Sometimes you have an itch you need to scratch.
In previous jobs, I always valued the concept of doing business with an "it's the right thing to do" mentality, but I wanted to take that further. As a Detroit native, I really wanted to help people find jobs and urban communities to reap the benefits of sustainable economic development.
I firmly believe that CSR provides the right framework to do the right thing: By partnering with other stakeholders, we can create bold collaborative solutions that address the root cause(s) of systemic issues in cities such as Detroit.
In the absence of a one-size-fits-all approach to CSR, I wanted to do work that was truly innovative and provided a much-needed business solution for the 21st century.
A Passion for Change
When I decided to change career tracks, I had already worked in corporate America for more than 20 years. Detroit was experiencing increasingly challenging times. My community was suffering, and I wanted to help.
For many CSR professionals, a strong conviction and passion for social, economic and environmental issues propels them forward. For me, this meant creating a sustainability-focused marketing firm to help companies become leaders in a sustainable economy and align their businesses with a mission that honored people, planet and profits.
I had an idea and the entrepreneurial spirit – but I needed help.
For job seekers and entrepreneurs, especially in the sustainability sector, having a partner to help us get over the knowledge hurdle is huge. University of Vermont Continuing Education’s Sustainable Business Program was the partner I needed. UVM became the gateway to my present role as a small business entrepreneur.
The experience, to say the least, was intense. Along with 100 business professionals, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, higher-education administrators and students from across the country, those five days taught me lessons I will carry with me throughout my professional journey. We learned how to address the multiplicity of challenges and benefits of sustainable programs, including ecotourism, building public-private partnerships, fostering sustainable college campuses, green-business planning, and devising strategies for community economic development.
The Heart of Sustainability
Even better, I was in a place where sustainable businesses thrive. Vermont is, in many ways, at the epicenter of CSR with businesses such as Seventh Generation, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Ben & Jerry’s calling the state home.
UVM helped me develop four key strengths:
- Confidence: Clients need to know that you have a firm understanding of environmental and economic issues that can impact a company’s long-term sustainability.
- Preparation: I needed to feel comfortable discussing topics ranging from climate change to waste reduction, or strategies to help organizations reduce their environmental footprint. Now, I am.
- Communications: Though I have a background in marketing, I needed to learn how to talk about a company's CSR efforts and identify instances of greenwashing.
- Trustworthiness: It takes a demonstrated level of knowledge for prospective clients to trust you and in turn be able to advise them on CSR.
Advice to CSR Job Seekers
Remember that first and foremost, a career in sustainability requires an assessment of your beliefs and values. Ask yourself these questions:
- • Do your values align with the principals and goals of sustainability? In other words, do you walk the walk in your personal and professional life?
- • Have you developed a well thought-out and detailed business or personal plan? It will help you generate ideas, areas to research, and strategies for success and progress.
- • If you are new to the industry, are you willing to commit yourself to the on-going study of subject matter pertaining to sustainability?
At the end of the day, staying positive and having an informed confidence in your brand, ideas, and the ability to create your own business model will guarantee your success.
Working in CSR provides the opportunity to give back while earning a living, what else could one ask for? My best career move so far, what about you?
--By Bennie Hayden
Bennie Hayden is the founder and president at Marketing for Green, LLC, a Detroit-based firm that provides solution-focused consulting services for sustainable marketing management and corporate social responsibility initiatives designed for urban America. Bennie is a graduate of the University of Vermont Sustainable Business Program. He can be reached on LinkedIn.
Editor's Note: Benni's blog marks the first post in a series that Vault's CSR blog will feature written by graduates of UVM's Sustainable Business program. Through these posts, we will see not only what role--and how--education plays in choosing the right career track within CSR or sustainability, but also how a combination of entrepreneurship, passion, and a commitment to pursuing a responsible career, can result in lucrative and satisfying--not to mention sustainable--professional choices. Also on our radar: Where these graduates are today, and how, if at all, their choices were challenged by the economic recession.
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