Green jobs are alive and well, and these 6 companies prove it
From Amazon to Unilever, here's a sampler of high-profile brands building out sustainability career opportunities.
The Trump administration’s coal-promoting agenda has threatened to put the squeeze on the promise for green jobs. One warning sign: Solar installations dropped 22 percent between 2016 and 2017, spurred by political uncertainty, according to a recent EDF report.
But the situation is not entirely dire. Facing the uncertain effects of tariffs on imported solar panels and other moves in Washington, private companies — as well as local and state governments — are stepping up to add corporate sustainability jobs focused on greening supply chains, adding renewables, reducing waste and implementing other climate-smart strategies.
"In spite of or perhaps because of the current political climate, the private sector appears to be increasingly embracing the responsibility of evaluating and responding to environmental and social sustainability-related risks," Hart said. "These include risks to supply chains and resources, risks to customer bases, risks to facilities and employees, and reputational risk if organizations are seen as being part of the problem rather than the solution."
Ellen Weinreb, CEO of Weinreb Group, an executive search and consulting firm with a sustainability focus — noted another benefit: "Sustainability adds value to HR via recruitment and retention, which is often overlooked and undervalued."
Hart points to movements such as We Are Still In, a coalition of governments and businesses pledging their continued allegiance to the goals of the Paris Agreement, as evidence of sustained and even heightened commitment to hiring with the environment in mind. Leaders from more than 900 businesses and investors, including Mars, Unilever, IBM, IKEA, L’Oreal, Nestle and REI, are part of the movement, indicating their unflagging support for green jobs.
How are corporations pushing for growth in careers related to sustainability? Six companies, in particular, provide a useful roadmap. Each has led the charge by building out leading-edge programs and making hires to achieve the aims of those specific initiatives — while being unafraid to experiment with innovative positions.
These companies prove that for green-job hunters, hope is not lost — while providing a potential way forward for corporate execs and hiring managers looking to make more green hires.
Patagonia’s commitment to environmental stewardship is evident in its distinctive Social and Environmental Responsibility (SER) Department, which takes a fresh approach to ensuring sustainable supply chains. Headquartered in Ventura, California, the SER team screens new factories for social and environmental compliance with not only local regulations, but the company’s rigorous Supplier Workplace Code of Conduct and Benchmark document, which among many measures demands adherence to reducing environmental impacts related to energy, air emissions, water, waste and hazardous materials. If a factory doesn’t meet the company’s environmental demands, the team has full power to veto onboarding.
SER staffers also make regular trips to the factories Patagonia partners with, to ensure compliance with company and legal regulations, taking corrective actions as needed. The department further encompasses the Chemical and Environmental Impacts Program (CEIP), which works to manage the use of chemicals and environmental impacts in the global supply chain.
The company regularly makes hires to build out the team. Recent openings include Supply Chain Environmental Responsibility Manager, a role that involves co-managing CEIP and serving as a "subject matter expert" on environmental issues; and Senior Technical Architect, which among many responsibilities involves reviewing production environmental impact.
In addition to SER, Patagonia makes hires focused on something unusual for a company of its size (and outside the realm of typical corporate employment): environmental activism. The company is dedicated to engaging its employees in several environmental campaigns, from protecting coastlines, to building park trails, to electing local, state and national leaders focused on conservation, and provides grants to sustainability causes. The company recently hired to fill the role of Environmental Activism Associate, dedicated to developing and implementing environmental campaign education programs and providing clinics on the programs to employees. Other responsibilities include planning and implementing the Tools for Grassroots Activist Conference, which gathers thoughts leaders and experts from the sustainability world to share insights with grassroots environmental organizations.
Like Patagonia, global IT and networking giant Cisco is home to an innovative sustainability initiative pushing for hires in the green-jobs space. The company’s Circular Economy Program aims to turn the linear model of production — that of "take, make, waste" — on its head, by designing waste out of the system.
Cisco’s commitment to this program dates all the way back to 2010, when it partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to collaborate with other like-minded companies to push for a circular economy. Eight years later, this program remains a leader in the sustainability space — and continuously makes hires.
