Why integrate sustainability into a career?

Are you about to embark on a career after university? Or thinking about a career transition? Many people find themselves unfulfilled in the workplace and in their job roles after a few years on a certain career trajectory. So how can you avoid this? Integrating sustainability into one’s career may be the answer.

First, let’s define career. It’s more than a job or remuneration. It forms a critical part of one’s identity and even dignity. John Arnold, in his article Careers and Career Management, uses the following definition of career, which allows for a broad interpretation of both the objective and subjective elements of a person’s life including those activities outside of (but related to) employment:

A career is the sequence of employment-related positions, roles, activities and experiences encountered by a person.

Second, let’s define sustainability. There are many definitions, interpretations, and criticisms—a slippery concept, something everyone can agree to…even recycling. The euphemisms are plenty. 3Ps (people, planet, profit). 3Es (ecology, equity, economy). Here is my definition:

Sustainability is the end-goal to meeting the needs of all generations, present and future, while improving their well-being through social, economic, environmental, and intergenerational efforts.

Here are three reasons to integrate sustainability into your career and real-life snapshots of those who have done so.

1. Survival

That organizations cannot afford to implement sustainable solutions is a big myth. Practice shows that organizations cannot afford not to do so. Take Noratex SA, a family-owned electronic products company in Greece. Thania Christodoulou, after finishing a degree in engineering for sustainable development in the U.K., returned to Greece and to the company started by her father—Noratex.

In 2008, Noratex expanded its business to sell solar systems, which allowed individuals to sell back electricity to the grid. Thania was able to move the company along faster in this market due to her sustainability knowledge. Noratex experienced great success. Sales and profits increased, jobs were created both within the company and outside (primarily equipment installers), and there was less pollution from fossil fuels. That all came crashing down in 2009 when many government incentives for renewable energy decreased.

But thanks to a relentless sustainability approach, Thania saw opportunities in other areas like net metering, waste management, and recycling PV panels at the end of their life. Thania shifted Noratex’ business model to be aligned with the functional economy, where they lease some products. Noratex now sells off-grid solar solutions, which are really attractive in an environment where government incentives are severely strained.

2. Impact

Impact may be a buzzword, but it is a real phenomenon for Generation Y and those generations that follow. Bringing purpose into the workplace and into one’s role is now important for many, even those who did not initially highly rank impact.

Michael Muyot is the President of CRD Analytics, a leading provider of independent sustainability investment analytics. Throughout Michael’s career as an analyst and financial modeler, he was always providing answers to choose the best companies, and by “best” I mean best financial returns. Michael soon found, through rigorous data analysis, that the companies that yielded the best financial returns were also the most sustainable. Michael fell upon the world of sustainability by needing to provide clients with the best metrics for measuring business value.

Michael sees the world differently since he began to incorporate sustainability into his career. “I started my career focusing on earnings but not fulfillment; now I have both— the intellectual challenge of sustainable finance indicators and algorithms and the emotional fulfillment of fully valuing companies and industries through a sustainability lens” (See Sustainability at Work).

3. Competition

The ability to understand and act on the wider societal and environmental implications of one’s role and organization makes candidates more competitive in the job market. Sustainability knowledge is more than another box to check—its seen as vital to many organizations’ purpose and future.

Pia Malmquist, an emergency room pediatrician at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital, became a pioneer in the field of emergency medicine in Sweden. She understands that sustainability is both critical for health and a financially sound medical system. At Karolinska Hospital, each new staff member must follow an online educational course in medical waste that teaches things such as the harmful impact of certain medicines if they are placed in the wastewater stream. Pia cites a specific example of how a nurse outcompeted other candidates for a coveted position at the hospital. After passing the basic criteria of nursing diplomas and certification and the ability to deliver excellent care to patients, Pia was impressed by the candidate’s leadership in environmental issues. She knew this person would also be able to safeguard the health care investment by saving money through numerous sustainability practices and by searching for healthier alternatives for patients (whether it’s food, materials, and care methods).

As you can see, sustainability can be pursued in just about every imaginable career. From health care to finance, engineering to business. If you are looking to be competitive in the career-track market and looking for impact and happiness, look to sustainability.


Marilyn Waite is author of Sustainability at Work: Careers that Make a Difference (Routledge 2016). You can follow her on Twitter @WaiteMarilyn or visit her website www.marilynwaite.com.

Marilyn Waite

Marilyn Waite, author of Sustainability at Work: Careers that make a difference

Read related articles from Marilyn Waite to find out how to have both a successful career and a career that makes a positive difference in society.

Read: 4 Ways to Pursue Sustainability in Careers
Read: Sustainability Careers 101

Sustainability at Work

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