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Choosing to work in sustainability was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Maybe some of these will sound familiar? When I first started down this road, I was:

  • Frustrated with the idea of working for some random corporation while our planet burns
  • Horribly anxious about climate change, my future, and the future of Earth’s communities
  • Wanting to be a part of the solution rather than the problem
  • Constantly noticing ways that cities, businesses, and our government could be doing better
  • Seeking an impactful and mission-driven career that helps people and our planet

Then, just like you today, I made the life-changing decision to pursue a career in sustainability.

I spent months searching online for information, trying to figure out exactly what a career in sustainability could look like for me. Unfortunately, there was barely any information online, and nobody to look up to in the space. What I really wanted was to understand:

  • What the sustainability space looks like as a whole (not just corporate jobs!)
  • What types of roles are accessible and interesting to me
  • What education, skills, and experience I need to work in sustainability
  • Where to find compelling sustainability jobs
  • How to get a job in sustainability

Now, after figuring it all out for myself over the last five years, I have the perspective I need to create the exact thing I wish I had when I was starting out. Years of time, effort, research, experience, conversations, successes, failures… all combined into one *massive* guide so that you can save some time and get started on your path to impact today.

Whether you’re interested in sustainability consulting, urban sustainability, freelancing, startups, or even something with suits –– it’s my goal to include what you need to get started here in this ever-evolving guide to sustainability jobs and entrepreneurship.

Let’s get into it! 💖

 

🌟 Working in Sustainability FAQ’S

 

⭐ Are “sustainability jobs” greenwashing?

We can’t single-handedly save the world from the intersecting climate, pollution, and biodiversity crises, but we can make decisions about how we engage in the system we’re living in –– capitalism.

In recent years, “conscious consumerism” has made its way into the mainstream as a way of supposedly making a difference through “voting with your dollar” (i.e., consuming our way out of the climate crisis). In an attempt to cash in on the $150+ Billion market that sustainability has become, brands from every industry –– genuinely sustainable and not –– are doing everything they can to make it seem like they’re a good place to spend your money. When unsustainable brands do this, it’s called greenwashing.

Greenwashing is incredibly harmful to real progress, and so is the myth of “voting with your dollar” or any other attempt to make climate action seem like a consumer choice. This guide is about neither of those things. Instead of focusing on where you spend your money, this guide focuses on where you make your money.

In the present-day United States, we proportionately spend about one-third of our lives working. For most people, that adds up to over 25 full years of work. That’s a massive investment.

If you want to make a living making a positive difference, this guide is for you.

 

⭐ Do I need a degree to work in sustainability?

If you do a google search for information on working in sustainability, you’ll probably come across a whole bunch of corporate job listings and university webpages recommending their “green MBA” or “sustainability certificate” programs. It can really give the impression that sustainability is a regular industry with a corporate ladder to climb. It’s not.

You don’t need a degree to work in sustainability. Whether or not you’ll come across a degree requirement totally depends on what you’re trying to do. You also don’t need a specific degree to work in sustainability.

There are jobs that typically require degrees, and those that don’t. Both are included in this guide!

In the dozens of interviews I conducted to create this guide, I heard quite a few stories of people who got scrappy and did hands-on, entrepreneurial work to get to where they’re at today… even if they didn’t have a perfect resume or relevant degree.

You’ll find details about degree recommendations under each type of job in this guide, but here are a few non-degree sustainability jobs to look into if that’s what you’re seeking:

  • weatherization
  • urban farming
  • firefighting
  • forest and conservation
  • recycling
  • wind and solar technician
  • ecotourism guide
  • green construction
  • smart grid and green HVAC
  • content creating
  • hopefully soon, the Civilian Climate Corps

 

⭐ What if I’m already working in a different career path?

Wherever you’re at in your career journey, there’s space for you in sustainability.  And no, you don’t have to go back to school.

The way I see it, you really have two options ahead of you: create a sustainability role where you’re currently at, or choose a different path.

Since I graduated from college and went directly into freelancing and entrepreneurship, I got in touch with Sharmila Singh on LinkedIn to help me answer this question for you. Sharmila was the Director of Career Services at Presidio Graduate School for several years before transitioning to sustainability consulting and career coaching with her business New Lens Consulting.

“I’ve seen people transition to sustainability from all kinds of fields.. engineering, marketing, and even oil and gas. We need people with industry experience from all areas. When you pivot to sustainability, it’s not like you leave behind everything else you’ve already done. These skill sets are needed in sustainability too: storytelling, sales, engineering; they all come into play when you’re advocating for change. Wherever you’re at now, there’s a place for you in sustainability. Your focus will need to be articulating the core skills you have to bring to the table, and coupling them with your knowledge in ESG.

 

If you’re having trouble moving into sustainability with a relevant degree, likely you’re not coupling your technical knowledge with the soft skills that are needed in the role. If you’re moving into sustainability consulting, for example, you’re likely front facing clients. You might be astute at calculating GHG emissions, but if you don’t know how to communicate with clients, you won’t be very successful.”

 

–– Sharmila Singh, Founder of New Lens Consulting, Sustainability Consultant, and Career Coach

 

⭐  What does the sustainability space look like as a whole?

After a few years of working in sustainability, this is my take on the overall space. Please keep in mind that this graphic is a non-exhaustive *work in progress* and will be updated many times going forward… just like the rest of this guide!

an overview of the types of sustainability jobs there are in the sustainability space, and how they interact with the categories "government and policy", "social enterprise and business", and "research and solutions"

 

⭐ Do you have any general advice for how to get a job in sustainability?

Whether you decide to follow a path or create a career for yourself that’s never been done before, here are some general tips for getting your foot in the door with sustainability:

  • Get to know other people who are interested in sustainability too. A really great way to get involved in the sustainability community in your city is to volunteer with local nonprofits, NGOs, environmental activism, and community service groups. The benefits of doing this are twofold: you get to meet awesome people, and you set yourself apart by showing potential employers (or clients) that you’re a mission-driven person who takes action on their ideals.
  • Find something that you’re good at and you like doing, even if you don’t see how it applies to sustainability. You can apply sustainability to almost any role, or you can use your passion in a sustainability application. You don’t need to force yourself into a narrow set of majors that you think you need to be in, like environmental science. If you’re passionate and willing to follow through, you can help the world with any major.
  • Get some quantitative skills under your belt. What value could you provide to a company or organization? Find your superpower and build on it.
  • Familiarize yourself with the sustainability and climate landscape. Learn about who is working on what solutions, and in what sectors. The more you understand about the sustainability space as a whole, the easier time you’ll have looking for a place to fit yourself.
  • Finally, you don’t need to have “sustainability” in your job title to make that a part of your work. If you’re already in a position in a company, any position, you can look for opportunities to be more sustainable and maybe even create a new role for yourself. Regardless of whether you’re employed or self-employed, sustainability is entrepreneurship, and you have to be entrepreneurial to make it in this space.

Be sure to subscribe below for email notifications on future guide updates. 🙂

 

Table of Contents

Click any bullet point in this table to jump to that section!

 

Joining an Impactful Team

(Business Focused Sustainability Jobs)

 

(Community Focused Sustainability Jobs)

 

(Fast-Paced Sustainability Jobs)

 

Launching a Business

 

Freelancing in Sustainability

 

Resources

* I’ll be adding more jobs as I continue to interview experts. If you know someone who is experienced in the following fields, please consider connecting them with me!

  • Scientific Sustainability Jobs
  • Sustainable Finance Jobs
  • Jobs in Renewables
  • Jobs in Waste
  • Jobs in AgTech and CleanTech
  • Coding Sustainability Jobs
  • Jobs on Political Campaigns and Initiatives
  • Founding a Sustainable Nonprofit
  • Nonprofit Sustainability Jobs
  • Federal Sustainability Jobs
  • Conservation and Restoration Jobs
  • A Creative Freelancer

Do you have an idea for another section that can be added? Email your idea to deanna@ecoally.co with “submission” in the subject line.

