By Sue White
It was more than 20 years ago when economist turned climate change specialist Christophe Brulliard transitioned his career from finance to climate change.
“Sustainability careers were not as popular as they are today, so my decision was primarily driven by my passion for the field,” says Brulliard, who is chief sustainability officer at Pathzero, an Australian technology company scaling carbon accounting to help private companies decarbonise.
Today, sustainability professionals can take their career all the way up to the C-Suite.
“Due to the significant shift in how we perceive the value of sustainability roles – and hence the salaries they can command – professionals looking to start, build or transition their career into this space have many more options available to them,” says Brulliard.
The change isn’t down to a wave of climate epiphanies hitting Australian businesses. Regulation has helped these jobs become more valuable too.
Events such as COP21 in Paris, recommendations from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and, back home, Australia’s plan for mandatory climate reporting (starting with our largest companies from July 2024) are all having an effect.
Brulliard particularly believes the shift to mandatory reporting will have an impact on local organisations’ climate strategies, most of which will need a CSO – chief sustainability officer – to spearhead them.
“In essence, the imperative has shifted from appeasing stakeholders and bolstering brand recognition, to proactively seeking out strategic advantages in a rapidly changing and climate-conscious market,” Brulliard says.
Elissa Foster, the head of sustainability at Australia-founded social enterprise Who Gives a Crap, has also been working in sustainability for more than 20 years. Her career path includes climbing the ladder over 17 years at Patagonia, a company regarded by many as a world leader in sustainable business.
Like Brulliard, Foster has seen how those in today’s top sustainability jobs can now have a real seat at the table.
“Before sustainability became a recognised part of business strategy many roles were split between a marketing and sustainability function, or the title was given to someone with a background in operations,” Foster says.
“Now, these roles are filled by individuals with environmental science, engineering or biology backgrounds; and there are executive-level roles designed to help integrate environmental and social responsibility values into top level company-wide strategies and decision-making.”
In the US, where Foster is based, growing numbers of businesses are appointing chief sustainability officers to their executive team. She believes it’s a trend that will be mirrored in Australia.
But for sustainability professionals looking for jobs where impact, not greenwashing, is the focus, she offers some practical advice.
“A filter I have used when evaluating sustainability jobs is to learn what department the role sits within. Understanding this helps to decipher the value a company affords sustainability and whether there is opportunity to implement key practices into the wider business strategy,” Foster says.
Sustainability roles sitting within a marketing department could potentially indicate that there will be pressure on those in the job to market sustainability claims, she says. Foster also advises checking if the company has a legal team or an on-call legal firm in place before accepting a role.
“The legal team is a great partner to ensure that a company is not participating in greenwashing, and they work closely with the sustainability team to review environmental claims and make sure they are substantiated by reputable sources to avoid misleading consumers,” Foster says.
Aiming for the top sustainability job
- Relevant industry experience and solid sustainability credentials will go a long way to helping climb the ladder to a head of sustainability role.
- Sustainability is complex and ever evolving – be prepared for a circuitous route to the top.
- Greenwashing by companies is increasingly being publicly called out – if you want to make an impact, find organisations willing to contribute to real change.
The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.
Source: Thanks smh.com