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What does a sustainability manager do? What skill sets do you need to acquire?

Sustainability is a group effort

As more companies prioritize sustainability in their operations, green jobs are becoming increasingly popular and in demand in 2024 and the next decade. These jobs focus on finding solutions to create a more sustainable future, focusing on environmental protection, social responsibility, and economic development. For now, an increasing number of employees globally generally seek work with more fulfilling and purposeful experience. According to 2021 Corporate Climate Crisis report from PLAY, 77% of employees would like their company to be more sustainable. Do you want to know how to land a job in the sustainable field? We compiled a list of questions that can help guide you to understand more about pursuing a career in the sustainable field.

What are the skillsets I need to possess in leading sustainability work?

Leading sustainability work within an organization requires unique leadership skills and mindsets. Some of the key skillsets required to do sustainability work within an organization include:

  1. Strategic thinking: Sustainability work often requires a long-term and holistic approach, and leaders need to be able to think strategically to identify opportunities for sustainable growth.

  2. Collaborative leadership: Sustainability work often involves working with various stakeholders within and outside the organization. Leaders need to be able to collaborate effectively with these stakeholders to achieve sustainability goals.

  3. Systems thinking: Sustainability work involves understanding the complex systems and interdependencies within and outside the organization. Leaders need to be able to think critically and holistically about these systems to identify opportunities for sustainability.

  4. Change management: Sustainability work often involves significant changes to how an organization operates. Leaders need to adapt to these changes effectively by engaging and empowering employees and creating a culture of sustainability.

  5. Innovation: Sustainability work often requires innovation in developing new products and services or finding new ways to reduce environmental impacts. Leaders need to foster a culture of innovation within the organization.

  6. Communication: Sustainability work often involves communicating complex ideas and concepts to various stakeholders. Leaders must communicate verbally and in writing effectively to ensure that all stakeholders understand and embrace sustainability goals.

By developing these skill sets, leaders can effectively lead sustainability work within an organization and drive positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes.

What do we need to do as sustainability managers?

What is the work we do in this domain?

There are six micro roles relating to sustainability work. This is based on a research tradition that looks at what kind of work managers do and what their roles in practice, which can be quite different from what we see on an organizational chart.

For the strategic role, the sustainability professional is particularly focused on developing a strategy and is responsible—at least in part—for integrating this sustainability strategy into the company’s general strategy. The manager establishes and refines sustainability-related business models and establishes initiatives, and he or she is perceived and approached as a business partner by other business units. S/he often reports directly to the CEO or the Board.

For the stimulating role, the sustainability professional acts as an ambassador of company value. His or her personal ideals and way of living are based upon sustainability principles, through which he or she motivates, stimulates, inspires, and activates others to integrate sustainability objectives into their assigned tasks.

For the monitoring role, the sustainability professional advises, informs, and trains employees so that they can achieve sustainability objectives in their respective assigned tasks. He or she collects relevant information and ensures that employees are informed with respect to sustainability in the context of their company. Because employees often know best how to integrate sustainability into their assigned tasks, the mentor’s task is to support, counsel, and coach others.

For the coordinating role, the sustainability professional in his or her role as coordinator supports the various business units during the sustainability strategy adaptation process. He or she is aware of the full range of changes that will be set in motion by the company’s sustainability strategy, and he or she organizes, manages, coordinates, and facilitates people, processes, changes, and projects. Actual responsibility for integrating sustainability into the organization’s daily activities lies with the various business units and employees. Nevertheless, the sustainability professional provides support and monitors the progress.

For the networking role, the sustainability professional acts as a representative of the sustainability profession and for his or her company’s sustainability program at external venues (e.g., panels and platforms) or in meetings with external parties (e.g., stakeholder dialogs). He or she seeks and maintains contact with external parties, meets with and learns from his or her peers, and is responsible for formally communicating his or her company’s sustainability performance (e.g., by giving presentations).

For the monitoring role, the sustainability professional monitors and evaluates specific applications of the sustainability strategy and policies (for example, by performing internal audits). He or she also develops standards, tools, and procedures for promoting specific sustainability activities and internal measurement systems. He or she is also responsible for—or contributes to—the content of the annual sustainability report. Therefore, he or she collects and analyzes relevant data (e.g., data regarding the company’s performance and carbon footprint).

What are sustainability professional daily tasks like?

Besides roles that sustainability has to play, the daily tasks included in a sustainability professional's job may vary depending on the organization's size and industry, but some of the most common tasks are:

  1. Developing sustainability strategies: Sustainability professionals are responsible for developing and implementing sustainability strategies that align with the organization's goals and values. This may involve setting sustainability targets, identifying areas of improvement, and creating action plans.

  2. Measuring sustainability performance: Sustainability professionals must measure and report on the organization's sustainability performance to assess progress toward sustainability goals. This may involve collecting data on energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, waste reduction, and other sustainability metrics.

  3. Environmental compliance: Sustainability professionals must ensure that the organization is in compliance with environmental regulations and standards. They may monitor compliance with laws and regulations related to air and water quality, waste management, and other environmental issues.

  4. Stakeholder engagement: Sustainability professionals must engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, and communities. They may work to build partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders to promote sustainability.

  5. Employee education and training: Sustainability professionals may be responsible for educating and training employees on sustainability issues, including how to reduce environmental impacts and promote social responsibility.

  6. Innovation and research: Sustainability professionals may identify new technologies and approaches to promote sustainability within the organization. They may also conduct research to identify best practices and emerging trends in sustainability.

  7. Reporting and communication: Sustainability professionals must communicate sustainability performance and initiatives to stakeholders through various channels such as reports, presentations, and social media.

