisations in the sustainability sector are diverse. We've outlined some of the major ones with links to where you can find more information. It's always a good idea to also try and talk to someone who is already doing the job you're interested in.

Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability

In the Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability sector, roles have different names depending on the organisation but may include titles such as: sustainability expert, environmental expert, ethical supply chain expert, and CR report expert.

  • Sustainability consultant – oversees the environmental performance of organisations and audits corporate activities to ensure compliance with environmental legislation. For more information, visit the Prospects Sustainability consultant job profile.
  • Sustainable impact investor – incorporates environmental, social and governance factors in financial services decision-making. The UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) is a useful source of further information.
  • Sustainability manager – responsible for organisational sustainability strategic plans, with a specialist knowledge of inventorying, classifying, measuring, monitoring and reporting on carbon emissions.
  • Sustainability officer – coordinates and implements sustainability initiatives in an organisation, often reporting to a sustainability manager.
  • Corporate responsibility executive – responsible for sustainability reporting, business and human rights projects, and corporate philanthropy.
  • Sustainability communications officer – leads employee engagement campaigns and communicates corporate responsibility and sustainability best practice across the organisation.

There are also many more positions which are created because of environmental or sustainability market forces. The employee is hired not for their Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability knowledge but for their supporting skill set. There are a huge range of commercial, business and support roles available including IT, HR, marketing, sales, procurement, software development, finance, data management and logistics.

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