Last but not least, here’s a link to support my work on Patreon! 🙂


 

 

🌟 Joining an Impactful Team

 

(Business Focused Sustainability Jobs)

⭐ Fortune 500 Sustainability Jobs

The Fortune 500 is an annual list compiled and published by Fortune magazine that ranks 500 of the largest United States corporations by total revenue for their respective fiscal years. These companies are *massive*, their environmental impacts are massive, and so is the opportunity to make an impact in a senior sustainability role.

According to GreenBiz, “making it in corporate sustainability isn’t easy”. A typical job listing for a (highly competitive) sustainability role at a Fortune 500 requires: a bachelor’s degree, role-specific tactical experience, and over 5 years of general management experience. A business degree (or BS) with a concentration in something environmentally-related, paired with an internship, could be a good place to start this track.

I reached out to Michael Hwang, the Senior Supply Chain Sustainability Program Manager at a Fortune 50 Tech Company, to see if he might have some insights to share for this guide. He did! Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What type of impact do you feel you’re making as a Senior Supply Chain Sustainability Manager?

A: Education is a key part of making an impact in sustainability! It’s easy to discuss what your thoughts on sustainability are –– it’s more challenging to make it relatable and applicable to your audience. Working with supply professionals, the people are worried about pricing, lead time, import/export, supplier performance, industry acquisitions, etc. Educating people not only on what your context is, but the specific context, is extraordinarily effective. You can and should describe the issues of forced labor in the context of human rights, Code of Conduct, and ethics, but you can also discuss the requirements of the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930 that prohibiting the imports of products made by forced labor. You can talk about how environmental sustainability ensures the future of our next generation and the triple bottom line, but you can also discuss how customers, governments, and investors are mandating reporting and reduction through requirements and regulations. Educating someone on what they do day-to-day in the corporate context, and also providing solutions and support, makes an impact!

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a role like yours?

A: Your network and skills are crucial to getting and being successful in a corporate sustainability career. One of the biggest misconceptions of networking is focusing simply on meeting people. The problem with that, especially in our time of the transaction and social media, is that people will forget who you are. Effective networking largely comes from being impactful or being of value to someone. Think about it like this –– when you’re faced with an issue, let’s say if your AC or computer breaks, you want someone you trust to help you. You’ll text that friend or call up that contractor that you had a good experience with. That’s the person you want to be in sustainability! Being that person also requires having good interpersonal and practical skills.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend someone should develop to become successful in a role like yours?

A: Having competency in practical disciplines; whether its regulations, industry standards, chemistry, programming, marketing, or Excel & data, these skills give you the ability to provide value to a hiring manager and organization. One piece of advice I commonly give sustainability students and professionals is: to do the job function of something that is needed in sustainability, but not directly in sustainability, such as supply chain, finance, marketing, software development, or engineering. It’s usually not enough to have read about the Theories of Change or talk about saving the world; being able to devise solutions and overcome interpersonal and organizational roadblocks is key. Empathy is a topic that seems to be gaining traction in business and sustainability, and one of the best ways to understand the perspective and feelings of others is to have been in the role or position of those people. When your success is based on designing a new product or system, negotiating an agreement with customers or suppliers, or achieving a cost-savings project, you begin to understand the pain points of those employees and managers. When you understand this, you’ll be able to advance sustainability initiatives by speaking their language and relate to their daily struggles. Many sustainability professionals fall into the trap of exerting requirements, which may come across as condescending or paternalistic. Building those relationships is a far more effective and fun strategy to work!

 

–– Michael Hwang, the Senior Supply Chain Sustainability Program Manager at a Fortune 50 Tech Company, Phoenix Business Journal 40 Under 40

 

⭐ Environmental Law Jobs

There are so many paths within “environmental law”. Natural resource preservation and climate change, water quality and environmental justice, clean energy and land use advocacy, and biodiversity and endangered species are a few entryways highlighted by the American Bar Association.

If you’re someone who is analytical, persuasive, highly dedicated, committed to lifelong learning (including 7 years of schooling), and cool with a high-stress environment, then environmental law might be right for you!

Environmental lawyers can work in private practices, for environmental protection groups, or for the government. They may ensure that regulations protecting the environment are enforced, or persuade officials to generate new environmental laws.

One of the most famous policy-focused environmental advocacy groups is the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), which aims to “safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.”

Margaret Hsieh, Senior Attorney at the NRDC, was happy to share the following insights for those interested in pursuing environmental law as their career in sustainability:

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make as an environmental attorney?

A: I feel like I’ve been able to contribute to incremental changes that improve the lives of others, advance social justice, safeguard our environment, and protect democratic governance. For example, I’ve worked on cases that have helped to reduce lead in drinking water in a predominantly low-income, minority community; to protect habitat for imperiled species; to reduce toxins in our food supply; and to protect the First Amendment right of individuals and groups to petition the government for health and environmental protections.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a career like yours?

A: I’ve worked in public interest law since graduating from law school. Such a significant portion of your life will likely be devoted to work that its priceless to be able to do something you’re passionate about, in collaboration with others who share your values. It’s certainly not an easy choice when faced with tuition and debt; but it’s not only manageable—it’s a rewarding and sustainable path.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success as a future environmental attorney?

A: Close reading, careful listening, and strong writing skills. Willingness to dig into the facts (which often matter just as much, if not more, than the law) and question assumptions. Empathy and an appetite for working with, and learning from, others.

 

–– Margaret Hsieh, Senior Attorney at the NRDC

 

⭐ Sustainable Brand Jobs

Although I haven’t been employed by a sustainable brand, I’ve worked with many as a freelancer and business mentor.

I’ll be honest –– some “sustainable” brands are just total greenwash or opportunists. Dozens of new sustainable brands seem to be popping up every month now and it can be difficult to tell who started a brand to be a genuinely sustainable alternative or innovation, and who is just trying to hop on the sustainability train. I’ve found that the majorly profit-driven founders are a headache to work with at best, and those who live and breathe their mission are some of the most incredible people in business.

If you’re concerned about whether or not the brand you’re applying to is legit or greenwash, here are a few things to check for:

  • An easy-to-find, highly substantive sustainability page in their top menu –– green flag
  • A sustainability page that’s full of pretty typefaces and model photos, but with little or intransparent reporting –– red flag
  • An “about” page that highlights the company’s mission, vision, and values, and how they’re living up to it –– green flag
  • An “about” page that’s all about the founder of the business and their life story –– red flag
  • Job postings on websites offering “unpaid marketing internships” –– red flag

Sustainable brands are ecommerce businesses. When hiring, their founders tend to care much more about experience, portfolios, past results, testimonials, and a passion for their business and their mission as opposed to things like degrees or certificates.

Sustainable brand founders focus much of their investment into:

  • Product Design and Manufacturing; Ethical and Sustainable Supply Chain
  • Photography and Design
  • Social Media Management
  • Paid Media (Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc. advertising)
  • Paid Partnerships (Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube creators; bloggers; podcasters)
  • Ecommerce Website Development and Management
  • (Shopify) Apps and Integrations

If you’re interested in supporting a sustainable brand, you can do so as an employee, freelancer, or entrepreneur who is offering a product or service they need. In some cases you’ll find job listings online, but in most cases you’ll need to reach out to the brand and offer value instead.

