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Research: Positive job growth in sustainability, but other skills also needed

June 15, 2011

Many people think the next big job boom will happen in the area of sustainability. Research from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University shows a huge percentage of employers are already giving positive weight to job candidates with sustainability skills. However, the same research indicates these job applicants also need professional training in existing fields, to push them over the top in the hiring process.

“Right now, sustainability jobs in business are linked to existing organizational structures,” says W. P. Carey School of Business professor Kevin Dooley, who authored the research. “You’re probably not going to find a sustainability department in many companies, but employees with skills and interest in sustainability will get assigned to related projects and move up the ladder. Job candidates with both sustainability skills and a solid professional background in a field like business or engineering are receiving job offers that far exceed what’s warranted in the current market, and that’s because there aren’t many of them.”

Dooley analyzed about 100 job postings related to sustainability, interviewed several corporate sustainability managers, and surveyed about 200 managers and executives from small, medium and large companies. Across the board, companies valued sustainability training. In the surveys:

• 65 percent of small-company respondents said they would consider a sustainability concentration when making a hiring decision;

• 87 percent of the large-firm respondents agreed;

• A whopping 97.5 percent of the large-firm executives, in particular, said they would value the concentration.

The survey participants also said certain sustainability-related topics should be taught to all managers and executives. These areas include corporate social responsibility, sustainability strategy, measuring sustainability, sustainability-related product and process improvement, and environmental and health policy and business.

“There is an indication that companies are beginning to hire executives in sustainability-related positions, and it won’t be too long before these executives fill out their staffs with lower-level positions,” says Dooley, who is also academic director of The Sustainability Consortium, a group working to drive innovation to improve consumer-product sustainability. “Also, more ‘green’ companies and non-governmental organizations are emerging, and they need all types of professionals in management, marketing, accounting, purchasing and other fields, who also have knowledge of sustainability.”

Dooley says job applicants who receive “golden opportunities” are those with dual degrees in sustainability and another professional field, or those with an undergraduate degree in one area and a graduate degree in the other.

The W. P. Carey School of Business currently offers a Bachelor of Arts in Business with a concentration in sustainability. More than 350 students are taking advantage of this program, which includes a traditional, high-caliber business core, along with courses focused on sustainability. On the graduate side, the W. P. Carey School of Business recently added sustainability as an area of emphasis for MBA students. Other sustainability coursework has also been added to master’s and executive education programs.

“Sustainability is solutions-focused,” explains Christopher Boone, associate dean for education and professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability. “Our students want to tackle real-world problems, and we want our students to demonstrate to future employers why a sustainability approach adds value to organizations. As such, students in the School of Sustainability are required to have a meaningful internship or participate in a client-driven workshop. As our alumni network grows and sustainability becomes mainstream, I see fantastic opportunities for students with a sustainability education.”