5 Ways To Decode What You Mean When You Say "Sustainability"

by Aman Singh Das | November 29, 2010

  • My Vault

Aren't you tired of defining sustainability? For the past six months, every meeting or conference I have attended starts out with the speaker(s) defining sustainability. Generally, they refer to the 1987 UN Brundtland Commission definition, or some homegrown version of "we have been doing sustainability since sustainability was a word." Regardless of which definition is used, the fact that sustainability HAS to be defined every time a group of sustainability practitioners meets in a room is a huge red green flag.

How to decode sustainability for your job and career path

Why? Why do we have to define it every time? Why do we as 'sustainability professionals' feel the need to explain the very definition of the subject each time we get together?

To me it seems as though people who work in sustainability have forgotten age-old quotes such as "Keep it simple stupid," "Don't bite off more than you can chew," "Don't be all things to all people," and "You can't be good at everything."

Even worse, many sustainability leaders I speak with swear off the words "sustainability" and "green" purely from frustration with the terms' misuse. For many, the term is thrown around to define the "what" not the "how."

However, according for me, the solution seems fairly simple. As I described in a recent post on why a degree in sustainability won't get you a job in sustainability, there are some unique and very specific skills that are needed to become a successful sustainability professional.

These specific skills not only help you progress from being a generalist to a specialist, but also bring with them a higher quality of conversation, an enhanced understanding of the real issues of sustainability, and consequently, lesser time defining sustainability.

A few examples:

Builder/Architect

As someone proficient in the Built Environment, pursuing added credentials such as a LEED AP designation makes the most sense. But with nearly 150,000 registered LEED APs, many have begun to question the value of this certificate.

For working in the residential sector, you might want to explore Earthcraft.

If you are on the business development side of green building, try Green Advantage.

If energy efficiency in existing homes is your interest, try the HERS tester certification. Or you could always train to be a BREEAM Assessor.

PR, Marketing & Advertising

For the communicators of the world, the Global Reporting Initiative offers a certification through groups such as the ISOS Group or the Center for Sustainable Business at Lipscomb University. The GRI offers criteria for organizations to report transparently on sustainability using a set of indicators. Knowing what these indicators are and how to use them internally is critical to success.

Further, the FTC also has a set of new criteria for its Environmental Marketing Guide known as the Green Guides.

Why is this useful? Knowing how to properly tell your organization's green story is a highly underutilized skill. Futerra Communications recently released a report that shows 95 percent of all products that make green claims come up short.

Accounting/Finance

If you live, work and study money, then accounting for greenhouse gas emissions should be of interest. For organizations, knowing how to report and account for GHG emissions is a critical skill. Where there's carbon, there are costs.

Consider a program such as the Greenhouse Gas Management Institutes GHG Accounting Course. Internationally, stay tuned to the Accounting for Sustainability project out of the U.K. being led by the Prince of Wales.

There are also multiple ISO 14064 Trainings on conducting GHG Inventories being offered worldwide.

Environmental Sciences

If your leanings are toward science, whether that’s biology, ecology or kinesiology; consider exploring the study of Lifecycle Assessments.

For this, look to the American Center for Lifecycle Assessment or one of the major software providers such as GaBi or Sima Pro. Both offer training.

Business Management or Operations Management

One business tool that I highly recommend is proficiency in LEAN and Six Sigma. Both the LEAN Enterprise Institute and the Aveta Business Institute offer programs and certificates.

When implementing sustainability at the enterprise level, efficiency and process improvement need to work hand in hand, and both Lean and Six Sigma are great skills for that.

--By William Paddock

William Paddock is the Founder and Director of WAP Sustainability Consulting, Adjunct Instructor of Sustainability at the Institute for Sustainable Practice at Lipscomb University, and Instructor for The Climate Solutions University.

Filed Under: CSR

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