Some of the places I’ve found opportunities with sustainable brands or brand founders:

  • Finding brands on Instagram, visiting their website, figuring out who their founder is, and sending them an email directly
  • Finding and reaching out to sustainable brand entrepreneurs on LinkedIn, CoFoundersLab, and Reddit
  • Meeting brand founders in Facebook groups, or sustainable brand communities like MindfulCommerce
  • LinkedIn job postings
  • angel.co –– a website for connecting with startups; some of which are funded sustainable brands
  • workatastartup.com –– Y Combinator’s job board; more startups, very occasional sustainable brands
  • climatebase.org –– I’ve seen a few brands on here but haven’t connected with anybody over this platform yet
  • idealist.org –– I’ve seen a few brands on here but haven’t connected with anybody over this platform yet

 

⭐ Circular Fashion Jobs

If you’re interested in fashion and sustainability, a career in circular fashion might be the perfect fit for you!

As good on you elegantly defines it, “Circular fashion is a system where our clothing and personal belongings are produced through a more considered model: where the production of an item and the end of its life are equally as important. Further to this, circular fashion comes from the collision and intersection of the ‘circular economy’ (a model that exchanges the typical cycle of make, use, dispose in favor of as much reusing and recycling as possible) with sustainable and ethical fashion.”

You can find circular fashion jobs anywhere along the supply chain, in-house with a brand, or with a business that’s enabling circularity for brands (partners for product resale, product takeback, product refurbishing, etc.).

There are so many jobs within the circular fashion space, including:

  • Founder
  • Sustainability (or Circularity) Officer
  • Supply Chain Manager
  • Product Designer
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Fabric Researcher
  • Data Analyst
  • Developer, Coding Jobs
  • Nonprofit Jobs (The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, etc.)

Some of these jobs require degrees while others don’t, however a good place to start, regardless of which path you want to choose within circular fashion, will always be Ellen MacArthur’s Circular Economy Learning Hub.

Everything else to include about circular fashion brands is the same as the sustainable brand jobs section! 🙂

 

⭐ Sustainability Consulting (Organization)

Out of the dozens of calls I had with people I met on Instagram who were interested in pursuing a career in sustainability, nearly everybody had interest in becoming a sustainability consultant. So, I reached out to six sustainability consultants to include in this guide. Four are quoted here, and two are quoted in the Freelance Sustainability Consulting section.

The first sustainability consultant I spoke with about this guide was Jessye Vitier, a Sustainability Consultant at Sustainable Investment Group (SIG). When I first came across Jessye’s LinkedIn profile, I was compelled by the fact that she graduated from college in 2019 and immediately became a sustainability consultant. Many of the sustainability consultants I’ve met have been mid to late career professionals, so it was exciting and inspiring to see a recent graduate doing this work!

Here’s what Jessye had to share about becoming a sustainability consultant:

Q: Do you need a degree to become a sustainability consultant?

A: A degree would be highly preferred. I do know of a few sustainability consultants who just have a high school diploma, but they started off from the ground up, doing random documentation for the certifications that we work for, etc. 

Employers look for somebody with a degree just because it’s a standardized way of showing that you have education and knowledge. It really doesn’t matter in what, as long as you are interested in the sustainability field. You could go for environmental science, geology, biology, ecology, or environmental policy. A lot of colleges have added sustainability minors, certificates, and concentrations that you can add to your degree, like a sustainability-focused business major.

 

Q: Where should an aspiring sustainability consultant start?

A: In the beginning, freshman year or sophomore year of college, start doing internships. They’re extremely important to help you decide if this something that you want to do for as your career. Internships give you hands-on, into-the-dirt experience, and after completing one you’ll know whether or not this is your thing. 

I remember doing an internship working at wetlands and restoring them, and I really loved it, but it wasn’t something I’d want to do every day as my career. After that internship, I jumped onto SIG (they had an opening for a sustainability analyst where we look through documents in regards to green buildings and getting them certified) and I loved it. It was what I wanted to do, it was the environment I wanted to be in, and it was the people and clients I wanted to work for. That’s where I found my niche.

 

Q: Do you have any quick pros and cons for being a sustainability consultant?

For pros: Lots of traveling, meeting many people, and teaching/educating the clients that don’t really have a sense of sustainability. Educating them in what sustainability is, and how they can implement it at their building, at their workplace, at their home –– to me, that’s my favorite.

For cons: There’s a lot of paperwork for a sustainability consultant. If you’re not big on paperwork or working on documentation, then maybe this isn’t the job for you. And that’s where the internship really helps students to see if this is something they want to do long term and as a career.

 

Q: What does your day-to-day look like as a sustainability consultant at SIG?

A: We work with all different types of clients in different trades. Many of our clients are architects, building owners, and general contractors. Every day there’s lots of emails and communication, especially meetings where we go through certification requirements with our clients. Explaining the certification process, reviewing their credits, and submitting documentation for LEED is the bulk of my work.

About 75% is office stuff: documenting paperwork, meetings with clients and their teams. About 25% is traveling and actually going on-site to these buildings which is my favorite. Looking at the buildings, looking at how this building differs from a building that’s not sustainable. It’s really cool to see an old building that wasn’t efficient slowly transform into a masterpiece of a building that now might look the same, but it’s made of sustainable materials. It feels really awesome. As project manager for each project, I’m sort of like the glue for the team.

 

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make?

A: A lot! We work with many important corporate clients that aren’t necessarily big on sustainability, or don’t really care about climate change and the environment. Whenever I start a new project, I like to really show them what this is going to do, and what making their  building efficient is going to do for the environment, for the people using the building, and for the animals around the building. I show them how huge the impact is going to be. I make it empathetic, so they can have empathy and actually start loving sustainability so they can implement it at their buildings and at their home as well. 

I feel like I have a pretty big impact on all of these clients. A lot of them are located in New York, which doesn’t have the best air quality. Slowly and surely, we’re going from building to building and making them more efficient, more sustainable, and better for the environment. To me, that’s pretty impactful. You have to start from the root cause with change, with one building. Starting at one building, and then having a domino effect of clients, is ideal. They’ll say “Oh, the building next door just got LEED, and they have an A rated energy efficiency building… and we’re rated at F.”. That slowly starts the trend to get them to hop on the sustainability wagon. Everybody, hopefully, will be sustainable soon!

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone that wants a career like yours?

A: Complete an internship as soon as possible. Also, as soon as you have an idea of what you want to do, seek out someone already doing it and ask if they’d be open to an informational interview with you. You can ask people what they do on LinkedIn, and what their job is about. I know it’s scary to reach out to a professional and feel like you’re bugging them, but a lot of them, like myself, are willing to talk to people and let them know how y he got here, what they do in a day, etc. just to help these students gauge interest and go towards their intended route. Ask them about pain points in their career, what they enjoy the most, etc., get as much information as you can.

 

Q: Are there any skills you’d recommend an aspiring sustainability consultant should learn?

Communication skills are extremely important. 

This isn’t a skill but maybe a gift.. Passion. You can always learn skills and gain knowledge, but passion is something that employers really look at and makes candidates stand out. I didn’t know anything about sustainability when I did the SIG internship. If you have a passion for something, make sure that’s your starting point into making it a career. 

Have knowledge in sustainability. You don’t have to know everything, but at least showing that you’re trying to learn stuff really helps. Develop knowledge of different certifications, what they require, etc.

As a final thought –– if you have eco-anxiety, try to put that anxiety towards doing something about what you’re freaking out about. That’s how change happens.

 

–– Jessye Vitier, Sustainability Consultant at Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

 

The following three quotes are from Michaella Wittmann, Pamela Yonkin, and Janet R. Gonzalez Tudor –– all Directors at HDR, an employee-owned design firm, specializing in engineering, architecture, environmental, and construction services.

Michaella Wittmann, Sustainability & Resiliency Director, HDR ––

 

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make in your current position?

