"More industries are cottoning on to the business case of sustainability." CRAIG ROUSSAC, GENERAL MANAGER OF SUSTAINABILITY, SAFETY AND ENVIRONMENT FOR INVESTA PROPERTY GROUP

A new wave of professionals are driving environmentally conscious design, policy, and technology in the growing field of sustainability.

Sustainability became a buzzword in the late 80s when people realised the need to reduce waste, energy use and pollution to ensure the health of the planet and ourselves. But, over the last 10 years, sustainability has become an integral part of innovative businesses and governments.

While it used to be a way for companies to satisfy environmentally conscious customers, sustainability is now seen as an actual engine for growth in business. A United Nations study conducted in 2011 revealed that almost 95 per cent of CEOs believe sustainability is "important" or "very important" to the future success of their company.

Craig Roussac, CEO of Buildings Alive, says, "More industries are cottoning on to the business case of sustainability." Mr Roussac is leading the field in developing "green", or sustainable, buildings. His company provides a sophisticated energy efficiency feedback service that helps building operators quickly find ways to improve how their buildings use energy. "Being a responsible business helps you differentiate yourself from your competitors, while saving you money through being efficient," he says.

A number of companies now hire sustainability managers or corporate responsibility managers to maximise the eco-efficiency of their business. A large part of a sustainability manager's job is to audit a business' waste production and use of energy and water. They will design and deliver strategies to reduce waste, measure the results, report on successes, and perform cost-benefit analyses. Sustainability managers are hired directly by companies or by consultancy firms.

Mr Roussac, who is now completing a PhD in architecture at the University of Sydney, says, "Science graduates are a valuable part of sustainability teams because sustainability is done well when it is based on sound evidence, so we need the scepticism and scrutiny that people with scientific training can bring." He also recommends a combined degree for the broad knowledge base that is important in this industry.

He says, "We need to work in an interdisciplinary way so science as a double degree, combined with humanities or business, is very helpful." The more traditional sector of environmental protection and legislation is another good option for graduates hoping to work in the field of sustainability.

This sector develops and enforces environmental policy and legislation to improve the environment and sustainability. Environmental protection officers (EPOs) audit industries and businesses, and negotiate appropriate responses to breaches of environmental regulations. EPOs are hired by companies, government authorities (e.g. Environmental Protection Authorities), and consultancies. EPOs will also work with environmental scientists, planners, and community groups to manage natural systems, minimise pollution and rehabilitate sites to protect and improve ecosystems.

In order to make the laws that protect the environment, you'll need to be a public servant in a government department, such as the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Government departments and agencies will employ environmental scientists or policy advisors who have the responsibility of gathering peer-reviewed scientific evidence that will help develop policy ideas, draft guidelines, and generate legislative solutions for environmental problems.

A number of similar opportunities also exist within non-government organisations (NGOs) – such as the Centre for Policy Development and Nature Conservation Council of NSW – who influence policy by conducting research, campaigning and lobbying government departments, and preparing reports.

In this rapidly growing sector, there are opportunities to work to achieve sustainability across a broad range of businesses and industries; you just need to find the right fit for you.

Statistics and salary

  • The global green economy is worth $6 trillion and is the world’s fastest growing market
  • In Australia, current estimates suggest that there are between 50,000-300,000 green collar workers, and that this figure will grow to 847,000 jobs by 2030

Average salaries:

  • Environmental consultant: $70,000
  • Environmental scientist: $97,000


Industry bodies

Courses to consider

Consider enrolling in one of the following courses and majors to prepare yourself for a career in Sustainability.

Our courses: