Become a Sustainability Officer: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a sustainability officer. Research education requirements, training, and professional memberships you will need to start a career in professional sustainability.

Should I Become a Sustainability Officer?

Chief sustainability officers are top executives who determine how a company or organization can best address issues of environmental sustainability. Specifically, they may be responsible for the creation, development and management of sustainability policies and programs in line with both corporate objectives and environmental regulations.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree recommended for advancement
Degree Field Varies, but most often business or biology; minor in sustainability
Training Continuing education; professional certificate available from the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP)
Experience Corporate, business and management experience helpful
Salary (2014) $173,320 per year (2014 median salary for chief executives)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Many top executives begin their careers by earning a bachelor's degree in business-related fields or in fields that support their careers in a specific industry. For those who wish to enter the sustainability field, some colleges offer minors in sustainability that students may earn in addition to their major. Students may be required to take courses in sustainability, environmentalism, or other related topics.

Step 2: Develop Work Experience

Having completed an initial educational program, aspiring chief sustainability officers may enter the work force and begin developing relevant business skills and professional reputations. As many corporations now have need for chief sustainability officers, industry knowledge may be a key factor in career growth at this early stage. Alternately, some corporations also have entry-level roles in the sustainability field, and some professionals might choose this as a path for advancement.

Step 3: Obtain Certification and Professional Membership

For those working in the sustainability field, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) provides professional membership. Additionally, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) offers a certificate program for current and aspiring professionals ( Requirements for this certificate program include a series of workshops delivered monthly, and it may take up to two years to complete.

Step 4: Secure Advancement with Additional Education

By developing a professional reputation through job success and promotion, employees can move closer to becoming a chief sustainability officer. Additional education may assist in this goal. Both Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree programs and graduate-level sustainability certificate programs may help professionals grow in their careers. Aspiring sustainability offers should also build an understanding management principles and corporate sustainability goals. The ability to apply this knowledge to benefit a business may be necessary for promotion.

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