A: I feel like I am able to make a significant impact in protecting the environment, reducing carbon impacts, and promoting community health on an on-going basis. My role is to help our infrastructure clients understand how to plan and design their projects in a way that is thoughtful to the environment and to people in surrounding communities. The projects include a wide variety such as power plants, streetcar plans, community development, waste water treatment plants, bridges, roadways, compost facilities. If interested, HDR’s sustainability and resiliency page is located here.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a career like yours?

A: Regarding getting involved, I would recommend:

  • Consider engaging in student organizations such as Student Energy. Also, a number of student organizations have sustainability committees.
  • Look at the possibility of attending sustainability conferences. A number of them, such as the annual GreenBuild conference, offer student discounts.
  • Check to see if your college/university has a student sustainability organization. If not, consider starting one.
  • Look into the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment Rating System (STARS) for colleges and universities.

Regarding classes, I would recommend:

  • While there are a lot of sustainability degrees and accreditations, there is also a strong need for technical expertise with a sustainability focus. For example, in the architecture and engineering arena, there is a strong need for architects, engineers, economists, urban planners and meteorologists who have a focus, or emphasis, on sustainability, resiliency and climate change.
  • Be sure to take a class/classes on the topics of carbon, climate change and the economics of sustainability.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success in pursuing a career like yours?

A: Great communications skills; ability to work with a broad range of disciplines; have a passion for the environment/sustainability, yet be able to listen to a variety of opinions/thoughts on related subjects.

&

Pamela Yonkin, Transport Sustainability and Resiliency Director, HDR ––

 

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make in your current position?

A: I feel like I can help infrastructure owners choose projects that serve multiple purposes, help them articulate the benefits of transportation investment, and then help them to secure funding –– in part because they have designed infrastructure projects to achieve broader objectives. Specifically, I can guide my clients toward thinking about quality of life, community-building, how projects might influence health or support broader sustainability goals, as well as better connect communities to employment centers, health centers, and other special attractors. I also think that, due to my more quantitative background, I can help clients understand that oftentimes (and presently) funding for infrastructure is tied to achieving these broader considerations and that we can put dollar values on public benefits associated with these projects. This is useful in helping members of the general public, stakeholders, and elected officials understand the importance of transportation investment.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a career like yours?

A: Be open to every opportunity. There is no “path” to careers like mine. I was a math major undergrad, thought I would go into finance. On a fluke, decided to do an internship in DC where I learned that I loved policy. I moved back to DC when I graduated from college and took a job writing letters for the US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman at the time. NOTHING to do with math. I then decided to go back to graduate school for economics, because I thought that was a nice meld of quantitative and policy. Once I graduated, I moved to Philadelphia, PA, where I had two job options – Forensic Economist or Aviation Economist. I chose the latter because I didn’t love the idea of my job being to “value” human lives. That aviation role ultimately landed me at HDR where my economics and transportation background introduced me to the idea of infrastructure doing more than simply moving goods and services. It supports broader community interests; for example, certain types of transportation infrastructure reduce emissions and support the environment. Others can better connect people, which may improve their health, job prospects, etc. The point is, if something sounds interesting, give it a try. Trust your instincts and be open to experiences, even if how they relate to your broader path may not be obvious.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success in pursuing a career like yours?

A: A comfort level with numbers and public speaking are both useful. Not requirements, but those skill sets definitely allow a person to do things that others may be unable to do, technically speaking, or simply too nervous to do them. Related, an understanding of GIS is also useful. Again, this is a skill not everyone has and even if yours is somewhat cursory, it differentiates you from someone who does not have this technical expertise.

&

Janet Gonzalez Tudor, Director of Transport Operational Resiliency ––

 

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make in your current position?

A: I strive to set by example as often as I can –– in the conversations I have with our internal teams to encourage them to set by example, be proud of their expertise, have pride in their work and their ability to deliver creative solutions to community-based problems. Based on my interactions with our clients, counterparts in the industry, and/or partners I interact with on a regular basis –– I contribute to regular strategy-focused discussions related to how we can make the communities we all live in better for the future generations –– in land use decisions, infrastructure, long-term transportation solutions, and in the reduction of the exploitation of Earth’s precious and finite resources.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a career like yours?

A:

  • Get out and experience the world as often as you can. Travel, and I don’t mean sit on a beach –– although, that’s lovely too, but –– EXPLORE! Live in someone else’s shoes –– study abroad, take a class somewhere different, stay curious, and learn even if that’s in another city, or in a different neighborhood. It’s incredible how much one can apply observations learned while seeing the world to daily practice and “speak from experience”…
  • Get involved outside of the books and classroom! Student government, help your professors with their research and/or debate their research, take on a TA role, tutor kids/teens/colleagues, take some “non-traditional” classes –– guitar, ceramics, welding, painting, photography, cooking, team sports anyone?!
  • Take a coding class, learn to create a website, put your resume on a website, create a digital portfolio – the world is moving rapidly, and having a general understanding of technology and leveraging it will set you apart –– combining tech with high-touch interpersonal skills is a powerful recipe.
  • Take the Yale ‘Happiness’ Class – The Happiness Course: Here What’s Some Learned – The New York Times (nytimes.com). Gratitude, helping others, and getting enough sleep will allow you to live a fulfilling and balanced life and career.
  • Be a sponge – take as many extracurricular classes as you can, AND –– most importantly –– HAVE FUN!

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success in pursuing a career like yours?

A: What Michaella said –– and would add to it: be empathetic, humble, a servant leader, stay curious, be ready to fail many times over and learn from those failures, and admit fault when you make a mistake. The candidates I interview that often stand out to me the most aren’t the ones that have the accolades; so many professionals have incredible resumes, rather the ones that find ways to celebrate their other talents and hobbies, address problems creatively, talk about ways in which they help their communities, and give back are the ones that absolutely make me remember them.

 

 

(Community-Centered Sustainability Jobs)

⭐ Sustainability Research and Teaching Jobs

Although every sustainability job in this guide is impactful, sustainability research and teaching jobs hold a special place in my heart.

Almost every single young person I’ve spoken with that’s interested in pursing a career in sustainability is on this path because of a specific teacher or professor who inspired them –– and that includes me!

Dr. Bjoern Hagen‘s class (Sustainable Cities at ASU) was my first encounter with sustainability, and it genuinely changed the course of my life. I can say in full confidence that Sustainable Cities was the spark that eventually led to this guide being published today!

I reached out to Dr. Hagen a few weeks ago to thank him for his impact in my life, and also to ask if he’d be open to sharing some advice for this guide. I can’t describe how exciting it is to include the following quote from Dr. Hagen in this guide!

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make as a researcher and professor?

A: My work can broadly be categorized into three areas, teaching, research, and service.

The impacts that I hope to achieve through my teaching are manyfold and depend on the course that I am teaching. Generally, I hope to raise awareness for the sustainability challenges we are facing today and in the near future, foster a certain level of appreciation of the complexity and connectiveness of the subject matter while emphasizing that there is no one silver bullet. Second, motivate students to become engaged with sustainability and in the best case choose a career path that directly or indirectly contributes to making this world more sustainable and equitable. Third, provide students with the skills to engage with sustainability challenges and find place and problem-based solutions that can make an impact. Fourth, even if the student has no interest in a career in sustainability, I try to educate them not only about the issues we are facing, but also show how sustainable solutions have many co-benefits that improve quality of life hopefully leading to behavioral changes and more sustainable decision making.

Since my workload allocation is very teaching heavy, the main purpose of my research is to inform my teaching and make my material relevant and up to date. I think this is crucial in always evolving field like sustainability that requires lifelong learning due to a steady flow of new data, research, technology, and experiences. I have many collogues whose research leads to better informed decision by cities and/or the private sector.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to become a researcher and/or professor themselves?

