Career Plans in Corporate Sustainability

Posted on June 15, 2014

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This is about what I plan to and I want to do career wise, in the field of Corporate Sustainability. I am writing this because right now, I am in the middle of applications to continue my career following my MBA, and while know what I want to do, I need to present it succinctly and with clarity to others so there is no confusion. While in your heart your feelings are clear, putting it into words can be difficult. So writing it out like this now helps me communicate clearly when I put it on a cover letter. I hate cover letters.

WHY

First, let’s tackle the ‘Why’. I want to be in corporate sustainability as I have a deep passion to make sustainable change and there is not nearly enough change from within happening at corporations, which collectively are the biggest polluters (i.e. industry as a whole) and create the means by which governments and ordinary people pollute too. If their products are more sustainable, if they don’t interfere with renewable energy, sustainable transport initiatives and legislation in the public sphere with billions of lobbying dollars, these will be enacted swiftly and people will find it much easier to reduce their carbon footprint dramatically without drastic lifestyle change. Many people, like my friend Kirk, who worked with me in sustainability since third year of engineering school already focuses on building public pressure to change governments. So I see corporate sustainability as the best place where I can make an impact. This is because I want to leave a positive mark on this planet instead of merely existing.

WHAT I USED TO DO

After finishing up with my 3 year stint as a regular industrial/ building services consulting engineer, I joined Energy NZ because I wanted Sustainability to be my career as opposed to a hobby (which I was increasingly having less time for). Here I was an energy consultant. I went to clients (from very diverse industry sectors) and carried out energy audits, and water audits, looking at everything from the technical processes, infrastructure, equipment and technologies they had in place in the factory floors, shop floors, warehouses and their offices, to studying their behaviors (do people turn lights off when they leave a room). This could involve something low tech, like counting lights in a room or standing in a shower with bucket and stopwatch to measure shower flow rates. Then we analyzed this data , also looking at their energy/ water bills for usage patterns a and costs and we modelled their systems to find opportunities to save energy and water, reduce carbon footprint, and save money through a combination of behavior change, organizational policy change, process improvement and technology improvement (capex). We also looked at the costs involved. We reported on all opportunities and their costs and recommended the ones that fit the client’s payback window.

 

WHAT I WANT TO DO NOW

I still want to do what I did (mentioned above) plus some others. Energy and water use (sustainable utility use) tackles the sustainability of operations that occur within the value chain link of a product or a service, which happens to be our client. While it helps save them money and tries to ensure that their products/service (outputs) are generated via modifying the raw inputs as sustainably and efficiently as possible, it doesn’t look at the whole life sustainability of the product/service itself. You can produce the most unsustainable, non-recyclable landfill destined, animal deathtrap of a product in the most sustainable and efficient way. But what is the point? What boutique sustainability consultants (at least the good ones) do and what I want to do either as a consultant or within an organization is to:

  • Help make a corporation’s products and services more sustainable by looking at their internal operations but also the sustainability of the raw materials coming in and the total life sustainability of the final product /service
  • Ensure that all three pillars of sustainability (people, planet and profit) are nurtured to the maximum with equal balance within the organization, and down its supply chain: which means no sweetshops, always prefer the most environmentally friendly (not the cheapest) supplier as long as they fit cost limits, and there are processes in places within the organization and with suppliers where possible to continuously improve process efficiency and cut resource waste
  • Look at behavior change in a more holistic manner, not just whether the employees turn off lights when they leave the room, but also whether they have the facilities to get to work in more sustainable ways
  • Work with a product or service to make it more reusable, recyclable and sellable, which may include coming up with a whole new definition of what ‘selling’ is (or maybe leasing)
  • See how purchasing or tender terms can be used to encourage supply chain sustainability and also how partnerships can be built to encourage industry wide change to give the client a competitive advantage through sustainability leadership

See why I did my MBA in supply chain management now? An understanding of how supply chains operate is vital to move from being an energy auditor looking at the client’s process to a more holistic product/ service sustainability focus or a companywide sustainability focus. Also being a change management expert would help and while I do not have one of those fancy change manager certifications, I have enough experience from various things I’ve done throughout my volunteer and professional work, which involved winning people over to try new things, educating people and getting them to take ownership of change.

LONG TERM PLANS

I want to have my own consultancy that on one side is a design house that looks at a client’s product / service across its whole life and see how it can be made more sustainable in a total life context. On another side it would be an advisory that helps make a client’s business processes and organizational culture more sustainable, their carbon foot print smaller, and their greenhouse gas inventory accurately known, and understood with steps in place to mitigate it. Finally the third side would be a management consultancy that offers affordable and accessible business development and capacity building support to social enterprises and cooperatives in the developing world that are based on sustainable technologies, products or practices.

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