Making a Sustainable Transition to the Sustainability Industry 

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If you ask 20 people for a definition of sustainability, you’ll get 20 different responses.

People see it as a narrow field but in reality it’s actually very broad. Sustainability is about incorporating environmental, social and economic perspectives within your decision making. It’s about understanding the interconnections between these three elements and finding a balance so we can live within the limits our environment provides.

Building a strong sustainability team is no longer optional for organisations. Not only is it beneficial to the environment and community, it also has a long-term impact on productivity, profitability and wellbeing.

Historically, many companies viewed sustainability as the “right thing to do” but at a cost to the business. Now, there is growing momentum and a recognition of the need to focus on this area. Employees want to work for companies that are good corporate citizens, people want to buy from ethical businesses and investors are more aware of the environmental credentials of those they lend to. This trend will only contionue to grow.

As the industry expands, we are seeing increasing demand for experienced candidates. People who want a career in sustainability are typically driven by purpose and a desire to make an impact. It is a sector that is really collaborative and people enjoy working in it because you can see the results and benefits of your work.

With organisations paying more attention to their social and environmental credentials, there is a wide range of opportunities for those looking to transition to the sustainability sector.

What the Industry is Looking For in Candidates

From Chief Sustainability Officers and Heads of Sustainability to Sustainability Advisors and Consultants, there are a variety of roles available at different levels of seniority.

But making a career change to sustainability isn’t easy. At Talent Nation, we see a lot of people who want to transition into this space. We are often asked which courses someone can take to make the transition. While this is an area that is evolving and continual learning can certainly be beneficial in the sector, the reality is there is no substitute for experience.

There is a risk element for companies – they can’t afford to get these hiring decisions wrong. So candidates need to demonstrate they have the skills and experience to effectively perform the role and not leave the organisation exposed.

Due to the reporting requirements of sustainability roles, candidates from audit and assurance backgrounds can be well-placed to transition. Project management skills are key, including stakeholder engagement and management. A sustainability role often also requires experience working efficiently with a small budget and influencing people who may not have sustainability as part of their KPIs.

You need to be a strong communicator because a change management plan requires clear and consistent communication. Knowing how to record, analyse and interpret data is also increasingly important.

Senior staff may find opportunities to make a transition into a sustainability role within their existing organisation. A Head of Corporate Affairs or Head of Strategy, for example, can often have the right skills and knowledge for a Head of Sustainability role. They know the organisation and understand corporate strategy and can then hire in additional subject matter expertise around the climate, human rights or ethical sourcing, that makes them the right fit.

While it can be difficult, it is sometimes possible to make a transition to a sustainability role from a completely different industry. For example, moving from a traditional marketing or communications role into a sustainability-focused marketing or communications role. Or someone with strong data and analytics skills could move from finance into a sustainability role where those skills are highly-valued, evolving rapidly, and hard to find.

Understand Your Passion and Start With Small Steps

Before starting your journey to transition to the sustainability industry, it’s important to understand if this is the right sector for you.

It is a highly rewarding space, but not without its challenges. To break into the industry, like many transitional roles, you may have to compromise on salary in the short-term. You need to be passionate to work in sustainability and it is worth taking the time to clearly define your motivation for wanting to make a transition. You might be passionate about equality, human rights, climate, rewilding or biodiversity. Whatever it is, understand your passion and why it is driving you to a career in sustainability.

Transitioning into the industry can be a long-term game so think about a plan and what incremental steps you can take. If you are still relatively early in your career, see what opportunities there are in your current organisation to take on elements of sustainability to broaden your role. Every business should have some sort of sustainability plan so ask how you can get involved. It will give you an idea of the sector and be valuable experience for your resume. If you are driven by purpose, this is also a great way to make an impact. You don’t necessarily need to change careers or have the word “sustainability” in your job title to make a positive difference.

We’re passionate about growing the sustainability sector and helping to facilitate the movement of talented people from other industries. But we also know quick transitions are difficult and we truly care about matching the right candidates with the right roles.

A career in sustainability can take time and patience and those who are successful are the ones who stick with it. We are here to support people in properly assessing the career change they want to make and plan the best steps to help them on that path.

Purpose-driven People for Purpose-driven roles

Talent Nation is the expert in sustainability recruitment in Australia.

If you’re a purpose-driven professional looking to make an impact and transition into a role in the sustainability industry, give us a call today.

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