A: Follow your passion. I know this sounds corny, but the job market in academia can be very completive with sometimes limited job opportunities depending on location and timing. If you can figure out what you are truly passionate about it will be a lot easier to motivate yourself to work hard, deal with setbacks, and set you self apart from other candidates.

I think it is also worth mentioning that the job comes with a lot of freedom, which is great but also requires good time management, self-motivation, and focus on a healthy work-life balance.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success in pursuing a career like yours?

A: As mentioned before, it is important to find your own niche. What really interests you, what challenge or type of work will keep you motivated to embark on a career path that requires life-long learning and flexibility (especially early in your career)? Another skill is critical thinking and writing. Learn the tools not only to understand a subject matter or research methods, but also be able to evaluate the quality and validity of the information, data, etc.

 

–– Dr. Bjoern Hagen;  M.Sc. in Spatial and Environmental Planning, PhD in Environmental Design and Planning

  • Senior Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation
  • Lecturer, School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures

 

⭐ Urban Agriculture and Farming Jobs

Our urban green spaces provide so much to us and to local biodiversity: food, shelter, recreation, better air quality, lower city temperatures, dampen noise pollution, and even better mental health.

Urban agriculture (including urban farming, urban landscaping, urban forestry, and related fields) in practice can look like backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, community gardening in vacant lots and parks, roadside urban fringe agriculture, landscape designing, and even livestock grazing in open space. In addition to farming and hands-on work, other jobs in this category can include marketing, education, public policy, advocacy, and community development related to sustainable food and farming.

Some of these positions, like landscape designing and public policy, will definitely require a college degree. Hands-on urban farming jobs, however, often just require grit and a willingness to learn. If you’re looking to work as an urban farmer in your city, do a few google searches on your city name + keywords like “urban farming”, “urban agriculture”, or “vertical farming” to see which farms are active in your area. Even if you can’t find a job listing on their websites, it never hurts to send an email inquiry!

I got in touch with Baptiste Miremont, a landscape designer in Paris, France over Instagram a few weeks ago and he was happy to share the following insights for anybody that’s interested in an urban agriculture career:

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make in your role?

A:  As a landscape designer working in the field of urban agriculture, my work has a direct impact on the quality of life of humans and non-humans. I take part in the vegetalization of urban landscapes, making them more welcoming for biodiversity and more resilient to climate change. I personally believe that low tech and ecological productive landscapes can make future cities more livable.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to become a landscape designer themselves?

A. Designing urban agricultural landscapes requires being comfortable with a large spectrum of knowledge. My advice would be to learn about scientific ecology as well as agronomy, pedology, urban planning and, of course, landscape design and botany. Knowing how to draw is definitely a plus, and having some experience in the field is also recommended.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success in pursuing a career like yours?

A. The main skill I would recommend having is communication. No matter how good a project is, the most important thing to do is to convince people that it is. In order to create a farm or a small vegetable garden, you need to tell a story (about it). Why does it need to be designed this way? For whom? And how? And what will the benefits be for humans and non humans?

 

–– Baptiste Miremont, landscape designer, Paris, France

* Some specific job boards for this space include Good Food Jobs, Stockbridge School of Ag Jobs/InternshipsJu Ju for Sustainable Agriculture, and Northeast Food Jobs.

 

⭐ City Sustainability Jobs

How do you make a city sustainable?

From clean energy, to buildings and streets, to transport systems, waste, resource management, and more ––  there are dozens of ways, public and private, to get involved in your city’s evolution towards sustainability that don’t require a position at the Office of Sustainability. Whichever path you choose, a relevant Bachelor’s degree is generally necessary for most governmental roles.

I met Mackenzie at a recent meetup of the Phoenix Global Shapers Community, my local chapter of the World Economic Forum’s global network of young people driving dialogue, action, and change in their cities. Mackenzie’s journey into her role really inspired me, and I hope it inspires you too!

Mackenzie McGuffie, Sustainability Coordinator at Phoenix Valley Metro ––

 

“I spend my 40 hours a week leading transit sustainability projects, and while my job is technically public
sector, I consider my work to be very entrepreneurial. I got my start as an intern for Valley Metro, the
public transit agency for the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. Once I got my foot in the door as an intern I
started looking for the ways that I could bring sustainability into the workplace, which ultimately led me
to designing a new sustainability plan for the agency. After a productive internship, I was offered a
full-time job as the agency’s first sustainability coordinator. I am grateful to say that I love my work and
the people that I work with.

 

My advice to someone interested in a public sector sustainability career –– be ready to create your own
path. Sustainability is an emerging field, and while many organizations know that they want to be more
sustainable, they often times don’t know what this means or how to get there. Adapt a mindset of
growth and continuous learning. Be ready to lead even if you feel like the youngest or least experienced
person in the room. The climate crisis is happening now, we already have a number of solutions that
would improve it, and yet we are not implementing them. What our local and state governments need
are self-starters that are ready to address the barriers to climate solutions and lead their organization
toward a more sustainable future.”

 

I met Breanne on Instagram a few weeks ago and thought her story about working in sustainability in her local community was super unique and eye-opening about the different sustainability opportunities available within a city. Here’s what she had to share:

Breanne Johnson, City Sustainability Consultant ––

 

“I’m currently an Environment & Development Planner at the North Central Texas Council of Governments. I coordinate sustainable development projects and facilitate collaboration between local governments in my region. This is my full-time job and I’ve been doing it for about 8 months! Before that I was interning for a telecommunications company writing their Corporate Sustainability Report. I have Bachelors degrees in Public Health and Sustainability from Oregon State University, and a Masters in Sustainability from Wake Forest University.

 

I really got into sustainability because of my interest in helping communities that have been impacted by broken systems. This led me to enter Public Health initially, but I transitioned to focusing on Sustainability because it’s so much more holistic and covers the entire social and environmental aspects of people’s lives. Day to day I work on a variety of grant projects relating to sustainable infrastructure (transportation planning, waste disposal, parks & rec areas…), and just generally promote the ideas of sustainable development to our city and county officials.”

 

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make in your role?

A: I was drawn to a career in local government because I believe public policy is the most effective way to make sustainability a part of people’s everyday lives. So much of sustainability messaging centers on individual choice, but I’m more interested in creating the systems and infrastructure necessary to both facilitate sustainable choices, and make the built environment of our cities more eco-friendly and equitable.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a role like yours?

A: My advice for someone interested in a public-sector career in sustainability, or any type of government career, would be to get involved in politics in whatever way you can. I’d never considered a career in government until I joined my university’s College Democrats chapter and became involved in local and state politics through that. Exposure to the legislative process, to elected officials, and to the political priorities of your community early on is really helpful in knowing how to navigate politics and interact with government officials.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success in pursuing a career like yours?

A. To be successful in sustainability, I believe the most important thing you need is the ability to think holistically. You can have highly technical knowledge of environmental systems, for example, but you will not be successful in sustainability if you don’t also have an understanding of how those systems impact communities socially and economically. My two most-used skills in my role are my ability to ask questions and to make connections, both of which help me build a holistic picture of an issue or project. To me, the core of sustainability is that everything is connected, and the better you understand those connections, the more successful you’ll be in leveraging them for the better.

 

⭐ United Nations Sustainability Jobs

Is a career at the United Nations calling your name?

The work of the United Nations (UN) touches every corner of the globe and focuses on a broad range of fundamental issues, like sustainable development, protection of the environment and refugees, disaster relief and mitigation, as well as disarmament and non-proliferation. You might already be familiar with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the source of the IPCC reports which keep many of us up at night with climate anxiety…

Anyhoo, according to the UN’s careers website, “There are few clearly marked career paths in the United Nations. The diversity of occupations and multidisciplinary mandates means that you may not only change functions, departments but even organizations or fields of work. While such shifts require learning, time and effort, they also provide valuable experience, broader perspectives and challenging work.”

