The growth of sustainability has created a large and growing number of job opportunities and universities across North America have responded with a vast array of educational options. Sustainability practitioners require a number of skill sets but they are well paid. Research bears out a strong correlation between education and compensation in sustainability jobs. According to a study from West Coast’s clean economy, GLOBE Advisors and the Center for Climate Strategies there are more than half a million full-time, direct production jobs. Given that Canada has roughly one tenth of the population of the US, the numbers north of the border are similar to the American data. Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) Canada found that there are over 50,650 Canadian professionals spend 50 per cent or more of their time on work activities related to environmental or social sustainability.
The west of North America appears to be strongest when it comes to sustainability jobs. This is especially true of places like California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alberta.
The ECO Canada study identified seven top career paths: chief sustainability officers (CSOs), sustainability specialists, officers, researchers, educators, consultants and trainers. The job with the highest demand in this study is that of sustainability specialists with over 34,450 working in this role in Canada.
The pay grade of sustainability managers is good with median salaries of around $112,500 according to GreenBiz Group’s 2013 “State of the Profession” report. The highest salaries were found in health care and automotive industries, and the lowest were for service providers and real estate firms.
In Canadian the pay grade was similar with average starting salaries over $53,000 for four out of the seven top sustainability careers.
More education translates to better pay for sustainability jobs. The Greenbiz report found that only 12 per cent of sustainability managers with a bachelor’s degree earned more than $100,000 in the US compared to 39 per cent of managers who had a master’s degree. Similarly, 68 per cent of Canadian sustainability professionals held at least a bachelor’s degree, while 55 per cent also possessed at least eight years of professional experience.
There are a wide range of skills required from those involved with sustainability jobs. The ECO Canada report showed that sustainability practitioners supported multiple departments and led vital company activities related to managing risk, increasing returns on capital, and stimulating business growth. Required skills include interpreting environmental regulations, implementing sustainable development programs and partnering with stakeholders. The GreenBiz study suggested that high end sustainability jobs required skill including strategy development, reporting environmental data, leading cross-functional teams and educating employees.
One of the things that appears to be vital to those employed in sustainability is a willingness to learn about a wide range of issues. These professionals must also be able to work with a wide range of collaborators and translate sustainability to their colleagues.
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