Monday, July 19, 2010

A Purpose Driven Career

A few weeks ago a professor mentioned that when deciding whether you should go for something you like or something that you are good at, it's best to opt for something you are good at and you'll end up liking it. I am not sure how much I agree to that statement, but I firmly believe that if your mind is set on a long-term goal, you will certainly get there. The question is not how or when... actually, there are no questions at all except one: what is it that you are truly passionate about and you want to dedicate your life to?

A Purpose Driven Careerby Leslie Berliant
As consciousness about environmental and social issues rises, so does the number of people who would like a job with purpose. But how do you become Director of Sustainability or Chief Environmental Officer at a Fortune 500? What is the best path to becoming VP of Strategic Marketing and Fun or Head of Innovation and Ecology at an environmentally friendly company?

Experts say there’s no one way to land a job that reflects your values. Chances are that no matter what you have been doing in business, you have transferable skills that can help you find a position in sustainability or corporate social responsibility (CSR). Companies built around principles of sustainability need to fill all of the roles of traditional companies: sales, finance, marketing, operations, etc. Traditional companies looking to become more sustainable need people that are passionate about the issues while skilled in business practices. Individuals in these roles must also demonstrate how more than ever sustainability affects the bottom line though energy efficiencies and cost savings.

Aaron Frank, Director of Environmental Affairs at Disney Corporation, suggests that you carefully think through
where you fit into the organization. “Corporations are looking for a strong team of people,” says Frank, “there is room within sustainability for people with expertise in external communications, research, operations, internal communications, and the like. If you don’t have direct experience in sustainability but you have strong business skills, look for companies with departments large enough to require and accommodate people with your skills.”

Salaries vary based on size and location of the company. Martin Kartin, who runs a boutique retained search firm, says most Director of Sustainability salaries are in the $100,000 to $175,000 range.

According to Chuck Bennett, Vice President of Earth and Community Care at Aveda, while people need to have an
interest in their area of responsibility, a business background is very valuable. Previously, Bennett served as Head of Environmental Safety at Nabisco and Head of Environmental Affairs for Coors Brewery. He maintains that people coming out of the business world with an interest in environmental issues can be very effective even if there is a learning curve on the issues. “A lot of being successful is knowing how to get things done as much as it is knowing what you want to get done,” Bennett says.

Kartin concurs. “For a company that wants to be sustainability conscious, give me the business mind with the environmentalist heart,” he says and adds that LOHAS companies looking to compete with traditional companies need to hire people who understand those competitors.

Frank advises to consider the size of a company. “Larger corporations have the opportunity to make a larger impact, but it takes longer to create change,” he says. “At a smaller company change can happen more quickly.”

Roy Notowitz of Generator Group, an executive head hunting firm in Oregon also has some suggestions for the
eco-job seeker. “The key is identifying transferable skills, finding connections, and understanding your competencies in order to convince employers you will be successful in a position.” Notowitz recommends getting involved with interest groups and organizations working on initiatives globally that you would like to work on at a corporate level in order to meet like-minded people who may eventually need to hire leaders and managers.

Demonstrating a history of innovation and learning ability helps, too. In some cases, a person stepping into a sustainability or CSR management position will find themselves having to define their job and their role within the organization while navigating a corporate culture that may not be completely receptive to change.

In these difficult economic times, it is critical that sustainability activities benefit a company’s bottom line. “In many cases, increasing efficiency has economic benefits,” says Disney’s Frank. “In cases where there is an initial cost, there’s often some long-term value to the company.” Notowitz agrees that enhancing a company’s profitability and helping move the corporation toward its goals is crucial. Sustainability and CSR departments that cannot demonstrate cost reduction or brand enhancement run the risk of being rolled into more traditional marketing and communications departments or completely cut during economic downturns.

For those who might be looking to enhance their education before looking for a job, Bennett has some thoughts. “We love MBAs with a strong commitment to environmental sustainability, like those coming out of the University of Michigan or the Presidio Green MBA programs.”

“Those just beginning their career in a sustainability or CSR department need street smarts and a strong work ethics in addition to a broad educational background,” adds Bennett, who suggests getting some internship experience, too. “Commitment and willingness to work is important because these jobs tend not to be easy,” Bennett warns. “People who come in thinking everybody will totally align with them and help them get things done will be really disappointed.”

Michael Dupee started out with Green Mountain Coffee in an entry-level position and also led the internal environmental Committee. After leaving to earn his MBA then working as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, he returned to Green Mountain in a newly created position, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility. “It’s great to spend my days focused on issues of social and environmental impact,” says Dupee. “The challenge of integrating those issues into a profitable growing business is terrific.”

As far as job satisfaction goes, Kartin says it’s important to remain patient. “Those people at companies where sustainability is not a new paradigm—Ben and Jerry’s, Burt’s Bees, and others—reap the job satisfaction in spades. But for people at companies where sustainability is a new approach, the jury is still out based on how effective these people are really going to be in these newly created positions.

Mike Duppee adds, “Many people have romantic notions about jobs like mine but it’s important to remember it is still a job—some amazing days, some really tough days, but most of it is great.” 

Leslie Berliant is a partner at BLU MOON Group, a marketing and communications firm that specializes in cause marketing, and co-founder of BLU MOON Foundation.

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