How to Start Your Career in ESG and Sustainability
Broadly speaking, there tends to be two pathways into ESG and Sustainability careers; the choice is largely dictated by whether you’re in the technical camp (particularly engineering and the sciences) or the non-technical camp (ranging from legal to activism).
Historically, it was easier to start working in ESG and Sustainability via the technical route. In the last two decades, however, things have changed significantly and there are far more opportunities to start a career in this field. There has also been development of programs by universities in subjects including climate change, sustainability and environmental management, this is due to increased demand for services in this area.
Interestingly, those coming into the job market with a degree in sustainability are not the majority. Individuals with a strong set of transferrable skills are leading the field. Increasingly, it is the business community, the activists, the lawyers; the non-technical professionals and leaders who are setting the agenda for sustainability. It is the values and ideologies that people hold that are very much a key aspect in determining the entire agenda and discussion around sustainability.
Lawyers and those in insurance have led the field for sustainability work, the latter in particular have had a major impact with regards a lot of the analytics which are popular in climate change risk.
“If you’re looking to be a part of this dynamic industry then you need to demonstrate transferrable skills,” reiterates Neil Chandaria, Director of Advance Careers. “No-one entering the industry is essentially ‘qualified’; you need to apply your skills either learnt from previous work experience or study, i.e. analytical skills or project management.”
Someone with technical writing skills, analytical skills, experience in reviewing or auditing, and a knack for investigative work, can start working in ESG and sustainability. When striving to enter the industry as a newcomer, try looking for an internship or volunteer within your own organisation to get some experience. With that experience under your belt, you can pursue a short course or Masters qualification in an area such as, Sustainability Management, Environmental Management or Climate Change, to augment your experience and push you further along the path of sustainability.
For candidates navigating the job market for sustainability opportunities, here is a basic breakdown of possible pathways:
As a graduate or even experienced professional in civil or mechanical engineering thinking of venturing into the sustainability field, this pathway would be a good fit for your skillset. Engineering is all about analysing problems and designing solutions which in turn complements the specialisations required to find solutions for sustainability issues, such as reducing the energy intensity of world economies. Equipment used in the world’s energy economies is manufactured by engineers, thus they already possess the awareness of how industrial systems contribute to energy use. Candidates with this skillset are in a naturally strong position to find solutions, such as tweaking and calibrating equipment accordingly.
Someone who has studied or worked in the areas of biology, environmental science, or hydrology would slot easily into a career in ESG or Sustainability as they are all areas focused on natural systems. Ultimately it is our understanding of natural systems and how we contribute to these systems which allows scientists to lead much of the conversation around sustainability.
This covers a wide range of disciplines, one of the most common being auditing. Coming under the non-technical arm of sustainability, auditing is a very critical part of sustainability solutions. For example, if companies make claims about their environmental credentials, those claims have to be validated, which can only be achieved through conducting audits by reputable firms.
Once you’ve figured out which pathway in to ESG and Sustainability you want to follow, the next step is to evaluate your transferrable skills to see where you have what is needed and where you might need to make improvements.
Hiring managers look for both soft and technical skills with regards to ESG and Sustainability jobs; the former can really come from any professional foundation and people with these skills make up the majority of the sustainability workforce.
- Interpersonal communication: this is extremely important as you have to be able to effectively push the agenda
- Investigative skills: typically associated with those coming from careers in audit, but similarly, these skills may be developed from a background in policing or journalism
- Research skills: these are extremely important to provide credibility to arguments necessary to convince sceptics
- Analytical skills: sustainability challenges are complex and it is important to possess a problem-solving mindset
- Commercial acumen: it is important to understand business practices and culture if one has to have any chance of influencing commercial activities
- Engineering-related skills: civil, mechanical, chemical, environmental etc.
- Scientific skills: provide the knowledge of natural and human systems which help decision makers better understand these systems. Science-based roles include, Climatology specialists, Agricultural Scientists and Natural Resource Managers
The demand for these technical skills is ultimately determined by the sector you choose to work in. If you’re in a sector with a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions then you will be expected to possess sector-specific knowledge.
Sustainability professional Sailesh Tyagi states, “For ESG, we need a multidisciplinary team with diverse backgrounds in engineering (with core industry and data / IT experience), social sciences, basic sciences, economics and legal knowledge.”
ESG and Sustainability has become very topical in modern times, so for someone already in the workforce seeking to add this string to their bow, it is highly likely their in-house sustainability team will welcome them with open arms. Circumventing existing responsibilities may be more difficult however, so you’ll have balance your time as you progressively acquire your sustainability experience.
This is where the option to complete a short course in an area of sustainability ranks higher on the list of viable routes in to ESG and Sustainability careers as it will most certainly open doors down the line. Ultimately, the aspiring ESG professional should be aware that they may already possess some skills which will be welcomed in the ESG community.