There are several entry-level opportunities to start a career at the UN. The UN Internship and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) Programmes are good places to start if you’re curious about getting your foot in the door, and the Junior Professional Officer (JPO) and Young Professionals Programmes are better suited for those with advanced university degrees or a few years of related experience.

Sharmila Singh, Founder of New Lens Consulting, recently conducted an informational interview with Eri Yamasumi, a Climate Change Programme Specialist at the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). Here are a few highlights from her interview:

About Eri’s career path:

Eri graduated with a Masters in Development Studies. She studied economics as her BA, but always wanted to learn more about the politics behind what the economy is doing, and also how we can change the world into a better and socially sound economy. After she graduated,  she worked for a small NGO in a field-focused job. It exposed her to what development projects actually look like on the ground and got her more deeply into development.

She then worked for the government of Japan in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and soon after began working on the G7 Summit where she was exposed to the politics around the developing world, including climate diplomacy. Her first role at the UN was applying to be a United Nations Volunteer (UNV) at the UN Kenya Office as a Specialist. After that, she took on project management consultant role at the UN HQ in NYC with the UNDP in the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy for almost 3 years. After that, she moved around the UNDP a bit and eventually moved into the UNDP Programme Specialist role she’s in now.

“Everybody’s experience of getting to the UN is different. One of the main paths of working for the UN is getting the experience ahead of time where you want to make impact, and then going to the UN. There are loads of organizations within the UN, and there are more career paths than there are people. Any kind of job you can think of are in the UN. It’s about how much experience you have before you come to the UN that you can bring to the table. [They’re looking for] innovative people with skills from the outside world.

 

In order to get into the UN, you always want a long-run strategy. Have your skills and your passion in the sector you’re interested in before you get into the UN. Get clear on what you bring to the table, the impacts you want to make.”

 

–– Eri Yamasumi, Climate Change Programme Specialist at the UNDP in an interview with Sharmila Singh

 

⭐ Sustainable Architecture and Civil Engineering Jobs

One of the coolest and most exciting aspects of sustainability is its application in designing the built landscape around us. (If you need convincing, check out this TED Talk on biomimicry in architecture!).

Both civil engineers and architects are involved in planning and designing structures. While architects generally focus on the aesthetics of the structural work as well as concentrate on the look, feel, and functionality, civil engineers concentrate on making sure that structures will be safe and able to endure everyday and extreme conditions. Civil engineers analyze and evaluate the structural integrity of the designs which architects create, and find ways to make the construction design possible by suggesting alterations and modifications in order to turn the architect’s vision into reality.

When it comes to both minimizing and mitigating the impacts of climate change, both roles are undeniably crucial to a city’s sustainability.

Regardless of which path you choose, an undergraduate degree is going to be the minimum requirement to pursue a career in sustainable architecture and civil engineering. To get a little more insight into these specific roles, I reached out to experts in both fields to ask for their contribution to the guide. Their quotes follow:

Eric Sterner, Founding Principal of L A S T ARCHITECTS ––

 

Q: What type of impact are you making in your role?

A: As much development and construction is rapidly defining our skyline and embedding community features and identity to our desert landscape, my aspiration (and the underpinning and intent of L A S T) is to ensure that the architecture that is being constructed resonates and is distilled from a process of seeking specificity. Often, architecture seeks to re-define and impose rather than understand and respond from the voices of many and not one individual.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a role like yours?

A: Seeking to create meaningful insertions takes a critical ability to listen and an immense effort in coordinating information. Architecture as a profession allows many routes and opportunities – all different and require a rigorous college education. However, to practice and own a small firm that is in service of community and collective memory takes an innate skill of wanting to be a member of a Community with a keen interest in evaluating both the current and future of what is both possible and aspirational.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend the reader develops to become successful in a role like yours?

Beyond the necessities of certain software and the basic understandings of architecture and the many layers necessary to practice, success is often broadly defined and internally met. However, for me, success is defined by exposing and creating identity and instilling purpose in the places that we live, work, and play within.

&

Collin Miller, “early career professional” Civil Engineer, ALLIANCE ENGINEERING INC. ––

 

Q: What type of impact are you making in your role?

A: I believe that in my role I have the ability to persuade clients to pursue development solutions that limit impact in their designs. This persuasion looks different for each job and client that I work with. In some cases, it involves offering design solutions that limit impact to a wetlands area, or limits the area of disturbance on a design project. On others, it involves ensuring a job meets a county requirement to provide EV-charging dedicated parking spaces. Ultimately, I design what the client asks of me once they have made up their mind.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to have a role like yours?

Civil and Environmental engineering is a very broad field, with many different careers that fall under the umbrella of civil engineer.  If someone finds themselves asking more and more questions about what makes their modern every day lives work so effortlessly, like turning on the tap, taking the bus to school, or driving over large bridges, I think they have the curiosity required to become a civil engineer.  The second trait that is helpful for being a successful engineer is a sharp attention to detail. Finding which niche within civil and environmental engineering can be a challenge, but with time and helpful mentorship, it can be a fantastic career with fulfilling results and a great sense of accomplishment.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend the reader develops to become successful in a role like yours?

A: I may have already answered this by referring to curiosity and attention to detail, but there are other ways to prepare. If a high school student is interested in the field of engineering specifically, they ought to pursue advanced mathematics and physics classes, and have a good grasp of the relationship between theoretical sciences and the physical world. Many different types of engineering require a strong STEM background for a successful undergraduate career. Other ways to prepare include volunteering with local groups that perform river clean ups, pedestrian or bicycle traffic studies, or bridge inspection. There is an overwhelming need to keep our civil infrastructure operating smoothly in the U.S. and the more people know and understand how vital it is to everyday life, the better.

I want to add my experiences with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) below, even though it is not my professional role. I am a member and liaison between two EWB chapters within the Salt Lake City area. The local EWB chapters are involved in several volunteer projects, both domestic and abroad. By focusing volunteer efforts from civil and other career professionals, the EWB-GSL (Greater Salt Lake) chapter is working to create, design, and construct a more robust water delivery system as well as dig a well in a village in Kenya. The community of more than 500 people will benefit from an increased access to clean water in their local environment, and the town center near the primary school will serve as the main delivery source for the village. It is humbling to be able to see projects like this develop and come to fruition. The other chapter, EWB-UofU (University of Utah), is working on a similar water delivery project that involves several miles of pipeline infrastructure that has become rusted and under-utilized. The student team is currently working on securing funding to replace the pipeline and install air release valves to increase the flow to the community in Chosco, Bolivia.

 

(Fast-Paced Sustainability Jobs)

⭐ Jobs at Sustainable Startups

Although I haven’t been employed by a sustainable startup, I’ve worked with many as a freelancer and business mentor… including one which I helped grow from a PowerPoint to raising over $3 million in funding over the course of a year. 🙂

In most cases, sustainable startups are a lot like sustainable brands –– but instead of focusing on selling physical products to consumers, they often create solutions in areas such as: carbon capture, renewable energy, education, circularity economy solutions, environmental restoration, agriculture, and even city planning.

If you want to get a job at a sustainable startup, you’ll definitely need at least a bachelor’s degree and a few years of relevant industry experience. When hiring, sustainable startup founders tend to care about experience, portfolios/past results, and a passion for their business and their mission, as well as things like degrees and certificates. Many startups prefer tech-savvy applicants with graduate degrees (especially MBA’s), and all startups make “culture fit” a priority.

Many professionals move their way up the corporate ladder to the executive level before making the jump to startups, however that’s not always necessary. If you’re set on working for a sustainable startup right out of college, make your first order of business figuring out what type of value you could provide to what type of startup, and then seek out every opportunity possible to create results for similar types of businesses in internships or as a freelancer before you graduate. If you do everything right, you might have a shot at an entry-level position at a post-seed startup that’s ready to hire positions under their Directors and Managers.