Recent job openings earlier this year include Program Manager — Sustainability, which involves supporting and driving circular economy projects by harnessing data analytics, metrics and relationship building; Sustainability Specialist, responsible for leveraging data analytics to make a business case for circular economy projects; and the strategy-focused Senior Manager — Supply Chain Sustainability.
A few years ago, the e-retailer made headlines when it started building out a high-profile sustainability team that included the likes of Kara Hurst, former CEO of the Sustainability Consortium, and Christina Page, who oversaw energy and sustainability strategy at Yahoo. The move was seen as a positive sign following years of lackluster dedication to sustainability (the company hadn’t issued any sustainability reports and was chastised for a poor recycling record, for example).
Flash forward to today, and the team — which still includes Hurst, the company’s head of worldwide sustainability — has made significant strides to reduce waste and clean up its supply chain. And the team routinely makes new hires.
Recent job openings include Senior Program Manager, E-Waste, focused on directing electronics to responsible end-of-life disposal and influencing the design of devices to reduce virgin material usage; and Sustainability Science Researcher, responsible for assessing the sustainability impacts of supply chains.
The tech giant’s in-house Environment, Policy and Social Initiative takes a holistic approach to solving the complex problems of inefficiency by focusing on renewable energy sources, the use of greener materials and innovation around resource conservation. Lisa Jackson, former administrator of the EPA, oversees the initiative and has been instrumental in several sustainability successes; to take one example, solar, hydro and wind power 100 percent of the electricity in Apple’s data centers.
In the last couple months, the iPhone maker has hired for a few roles tied to this initiative — including Reporting Specialist, responsible for collecting and analyzing data and information about environmental and social initiatives across Apple; and Program Manager, tasked with facilitating inter-department discussions to deliver on sustainability projects.
Another leading-edge program at Apple is the Environmental Technologies Group, dedicated to removing harmful substances from product designs and developing safer substitutes. The group is often hiring for program managers and senior program managers who help drive environmental initiatives on under-development products, including by coordinating validation testing with its Environmental Testing Lab.
Google made its own high-profile hire to oversee sustainability initiatives in July 2015: Kate Brandt, previously the country’s first federal chief sustainability officer. Brandt oversees sustainability in everything from data centers to office real estate — exemplifying Google’s approach to sustainability, which isn’t pegged merely to specific programs but imbued as a principle throughout departments.
This top-to-bottom approach ensures abundant jobs focused on environmental stewardship, across myriad sectors. A focus on sustainability is part of the description for such varied roles as Technical Program Manager, Executive and Event Production; Senior Decision Analyst, Real Estate and Development; and Head of Analytics.
The company also employs professionals as part of its Sustainable Supply Chain team, which is more directly and explicitly focused on sustainability. Recent hires as part of this team include Environmental Program Manager, Supply Chain, dedicated to ensuring products manufactured with the company’s supply chain are done so in accordance with high environmental standards.
Unilever, which oversees 400 consumer-goods brands, launched its "Sustainable Living Program" (USLP) back in 2010, and has worked to grow the initiative since — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because of the bottom line. In 2016, it was revealed that the company’s USLP brands were growing 50 percent faster than the rest of the business. The program currently encompasses 18 brands in the top 40 Unilever brands, up from 12 in 2015, each with a particularly strong focus on environmental responsibility — including such major players as Ben & Jerry’s, Dove, Axe, Surf and Hellman’s.
One of the program’s primary aims is to decouple growth from environmental impact by improving product sourcing and greening the supply chain; measures include reducing the use of greenhouse gases (PDF), limiting water consumption and cutting waste. Jobs associated with the program promise job-seekers a place at the table. Chief among these is the sustainable living manager, tasked with maintaining alignment with the USLP by, among other responsibilities, working with the U.S. Sustainable Living Advisory Council, creating strategic partnerships and implementing best practices.
Of note with Unilever — as is with all the companies cited here — is that it also has made sustainability a focus in jobs not traditionally associated with the environment. As Weinreb noted, "The trend is ... to have several actors responsible for baking sustainability into their functional expertise." As a result, Unilever recently announced that 73 percent of its employees worldwide agree that their job contributes to the USLP and drives sustainable growth.
At a time when private-sector devotion to green-job growth is arguably more imperative than ever, these companies are making a tangible difference while providing a way forward. Hiring managers and executives would be wise to follow their lead.