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"I want a career in sustainability" may not be the right approach

"I want a career in sustainability" may not be the right approach


Net Impact is proud to welcome Dell as a sponsor of the upcoming 2018 Net Impact Conference

Mark Stephan, Principal Sustainability Strategist, DellIf you’re reading this blog, I assume that you have an interest in sustainability.  You’re an up-and-coming leader involved with Net Impact and have a heightened appreciation for the environment.  You not only want to reduce the negative impacts of global climate change, the loss of natural resources, and the impacts of industrialization, but you also want to improve the conditions of workers, biosystems, and their communities.  And to make the biggest impact, you have to work in sustainability, right?  The reality is not so black and white.  

In corporate sustainability at Dell, I do have the ability to make a difference.  But I sometimes think to myself “what kind of impact am I really having?”  Yes, I support the global sustainability strategy, and through our policies and engagement we rally the team around specific themes and material issues. But a policy by itself is just a statement of ideals and practices. It is up to those networked team members in supply chain management, product design, sales and marketing, finance, and elsewhere to take those practices and make them real.  It is only through an integrated sustainability practice with dedicated diverse leaders that we turn policy into measurable results. As a sustainability professional, we cannot make an impact without sustainability advocates in all aspects of the business.  Therefore I propose that the place an individual can make the biggest impact is an area that does not have a strong sustainability presence that you can bring sustainability into.

So does this mean that you shouldn’t take a job in sustainability? Not at all. If you’re interested in strategy, policy, engagement, reporting, and goal definition, and you have the opportunity, go for it!  But don’t let that limit your approach.  If you see a job in supply chain management and want to work with suppliers in other countries, go for it!  And when you take that job, look at ways of increasing the sustainability of your suppliers through policies, audits, training and engagement.  

This opens up the question of what companies you should apply to.  First, consider a company and industry that you feel good working for.  You can make an impact in a fossil fuel company (for example), but ask yourself if that’s an industry you can work in.  Second, does the company embrace sustainability?  Do they have a noticeable sustainability presence via media, reporting, and other practices?  Consider engaging the company on social media or LinkedIn.  Do they rate high in the various sustainability rating systems?  Do they have actionable goals and engage with their suppliers, investors, and team members?  If they have a sustainability practice in place, it’s much easier to create a sustainability domain in your new role.  And when you land that final interview, open up and tell them about your passions.  You’re a leader, after all, and if the company recognizes that, they’ll make sure you have the resources you need to thrive.

Learn more about Dell's sustainability work during the 2018 Net Impact Conference.