Here are a few websites to scour for jobs at sustainable startups:

  • LinkedIn job postings
  • angel.co –– a website for connecting with startups; some of which are in the sustainability space
  • workatastartup.com –– Y Combinator’s job board
  • builtin.com–– tech and startup jobs
  • climatebase.org –– I’ve seen a few startups on here but haven’t connected with anybody over this platform yet
  • techcrunch.com –– A website featuring news and articles about the startup space. They don’t post job listings, but here’s my pro tip: Keep your eye on the tags related to the type of startup you’re looking for (AgTech, etc.). Often times, startups that receive funding will be highlighted by this website. When startups receive funding, usually within a week or two they will begin posting new job listings on angel.co or their own websites. 🙂

 

 


🌟 Launching a Business

 

⭐ Founding a Sustainable Startup

“The best part about founding a startup with an inherently sustainable model is that you don’t have to make any concessions on your values. If you find the right concept, growing your business and having a positive impact can be completely aligned. My recommendation to find that niche is to focus on the products and services that should exist, but haven’t yet hit the mainstream to be dominated by large companies. There is still consumer demand for sustainable options that isn’t being met right now by legacy providers, and that’s where the opportunity lies.”

 

–– Wilson Griffin, Co-Founder and COO of Recurate

“There is a certain type of person who only works at their peak capacity when there is no predictable path to follow, the odds of success are low, and they have to take personal responsibility for failure.” –– Michael Seibel

If you identify yourself as one of these people, have a vision for a better world, and have a clear idea of how your solution is going to make it happen, then being a startup founder might be the path for you.

There are many paths to becoming a startup founder. Some people launch their first venture after decades of corporate experience, while others find success before graduating college. Some don’t go to college at all!

The impact potential of founding a sustainable startup is massive. Imagine being successful at solving a problem that’s contributing to the environmental crisis, or creating a solution that helps regenerate our planet and natural systems.

That’s exactly what Recurate did by enabling product resale for ecommerce businesses. Co-Founders Wilson and Adam at Recurate saw the textile and product waste being generated by ecommerce brands and were determined to create a solution that kept products in use for longer, thereby diverting useable products away from landfills and helping to build the circular economy.

If you’re interested in learning more about founding a startup, you’ll be able to find so much information online about this –– but not much information that’s specific sustainable startups. I have a guide to founding a sustainable startup in the works, and in the meantime I suggest checking out this blog post I wrote on eco-entrepreneurship, and subscribing to the eco ally newsletter to stay updated with new guide announcements so you’ll know when it’s published.

Here are some resources to check out to learn more about founding a sustainable startup:

Be sure to check out the resources under the next section too! 🙂

 

 

⭐ Founding a Sustainable Brand

“When you have drive and passion for a more sustainable future, then you really can make anything happen. I began Pala by identifying a cause first – eye care in Africa, and the economic empowerment that can bring the benefactor. I had no background in fashion or eyewear, but was able to network and find people far better skilled in those areas than myself and most importantly, shared that same common purpose for making positive change.”

 

––  John Pritchard, founder of Pala Eyewear

So, you want to start a sustainable brand. The road ahead is long, and the rewards can be great!

In 2021, starting an ecommerce business is easier than ever. The tough parts are going to be securing your startup funding and ensuring that your designs and supply chain practices are genuinely sustainable (and hopefully circular!).

This section could be an entire blog post, so I’m just going to answer these questions now and begin working on a guide soon 🙂

 

Do you need a degree?

No! Absolutely not.

Everything you could possibly need to know about starting an ecommerce business can be found for free online. However, you’ll need to develop specific skills. If you’re planning on doing mostly everything yourself, these skills should include: learning how to use Shopify, Facebook Advertising, Instagram, and SEO, alongside building an understanding of sustainability, circularity, and supply chain management.

Here are some resources I recommend looking into for building your toolkit:

 

What type of impact can you make?

There are so many positive impacts you can make as a sustainable brand founder, both with the business itself and with the revenue it generates. The more sustainable and circular your business is, the bigger your positive impact will be.

 

What skills should you develop to be a successful sustainable brand founder?

Here are a few:

  • Researching
  • Shopify
  • Branding
  • Social media and advertising
  • Sales and copywriting
  • How to work with a designer
  • Sustainable business practices
  • Sustainable sourcing

(Although you can learn a lot about these skills in podcasts, posts, etc., the best way to develop them is to actually do it!)

 

How should you get started?

I think the best place to get started is to place a financial wager on yourself. Once you have an idea of what systems you’ll need to create and sell your product, take action by making an investment in your business. Whether it’s buying a website, placing your first sample order, or booking a business mentoring call, spending some well-considered money is going to move you a solid step closer towards growing your business.

 

⭐ Sustainability Content Creating

“Content creators” aren’t just influencers! YouTubers, bloggers, podcasters, speakers… all fit into this category. Content creators educate, inspire, and empower us to make a difference, and often use their platforms to foster a community as well.

Here’s what Garik Himebaugh, founder of Eco-Stylist, has to share about his career as a professional sustainability content creator in a conversation with me a few months ago:

Q: What was the beginning of your journey like?

A: When I started, I wasn’t very aware of sustainable fashion yet. I first identified that men have a lot of trouble shopping online: they’re time sensitive, they don’t know what to look for, they’re often assisted by a friend in their life, or partner, who might be more knowledgeable and confident when buying clothes. I realized “I can help people”. Maybe I’m not the best stylist in the world, but I don’t have to be. If I can help people who have the basic needs of “I want to feel more confident” or “I want to look more put together”, I can definitely solve that problem for them. So that’s where I started. Later down the road, I began learning more about sustainable fashion and wished there was something that made it easier to build a sustainable closet for myself. And then I was like wait a minute… I’m helping build a solution to help guys shop online for clothes, so why don’t I pivot it and bring sustainability into it?

 

Q: Did you have to be an expert before creating content, or did you learn along the way? What’s the balance?

A: I used to believe that I needed to be an expert before I started something, and I think a lot of us probably tell ourselves that. With Eco-Stylist it was probably the first time I was like “ok, it’s fine others know more than me, but I accept that I know enough at this point to help people and will learn a lot if I enter the space”. Learning by doing is important –– we don’t have to be experts to build something. I still wouldn’t use “expert” to describe myself. People reach out to me because they consider me to be an expert, but I don’t feel that way.

 

Q: Would you consider yourself to be a social entrepreneur?

A: I didn’t realize in the beginning that I was a social entrepreneur, but the more I learned about the space, the more I realized that’s what I’m doing. The reason I went to business school in the first place (which I didn’t need to do what I’m doing now) was the intersection of business and social good, where social entrepreneurship is, and I wanted to be a part of that. I think that’s the future of business that we need. I don’t view Eco-Stylist as a regular business, it’s definitely a social enterprise, and that has guided everything about it. Everything we do and everything we think about is led by the fact that we’re a social enterprise. It always needs to be a stakeholder model. If you’re interested in learning more about the stakeholder model, Fishing With Dynamite is a good documentary.

 

Q: Do you think someone would need to go to college to become a social entrepreneur?

A: No, absolutely not. I don’t think I’m using much of anything that I learned in business school today. It’s an important part of my story; the opportunities, networking, connections, the entrepreneurship club. While I was in school, I competed in pitch competitions, weekly meetings, mentored other student entrepreneurs, had mentors, and completed an internship. The opportunities were great, but not the really school and the classes. Your path comes together in a weird way that can’t be explained. You can certainly find those opportunities in other ways: accelerators, competitions, startup weekend. These things could help, but they’re not a requirement.

 

Q: Do you have any advice for somebody who wants to break into social entrepreneurship / social content creation?

