Finding the Skills to Turn a Company Green From Within

Finding the Skills to Turn a Company Green From Within

Net Impact and eBay released a report today profiling 15 "intrapreneurs" who went beyond their daily duties to lead innovative projects in their companies, such as starting a volunteer program or leading the drive to eliminate bottled water at a corporate campus.

Although Net Impact has seen an increase in postings for corporate social responsibility (CSR) or environmental-focused jobs, many of the best examples of its members doing sustainability work -- such as the intrepreneurs -- have conventional corporate job titles, Executive Director Liz Maw told me last month.
Liz Maw, Net Impact's executive director Image courtesy of Net Impact
I caught up with Maw, eBay's Libby Reder and Timberland's Betsy Blaisdell in April to talk about the skills employers find desirable for positions with an environmental or larger CSR focus. Since these kinds of jobs are fairly few in number, however, many companies have embarked instead on the ongoing challenge of turning employee populations into green workforces.

"Businesses are always looking to hire applicants with functional skill sets -- so candidates that know the fundamentals of operations management, marketing, or finance are always in demand," Maw said via email. "And it is an added benefit for any company to find a candidate who has not only a functional skill set, but also values sustainability or corporate social responsibility."

A real opportunity to integrate CSR with a conventional job function also exists in product development and IT, according to Timberland's Blaisdell. The company employs two sustainability positions, a figure it doesn't foresee growing.

She advises green-minded job candidates to seek companies that truly embrace sustainability and apply since "whatever role you enter, sustainability will be part of a core job function," she said.
Betsy Blaisdell, Timberland's manager of environmental stewardship Image courtesy of Just Means
Some traits make for effective green champions, she mentioned, including the charisma needed to engage employees and sell a project; a teamwork-oriented mentality; and a combination of technical and business acumen that affords them the ability to translate complex issues into simple and practical solutions.

The marriage of business and technical skills is vital, a point Blaisdell herself illustrates. She had a technical background but no experience working in corporate America when she joined Timberland, where she works as a manager of environmental stewardship. To beef up her business chops, Blaisdell is pursuing an MBA from Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

EBay provides a prime example of a company leveraging its workforce to drive green initiatives: eBay's green team, which launched with 40 members in 2007, now exceeds 1,000.

The company, which employs nearly three full-time roles with a green focus, hired an environment program manager earlier this year and received a large number of applicants from a variety of backgrounds, Reder said.

"We were looking for a strong blend of skills, both technical and analytical, to evaluate projects and speak the language of business," she said, adding that people skills are also valued.
Libby Reder, eBay's head of environmental initiatives Images courtesy of eBay
Reder often holds informational interviews with potential job applicants interested in the elusive green job. For those still in school, she advises them to pursue a classroom project that could produce a practical, rather than theoretical, benefit for a company. At a company like eBay, for example, a useful project would focus on ways to reduce energy consumption in its data centers.

Resumes that come across her desk stand out if the candidate has kept his or her skills relevant by going back for refresher courses, such as LEED accreditation. "Even if they studied sustainability, the field is evolving so quickly," Reder said.

She advises candidates to be thoughtful about how their experience would translate into the green job context, rather than focus purely on passion.

"It's not just describing their skills," Reder said, "but how those skills make them qualified to deliver results."