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The Sustainability-Related Jobs That Can Save Our Planet

Before becoming the operations manager for the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), Gina MacIlwraith, ISSP-SA, MBA, gained significant air, water, and solid waste technical environmental experience as a senior environmental engineer in a manufacturing setting. We talked to her about the career landscape for green energy jobs and what the United States can do to meet global sustainability goals.

Gina MacIlwraith, ISSP-SA, MBA

General Manager, International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP)

What is your advice for getting into a sustainability-related profession?

Professionals take several paths to get into corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the sustainability field at large. The key is to follow your instinct. A common factor among those working on behalf of society’s most pressing issues is that we’re passionate, and each of us brings a unique set of talents and skills needed to make a difference. So identify what ignites your fire and apply that to an area of sustainability that interests you — there are no wrong answers or a specific box you need to fit into. 

On the more technical side of things, I always recommend that those looking to have optimal impact take advantage of a variety of professional development offerings more directly related to their sustainability field. For example, if you’re just starting out, there are now several sustainability-focused academic programs in which you can enroll.  

I also recommend both young and experienced professionals obtain a professional credential, like the ISSP Credentials (ISSP-SA and ISSP-CSP) delivered by Green Business Certification, Inc., as a tool to demonstrate competency in transforming the organizational environment. The main point is that you need to stay abreast of everything that’s going on to be most effective: courses, webinars, measurement tools, frameworks, terminology, etc. 

Finally, as members of an increasingly connected global workforce, networking is key. Building your professional connections by engaging in relevant groups and professional organizations — online and in person — are great ways to achieve this. 

Do you think the United States is on the right path for achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? What needs to happen for us to get there?

Sustainability professionals in the United States have the skills to make implementation of the SDGs a reality by 2030 and working with the global community is essential to be successful. In my interactions with the international sustainability community, I see that SDG adoption is strong. 

Everything ties back to these 17 goals that provide a common framework for all of us to work toward. And with the decision by the current U.S. government administration to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s even more important for us to lead the U.S. efforts to achieve the U.N. SDG’s. 

My ISSP colleagues and I are committed to doing just that this year as we cohost the Global Congress for Climate & Sustainability Professionals to advance the fields of practice leading the way. 

What kind of sustainability industry jobs would the Green New Deal introduce and where can people go to look for those opportunities?

Economic development that includes positive environmental and social impact means most job creation is in the sustainability industry. The more clear connection is to jobs directly related to infrastructure improvements (e.g., designers, engineers, solar installers). But other types of jobs — ones that you might not usually think of — are going to surface as business further integrates sustainability. For example, we’re already seeing advancements in technology; leveraging detailed data to drive real change.

What are some sustainability careers in energy that need qualified candidates?

For starters, there’s everyone working in renewable energy design, sales, and installation. Then there’s those working around policy to ensure we’re shifting the grid. 

Additionally, an area of work that needs attention is sustainable finance. Our ecological and social crises are driven by the way the financial system operates. Investment in renewable energy and sustainable development at meaningful levels is necessary to realize tangible change in the energy sector. Therefore, colleges and universities that take a holistic approach to finance and business education are needed to produce professionals ready to lead this sustainable economic transformation.

 Are there sustainability careers for people in more creative fields? Can you give some examples?

Yes, absolutely! The world of sustainability can be complex and technical, and, unfortunately, the facts don’t always speak for themselves. The creative ability to bring this complicated and dense content to life both visually and through authentic storytelling are vitally important to help drive behavioral change. Everyone’s skills and talents are needed to make a difference in sustainability.

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