A: You don’t really realize what’s holding you back until you cross it. My number one advice for someone who wants to get into social entrepreneurship would be to realize that it’s possible. And if you don’t feel that way yet, surround yourself with people who do. You could listen to podcasts, watch videos.. you don’t have to actually do 1:1 at the beginning. Listen to other peoples stories. The reason I didn’t start sooner is that I didn’t believe it was possible. I thought that I should start with a regular startup, make millions, sell it, and then start a social enterprise. That’s a terrible plan! You don’t need to do that.

 

Realize that it’s possible –– you don’t have to wait, and and you can become the expert that you feel you need to be through doing it. Nobody was ready, nobody was perfect, nobody is the expert we imagine them to be. They just did it.

 

–– Garik Himebaugh, founder of Eco-Stylist

 


🌟 Freelancing in Sustainability

 

⭐ Freelancing as a Service Provider

I’ve spent the last two years working as a service provider in the sustainability space. Here’s how I built my business from scratch:

What I started out with:

  • Six years of marketing management experience in the music industry (I got into marketing by promoting local raves in high school)
  • Two years of volunteering with local sustainability nonprofits
  • A bachelor’s degree from ASU in Philosophy with a minor in Sustainability (2019 –– I started freelancing a few months after graduating)
  • Income from working in the service industry to fund myself while I volunteered, organized, learned skills, built my website, etc.

When I decided that I wanted to be a freelancer in sustainability, the first thing I did was figure out what problem I’m solving (value I’m offering) and for who. I had experience in marketing and sustainability, so I put that together into an idea to do freelance marketing for sustainable business founders who wanted to grow their following and sales.

After drafting a business plan and spending some money (web hostingmy wordpress theme, an email list service, etc.), I began creating content online. Creating content helped me in a few ways:

  • I became a subject matter expert in the topics I wrote about
  • I learned how to use SEO to rank my blog posts on google
  • I learned skills in copywriting and media creation
  • I created some credibility for myself online (sample work, expertise, etc.)
  • Receiving comments from early readers was exciting and motivating

When I felt like I had the skills and expertise I needed to help someone with something, I did. Since I was new to freelancing, I didn’t have any testimonials or proof of my work, so it would have been difficult to feel trustworthy asking someone for their investment. So, I found two sustainability entrepreneurs on reddit and cofounderslab to do unpaid work for in exchange for a testimonial. Once I earned their testimonials (and confidence in my work), I found a third client to do some discounted work with and asked for their testimonial too. After that, I was ready to define my services and prices for future clients.

 

What type of impact can you make?

It really depends on what service you’re offering. As a freelancer I’m able to use my skills to help really awesome sustainable businesses grow, and I’m able to use the time and money from my self-employment to help organize climate action in Phoenix.

The coolest thing about being a freelancer is that you get to choose who you want to work with and what you’d like to offer, so your impact potential is really up to you.

 

What skills should you develop to be a successful service provider?

Here are a few:

  • Expertise in your service
  • Expertise in your industry
  • Expertise about the community your client brands are serving
  • Website building and management (Squarespace is easy)
  • Sales and copywriting
  • How to do the business side of freelancing
  • How to work with a client
  • Sustainable business practices

 

How should you get started?

I think the best thing you can do at the beginning is to become an expert in your offering and niche. Who are your clients and what’s important to them? What do they want? What problems are they having? What would help them? How valuable is your solution?

Other than that, you should definitely build a website and write a few blog posts that would help your clients. 🙂

 

⭐ Freelance Sustainability Consulting

Working as a freelance sustainability consultant is both similar and different to sustainability consulting with an organization. There are pros and cons to both. After chatting with sustainability consultants in both realms, I can confidently say that one of the biggest differences between the two is that as a freelancer, you have to wear way more hats. For some people this is definitely a pro, and for others it’s a nightmare. It all depends on whether or not you want to be steering the entire ship!

Most sustainability consultants gain sustainability experience as an employee before going freelance. I would recommend getting a few years of experience in a sustainability role in a local business, nonprofit, or city role before moving into freelance sustainability consulting.

I got in touch with two self-employed sustainability consultants to see what their take was. Here’s what they had to say:

Heather Paulsen, Sustainability Consultant and Founder of Heather Paulsen Consulting ––

 

Q: What type of impact do you feel like you’re able to make in your current position?

A: I (and my team) get to work with mission-driven businesses to create an economy (and a world) that works better for all of us: owners, employees, suppliers, customers, our communities and the environment. We provide practical strategies for clients to create positive impact through their daily operations, taking care of all stakeholders while also improving the bottom line. We make sure good companies earn the recognition they deserve for living up to their commitment to accountability, transparency and conscious business. We partner with leaders to evaluate and identify areas for improvement, offering the guidance, strategy and implementation support needed to ensure that every aspect of their business lives up to their ideals. I believe that no matter what your business medium is (brewery, coffee company, creative agency, dairy, digital entrepreneur, mattress maker, restaurant, you name it!), you can use your business to create and inspire positive change in the world.

 

Every day, I have the opportunity to manage incredible projects, solve real-world problems, and partner with clients to achieve their goals and desired certifications. And, at the same time, I’m helping to reduce waste, engage employees, enhance policies and procedures, build customer loyalty, and improve the bottom line. With each new project, I get to reconnect with my wide network of professionals and the global community of people using business as a force for good, who are always there for guidance, collaboration, assistance, and best practices. I spend my days demystifying sustainability, operationalizing social and environmental responsibility, and helping my clients maximize their potential. There’s nothing I’d rather do! When I get to work with my clients long-term, I love seeing their incredible growth, progress, and ROI. Many of my clients retain my services for ongoing implementation of strategic initiatives that measurably grow their positive social and environmental impacts. This is quite possibly the most fun part of all.

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is aspiring to be a sustainability consultant?

A: Talk to as many people as you can about their careers — find people (LinkedIn is a great resource) with roles that interest you, and ask them: what do they love about it, what would they change, and who else would they recommend you talk to? Be curious. Take notes, and follow up with a thank you. I have found that people love to talk about their careers and are willing to share lots of golden nuggets while rooting for your success. In my opinion and experience, this kind of networking and learning is invaluable to a successful consulting career.

 

Q: What skills would you recommend a student should develop to find success in pursuing a career like yours?

A: Pick a subject that interests you in the area of sustainability consulting (e.g., zero waste certification, B Corp certification, GHG inventories, community give-back programs, etc.) and map out a project as you envision it to achieve positive results. Then pitch it to a local business (or two, or ten…). As a student, you might offer this service as an intern or part of earning credits in your college — by engaging with a real business to achieve real results through your project, you will grow your ‘consulting muscles’ and gain experience and confidence. You’ll also learn about the realities facing businesses and figure out how to incorporate your aspirational project into their day-to-day operations. There’s nothing better than real-world experience as a proving ground for achieving your dreams!

&

Sharmila Singh, Founder of New Lens Consulting ––

 

Q: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to break into sustainability consulting?

A: Get all of the knowledge you can and build your toolbox of skills. Maybe do pro-bono work at first if you’re trying to learn. In my early career I wanted to focus on zero waste practice, I started by doing a free waste audit for a local Pete’s Coffee, and helped them find a way to upcycle their coffee grounds into high quality compost. This gave me the foundational knowledge I needed and allowed me to test out if I liked working in the field. I later coupled this with a Zero Waste certification.

 


🌟 A few resources to check out

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading! If this guide was helpful, please sent it to anybody you know who might benefit too! 💖

 

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Deanna Pratt

Founder at eco ally
Activist entrepreneur, writer, and business mentor. Founder of Sunbird (sunbird.digital) and Eco Ally (ecoally.co). I love cats, anime, and environmental justice!

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