So how to connect these tasks with meaningful purpose is crucial to how sustainability work can really rally the team together and move towards the same direction.

How do I motivate my team toward sustainability?

As a sustainability professional, motivating your team members to work towards the company's vision and purpose is critical to achieving sustainability goals. Here are some strategies to help motivate your team:

  1. Clarify the company's vision and purpose: Ensure that your team members have a clear understanding of the company's vision and purpose. Explain how their work contributes to achieving the company's sustainability goals. Weaving the message right and clear is vital to the success of team member’s motivation.

  2. Set clear goals: Set clear goals that align with the company's sustainability vision and purpose. Ensure that each team member understands how their work contributes to achieving those goals.

  3. Encourage collaboration: Encourage collaboration among team members to foster a sense of shared purpose and create a supportive team environment. Team members who work together towards common goals are more motivated and engaged.

  4. Provide training and development opportunities: Offer training and development opportunities to help team members improve their skills and mindset. This can help them feel more confident and motivated to contribute to the company's sustainability goals. What matters most is to have the right mindset about why doing sustainability is vital to the company and to their individual work and the appreciated attitude in collaborating with the team members.

  5. Recognize and reward achievements: Recognize and reward team members for their achievements and contributions to sustainability goals. This can include public recognition, bonuses, or other incentives.

  6. Communicate regularly: Regularly communicate progress towards sustainability goals and share success stories with the team. This can help team members feel connected to the company's sustainability vision and purpose.

  7. Lead by example: As a sustainability professional, lead by example by demonstrating a commitment to sustainability in your own work. This can help inspire and motivate your team members to do the same.

Overall, motivating your team members to work towards the company's vision and purpose requires clear communication, setting clear goals, fostering collaboration, providing development opportunities, recognizing achievements, and leading by example. By implementing these strategies, you can help your team members feel motivated and engaged in achieving the company's sustainability goals.

What can I do to involve my colleagues from other departments to promote sustainability work together?

Organizations often struggle with effectively communicating the urgency and underlying motives behind their sustainable developments to employees. they keep it within their own team/or relevant stakeholders who they feel do understand and don’t involve other employees. Hence, we meet one of the biggest bottlenecks to successful sustainable change.

Here are a few tips for you:

  1. Encourage critical thinking when promoting sustainability: Try to put yourself in your colleagues' shoes and understand why sustainability matters to them. Connect sustainability to their everyday work and the bigger picture of the organization's goals. Think about how you would want to be informed if you were in their position.

  2. Emphasize CEO support: Having a CEO who is enthusiastic about sustainability can greatly impact the organization's approach and engagement towards sustainable change. When communicating about sustainability, highlight the CEO's support and encourage them to communicate their enthusiasm themselves.

  3. Hire an internal sustainability communications professional: Hiring someone who is dedicated to communicating and engaging employees on sustainability. They can understand what employees need to know and translate complex topics into understandable concepts.

  4. Create a sustainability update in your company: Keep employees up-to-date on sustainability goals, projects, successes, and failures. Consistent communication and transparency can increase employee trust and make them feel included. Encourage employees to share their own ideas and efforts.

  5. Share sustainable success stories: Highlighting successful sustainability initiatives can boost employee pride and motivate them to become more engaged. Share stories about the value and opportunities that sustainability brings to the business to promote understanding and appreciation for sustainability efforts.

What is the pathway to Chief Sustainability Officer?

Becoming a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) of a company typically requires a combination of education, experience, leadership, and specific skills. Here are some general steps and skills to consider:

  1. Education: A bachelor's or master's degree in sustainability, environmental science, or a related field is typically required. Some companies may prefer candidates with an MBA or other advanced degree.

  2. Experience: Candidates usually need several years of experience in sustainability, corporate social responsibility, or a related field. This can include work in environmental consulting, sustainability reporting, or sustainability strategy development.

  3. Leadership: CSOs need strong leadership skills to drive sustainability initiatives throughout the organization. This includes the ability to influence and motivate people at all levels of the company, from entry-level employees to top executives.

  4. Strategic thinking: CSOs must be able to develop and implement sustainability strategies that align with the company's overall goals and objectives. This requires the ability to analyze data, identify trends, and make strategic decisions.

  5. Weaving: Weaving the right message to mobilize and motivate team members are vital for being a CSO. CSOs must be effective communicators who can articulate the importance of sustainability to internal and external stakeholders. This includes the ability to write reports, give presentations, and engage with stakeholders, as well as the ability to tailor messaging to different audiences.

  6. Technical expertise: CSOs must have a solid understanding of environmental regulations, sustainability reporting frameworks, and emerging sustainability trends. This requires a technical understanding of issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, and waste reduction.

  7. Collaboration: CSOs must be able to work collaboratively with other departments and stakeholders to implement sustainability initiatives. This includes building partnerships with suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders.

  8. Innovative: The CSO needs to be able to think creatively and identify innovative solutions to sustainability challenges. They should be able to stay up-to-date on emerging trends and technologies, and be able to apply them in new and innovative ways.

Overall, becoming a CSO requires a combination of education, experience, leadership, strategic thinking, communication, technical expertise, and collaboration. By developing these skills, you can position yourself for a successful career as a CSO.

In order to achieve sustainability in a company, transformative change is necessary at every level, from individual behavior to company structure. As a sustainability professional, you are leading transformative change within a company, which requires more than just traditional leadership skills. It requires you willing to challenge the status quo, think outside the box, lead with agility and resilience, and most importantly, be a game changer in your company to shift your colleagues' mindset towards sustainability.


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