With the scientific data around climate change, more women are attracted to careers in sustainability where they feel they can make a tremendous impact on the planet, people, and places. Yet so few people really understand what sustainability is and what career paths exist for women in this field. What we are now finding is that COVID-19 has delivered some unusual environmental benefits with cleaner air, lower carbon emissions, and a respite for wildlife. The burning question is whether we as a nation can capitalize on this moment by looking at women in the business of sustainability.
What is Sustainability?
In a report prepared by the United Nations at a conference in 1987, they defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability is also “a term that describes a company’s strategies for acting as a responsible corporate citizen, ensuring its operations are financially sustainable and minimizing its environmental footprint” according to the National Association for Environmental Management.
Regardless of the definition, sustainability focuses on the goals of protecting the environment and the conservation of our natural resources. Sustainability professionals help organizations achieve these goals to ensure businesses, government agencies, and non-profits implement policies to manage precious resources along with waste where consumers have the confidence that the products and services provided by various businesses are safe to use along with providing employees with a safe place to work.
Sustainability initiatives may include a reduction in the use of natural resources, worker safety, supply chain management, external reporting, and stakeholder engagement. External reporting involves the reporting of a companies environmental and safety record to the appropriate agencies and the general public.
Why Choose a Career in Sustainability
Sustainability careers for women are increasingly at the forefront of many young women as they learn more about the importance of conserving the earth’s resources for the future. It’s a great way for women to feel they are making a difference in changing the world for the better and improving lives. Its also a way for women who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to find a fulfilling career that enables them to use these skills to solve problems in a creative and innovative fashion. Although a specific career path might differ, the common denominator for sustainability professionals is that they promote environmental protection, social responsibility, and profitability.
Sustainability careers are in high demand right now and for women who excel in the smart sciences who are also interested in cultural and social issues, then a career in sustainability makes sense. It is is a growing field, with exceptional job opportunities for women interested in the social sciences, and humanities. While there is no set career path in this field because sustainability is so interdisciplinary, this opens the door for women to follow their passion in science and engineering where they can pursue careers in clean energy, political science, technology, education management, and in business.
Working in sustainability is more than putting recycle bins and promoting energy-efficient lighting in the workplace, it’s a holistic approach to managing a business that incorporates environmental, and socially responsible practices. Job opportunities include positions in research institutes, green business consulting firms, private corporations as well as government organizations.
Sustainable Business Practices
The Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) leads the country in promoting the advancement of sustainability in higher education. They collaborate with education faculty and students to lead the change in sustainability innovation. Their vision is to lead higher education to be a foundation for a thriving, equitable, and ecologically healthy world.
Sustainability is an emerging field in management where business practices focus on reducing energy and resource costs which by its very nature promotes innovation. One of the goals is to foster a global approach to business strategy by staying abreast of the latest trends and development where responsible and sustainable business practices have become more relevant than ever. The ultimate goal of sustainability is to incorporate green practices throughout the business world so that they become the norm not the exception. What we are finding that more companies than ever are hiring corporate responsibility specialists which as a result, means sustainability degree programs are on the rise.
Earning a degree in sustainability encompasses many topics at the undergraduate level including ethics, environmental and fiscal responsibility, social justice, energy policies, and sustainable enterprise. There is also a wide variety of sustainability degree options available at the graduate level, from MBAs concentrating on sustainable business that includes courses in advanced topics such as; sustainable business strategy, leadership for sustainable management, environmental economics and policy along with corporate social responsibly.
Sustainability Job Market
Among the jobs available to sustainability degree grads are positions in green business consulting firms, research institutes, and government organizations as well as private corporations, many of whom are making room for experts in sustainable business practices. Graduates of sustainability degree programs are also marketable in a wide range of other positions, from resource management to energy and logistics. The ultimate goal, of course, is to incorporate green practices throughout the business world so this becomes the norm.
Why Sustainability Attracts Women
Given the enormous toll consumer waste has had on the health of the planet, women lead the world in the visible drive on consumer behavior especially when it comes to grocery shopping. That’s because the majority of ecofriendly products are marketed to more women than men for women are more powerful consumers and influencers.
Women still tend to take charge of the running of the household where they are primarily responsible for laundry cleaning and recycling. The downside of course for eco-friendly campaigns is that sustainability is seen as predominantly women’s work. While it is generally accepted that women are more likely to go green, they also have a greater tendency to be altruistic, pro-social, and empathetic especially when it comes to the environment. Because they are more likely to care for others they are naturally more likely to adopt environmental behaviors and be more socially responsible.
A paper in the Journal of Consumer Research found that men are more motivated to avoid green behaviors such as carrying a reusable shopping bag or engage in any other sustainable activity in order to safeguard their gender identity. The fear of participation in sustainable practices may weaken the association between femininity and sustainability, by using masculine branding as opposed to conventional green branding.
It’s important for marketers to use gender-neutral copy in their eco-friendly marketing campaigns to also capture the male consumer. Plastic Freedom and Package Free Shop, are two very popular zero-waste online retailers, who are very careful to use gender-neutral marketing in spite that 90% of their customers are women. For any company to be truly green, sustainability initiatives should extend to every level of their business – not just sales and marketing activity that draws in the consumer.
Female Leaders in Sustainability
Women play an important role in the economic development of the country where they contribute and support the economy in different ways in many different sectors. Female entrepreneurship is on the rise throughout the US where women are making a significant contribution to sustainability. Women entrepreneurs are powerful in terms of making a positive impact on society which is key to promoting sustainable practices in business socially, economically, and ecologically.
There are many notable women leaders in sustainability including Tara Abrahams who is the Executive Director of The Girl Project and a visionary social sector leader impacting women and girl’s issues, especially in education. Danielle Azoulay is the Head of CSR and Sustainability at L’Oreal USA who as an inspiring leader is driving change at the largest beauty company in the world. She’s an uplifting voice and prominent proponent of using scale to maximize positive outcomes for people and the environment.
Prisca Bae is the Chief of Staff for PepsiCo Global Public Policy and Government Affairs where she acts as chief of staff within Global Public Policy and Government Affairs. Having previously led the women’s agenda for PepsiCo’s Global Diversity & Engagement Center of Excellence, she also led the development and launch of PepsiCo’s $100 million commitment to women and girls raising awareness of women in sustainability.
Kelley Bell is the Vice-President of Global Social and Environmental Impact at Driscoll’s and is responsible for integrating social and environmental considerations into core strategic decisions at a business level. She founded the Pajaro Valley Community Water Dialogue, a multi-stakeholder group based in California, working to balance the local aquifer giving credence to how important the organization sees sustainability.
Another notable woman leader in sustainability is Pam Alabaster who is the former Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility at Revlon Inc. With her deep understanding of how to bring social responsibility to life, she leads the cosmetic industry using sustainability as the mechanism for creating business value.
Kate Brandt, another women leader in sustainability is Google’s Sustainability Office. Kate is passionate about strategic change and the circular economy and leads sustainability initiatives across Google’s worldwide operations, products, and supply chain making her a powerful influencer in sustainability in the technology industry.
Helen Clarkson who is the CEO of The Climate Group is undoubtedly one of the most influential business-focused climate NGOs with her background in humanitarian work, philosophy, and accounting. She brings a unique set of skills and experiences to her work others aspire to and is a prominent role model for women in sustainability.
Christiana Figueres is another prominent female leader on global climate change who has been crucial to global climate change negotiations since her tenure as executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. More significant is her work on global climate change which led to the pivotal Paris Agreement in 2015. She has since founded Mission 2020 to drive urgency in climate action.
Many green jobs remain virtually untapped by women and to address this challenge, the Women’s Bureau has released a comprehensive guide to preparing, finding, and succeeding in jobs in sustainability. They developed this guide to raise awareness that “The clean energy economy offers high-paying jobs and an opportunity to make a difference in a critical piece of the Department of Energy’s mission, ensuring America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges.”