Life after MBA: Getting a dream green job

Talent Show

Life after MBA: Getting a dream green job

Nate Springer recently landed a job in Advisory Services at BSR. I sat down with Nate to get his perspective as a sustainability jobseeker who finally landed his dream job.

In your experience as a recent job seeker who found a great sustainability position with BSR, how would you categorize the current opportunities?

The market is both exciting and daunting. It’s exciting to see tremendous growth and uptake of sustainability across so many industries and companies. BSR’s growth reflects this (we have a number of openings today).

It’s also daunting because it’s moving so fast that it’s hard to see where it’s going. Post-MBA opportunities exist but a specialization or niche is tremendously helpful. This is where I see growing fields of specialization with available jobs:

  • Enterprise sustainability management
  • Supply chain sustainability
  • Employee engagement
  • Reporting and communications
  • Stakeholder engagement

I suggest that current graduate students interested in sustainability find ways to get experience that would contribute to the needs of these specific sustainability functions.

That’s always easier said than done. How are you seeing job seekers getting relevant experience?

It’s a great question, and that may be the single hardest part of the job search. Several of my sustainability colleagues got their start with the EDF Climate Corps program as graduate students. I’m a big fan of the program because the interns get hands-on in-house energy-efficiency project analysis and planning experience.

The sustainability managers and directors I know are managing energy-efficiency or carbon-, waste-, or water-reduction projects. Many are using enterprise sustainability management software vendors to improve the reliability and ease of data collection to set, track, and meet sustainability targets. The specific skills Climate Corps provides are immediately relevant for those needs.

You found different ways to get your experience. Can you talk a little bit about that?

I was fortunate and strategic to enroll in Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise dual MBA/MS program several years ago when I decided to move into the field. The great thing about the program -- and, I believe, a number of our sister programs at Duke, Yale, and Stanford -- is a strong hands-on component. I took an internship with a cleantech accelerator, then another with Dow Chemical Company’s sustainability department.

Upon graduation, I continued to build my sustainability experience by taking on consulting projects independently and with San Diego-based Malk Sustainability Partners. I also wrote a series of articles for GreenBiz on social intrapreneurs. At one point while I interviewed with BSR, I was writing content and copyediting a sustainability report for a Fortune 500 company. This report writing contract gave me valuable experience to land the job at BSR.

I think the challenge of standing out in the field speaks to the increasing specialization and the increasing competition. It was essential for me to build and draw from my own experiences for success as a job seeker.

What advice do you give to job seekers today?

Sustainability in business is no longer a quaint subject relegated to the philanthropy department. It’s an emerging requirement for companies from markets, investors, and stakeholders and as such it is developing its own tools and standards.

Some aspects, such as reporting, have fairly established standards through bodies such as the Global Reporting Initiative and Carbon Disclosure Project. There are numerous opportunities for people with backgrounds in writing, reporting, assurance, and metrics using these guidelines.

Others, such as supply chain, are still grappling with challenging issues like traceability, sustainable growth in emerging markets, and new types of supplier relationships. Professionals with supplier and industry-specific experience in addition to a tolerance for ambiguity and the willingness to help craft those tools can excel.

Job seekers should focus on developing specialized experience in some of the areas you and I have talked about. They can reflect on previous experience and see where it might plug into the emerging functions or needs of specific industries. For me it was related to communications and reporting, for others it might be finance and business metrics or supply chain and scorecards.

We’re a field of professionals driven by passion but increasingly it's experience that is becoming the differentiator. As the field continues to specialize so do the demands of qualified sustainability professionals who need specific experience to solve sustainability challenges in business.