I am completing a few searches right now for sustainability professionals with engineering backgrounds. It got me to thinking about what makes an engineer a good sustainability professional.
Last year, while researching chief sustainability officers, I noticed a number of CSOs who come from engineering backgrounds. For example, Albemarle CSO David Clary, Dow Chemical CSO David Kepler, and Jarden Corp. CSO Jim Bennet are chemical engineers. Owens-Corning’s Frank O’Brien-Bernini is a mechanical engineer while YUM Brands’ Roger McClendon is an electrical and computer engineer.
Why so many engineers in a role that primarily involves communications and external affairs — with change management, behavioral learning and constant innovation thrown in for good measure? How does an intensive and concentrated education track like engineering become a prerequisite for sustainability chiefs?
Data, Data, Data
First, engineers tend to be more methodical and detail-oriented. They improve current systems and develop new ones using hard data. This scientific, deductive approach to sustainability differs from a more social and intuitive one. Though both types of professionals are valuable, a scientific process tends to be more effective at improving things like energy efficiency and calculating environmental costs.
In trying to reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact, companies consider every contributory factor and how their systems can be altered and improved upon. Engineering skills then become valuable assets.
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