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4 Sustainability Career Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Do any of these sustainability career challenges resonate with you?

  1. Stuck on the “solar coaster”
  2. Being the token “green” person
  3. Your good advice is unheeded
  4. Nowhere to go.

If they do, spend a couple of moments reflecting on what you can do about it. The suggestions below may help, whether you an employee or run your won sustainability business.

Stuck on the “solar coaster”.

The term solar coaster was coined around 10 years ago in Australia when abrupt changes in government policy created boom/bust conditions for the rooftop solar PV industry. The term can be more broadly adapted to many sustainability initiatives, where a change in elected government, or some other trigger, causes an abrupt change in either incentives or legislation. You find yourself either working like crazy, or becalmed with nothing to do and no income coming in. Neither is healthy for sustainability career.

solar installer – sustainability career challenges
solar installer – sustainability career challenges

Fix this by:

  • Engaging in the policy discussion, and make it known that stability is important to you and your business.  Be reasonable and don’t demand more than fair support, because if policy support is excessive it’s a key target when political change occurs.
  • Developing new skill sets. A theme of the 21st century, where the norm is to expect to have different careers.

You’re the token green person.

You are employed in a sustainability role, but the role is fairly tokenistic and more like window dressing. Your organisation actually doesn’t care too much about how sustainable it is or it isn’t, it just wants to look as if it’s doing the right thing.

Fix this by:

  • Focussing on sustainability activities that produce valuable financial benefits, such as energy efficiency.
  • Putting a lot of effort into communicating the benefits of sustainability, with a focus on getting this message heard at the top of the organisation.
  • Not being shy to similarly communicate clearly the risks of not taking action on sustainability, and the consequence of inaction to the organisation.
  • Assessing your ability to communicate upwards, and taking steps to improve your skills in this area.
  • Discussing your concerns as high up the organisation you can.
  • Giving yourself a timeline. If things haven’t changed, it could be time to move on.

If you are successful in transforming an organisation which is a sustainability laggard to one which is a leader, it will do wonders for your sustainability career!

Your advice is unheeded.

You’ve spent untold effort identifying sustainability opportunities and crafting reports, but nothing much happens after you submit the report. This is a common problem faced by consultants.  

Fix this by:

  • Reflecting on Einstein’s purported definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.
  • If all you are focussed on is identifying sustainability opportunities and producing good reports, you should look to enhancing your ability to engage and persuade and become a trusted advisor. It’s a different skill set to being a technical expert. This broader skill set could do wonders for your sustainability career!

Nowhere to go in your sustainability career

You’ve developed a speciality and can’t see any opportunities for promotion or sustainability career advancement.

Fix this by:

  • Going all in. Advance your technical speciality from good, to great, to then becoming a recognized expert. Work hard at learning more and getting better at what you do.
  • Sharing your knowledge. Present at conferences. Write papers.
  • Take a position. Based on your superior understanding take strong positions and provide evidence of their value. And then promote your position and persuade others of its merit
  • Create opportunities. As an expert you’ll see problems others won’t, use these problems, and the solutions you’ve found, to create opportunities.
expert presentations – sustainability career challenges
expert presentations – sustainability career challenges

More broadly, receiving coaching from someone who has had a successful sustainability career could accelerate your career development.

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