3 Major Reasons to Enter the Field of Sustainable Business or Environmental Law
This field is all about transforming our future for the better. It offers a way to help ensure that your generation—along with the many that could follow it—will live and prosper on Earth without the destruction of our environment, depletion of our natural resources, or erosion of our social well-being. Since growing the economy is a major goal of every nation, it is essential that businesses learn how to earn profits in a way that doesn't compromise our future capacity to thrive.
That's why the typical sustainable business definition includes three main components that are collectively known as the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits. Sustainable businesses focus on reducing their negative social and environmental impacts while still boosting or maintaining their financial opportunities. It's an approach to doing business that is often called corporate responsibility.
In almost every state, you can now find a sustainable business network, which is a coalition of companies that are committed to making decisions that are based on long-term risks and opportunities rather than short-term gains that might harm workers, communities, or ecological systems. You'll also find environmental lawyers and activists who are dedicated to holding non-sustainable organizations accountable for their actions and preventing further ecological destruction to the natural world that we all depend on.
As the sustainability movement grows, businesses, non-profit organizations, law firms, governments, and other institutions will need professionals who truly understand the power and necessity of the triple bottom line. Here's why you should become one of them:
1. Satisfaction From Taking On the Biggest Challenge of Our Time
The planet needs your caring spirit. Without the wide implementation of sustainability strategies, our world might become uninhabitable. Human-caused climate change, ecological destruction, and social inequalities threaten to unravel civilization unless we take quick and sustained action, especially in the way that we conduct business.
Since today's corporations are extremely influential and have major social and environmental impacts, they must be among the main drivers of change. But they require knowledgeable sustainability professionals to help them transition away from outdated practices. They need expert guidance from people who can show them why sustainable practices are good for business and can assist them in implementing new approaches and monitoring their effectiveness.
So imagine having that kind of ability. Sustainable and environmental business jobs are often highly satisfying because of their positive impact. They enable people like you to help organizations reap benefits such as:
- Lower energy costs
- Increased worker productivity and satisfaction
- Safer, healthier workplaces
- New revenue streams
- Lower maintenance costs
- Lower legal costs
- Fewer business disruptions
- Increased market share
- Enhanced reputations
- Higher customer or client loyalty and trust
- Better ability to attract and retain talent
- Higher long-term profitability
Consider the current reality: Social and environmental impacts cost the global economy about $4.7 trillion per year.1 But most of those costs are not priced or accounted for as part of traditional business practices. If most so-called profitable companies had to account for their greenhouse gas emissions, water use, land use, pollution, waste, and social harm, then very few of them would still have positive balance sheets.
In contrast, taking ownership of those external factors (and working to improve them) has been shown to result in higher long-term success. In fact, one research study demonstrated that, over an 18-year period, high-sustainability companies did substantially better than low-sustainability companies in terms of stock-market performance and other traditional measures of success.2
Simply put, focusing only on profits is an old, destructive approach that cannot continue. The new bottom line must expand to include impacts to people and the environment. By helping organizations become sustainable, you can take pride in knowing that you are contributing to a world with:
- Enough natural resources for all future generations
- Healthier communities
- Better quality of life for everyone, not just for a few
- Thriving, more diverse ecosystems
- Fewer threats from extreme weather, flooding, and droughts
2. Multiple Ways to Contribute and Earn a Good Income
Sustainable business jobs can be found throughout the private and public sectors. They exist in organizations that are just getting started with sustainable initiatives as well as those that already have well-established strategies. In addition, a growing number of consulting-based sustainability companies offer guidance to other organizations that want to become environmentally and socially responsible. So it's possible to find both in-house positions as well as opportunities with consulting firms.
Most people who become professionals in this field attain a college education that covers a full range of traditional business concepts like accounting, human resources, communications, financial analysis, strategic planning, and project management. But they also get specialized instruction in areas such as environmental management, renewable energy, sustainable economics, workplace ethics, and environmental law.
Since sustainable business professionals tend to have such a wide breadth of knowledge, they can often contribute in several different ways. Some of the most common job duties of people in the fields of sustainability management and consulting include:
- Researching and analyzing social and ecological impacts
- Planning and developing detailed sustainability strategies
- Coordinating or overseeing the implementation of sustainability strategies
- Managing environmental obligations
- Identifying ways to internalize social and environmental costs
- Evaluating options for making supply chains more sustainable
- Engaging with executives, workers, communities, and investors
- Persuading key stakeholders to support sustainability initiatives
- Measuring and reporting the impacts of environmental initiatives
- Tracking and managing energy use and carbon emissions
From one sustainable business environment to the next, you might encounter professionals with a variety of different job titles. Currently, no real standards exist for people in this field even though they frequently have many of the same job responsibilities. But you can get a better idea about the level of those responsibilities by looking at the salaries that are associated with common job titles. For example, check out the median salaries of the following occupations:3
- Sustainability director—$102,365
- Sustainability manager—$73,760
- Sustainability consultant—$58,999
- Sustainability specialist—$53,816
- Sustainability coordinator—$46,316
On the legal side, some professionals get to help ensure that organizations stay compliant with various local, state, and federal environmental regulations and laws. Many of them advise their clients or employers on those environmental obligations. And some work as advocates for the protection of ecological systems and natural resources by helping to prosecute or initiate lawsuits against individuals or organizations that have committed criminal environmental infractions. In 2015, the median salary among all lawyers in the U.S. was $115,820.4
3. Growth in Support and Potential
Even though it's a relatively new field, sustainable business is quickly evolving and attracting professionals and organizations to the cause of a more socially and environmentally friendly economy. In fact, the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) now represents more than 200,000 businesses across the U.S. It's a sustainable business network that also counts about 325,000 owners, executives, investors, and other professionals as members.5
Corporate responsibility is also becoming more evident in the way that many companies obtain their electricity. Led by companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.com, the procurement of corporate renewable energy in America doubled between 2013 and 2014, and it doubled again between 2014 and 2015.6 And the Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE) is proving that companies in every state want to join the green energy revolution.
Plus, other sustainable business networks continue to be created in many U.S. cities as well as on the campuses of some American universities. Many sustainable and environmental businesses are even achieving certification from Green America, which is a respected non-profit organization that works to create positive change.
In addition, many sustainability companies are succeeding at helping corporations develop new strategies and become more responsible. For example, they include major sustainability consulting firms such as:
- BSR (Business for Social Responsibility)
- Corporate Citizenship
Join the Cause
As a sustainable business professional, you could be a true change maker. So get the education you need and start contributing your own ideas, enthusiasm, and expertise to the cause of a more socially and environmentally responsible economy. Enter your zip code into the school finder below to discover sustainability programs near you!
1 Trucost and the TEEB for Business Coalition, Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business, website last visited on June 1, 2016.
2 National Bureau of Economic Research, The Impact of Corporate Sustainability on Organizational Processes and Performance, website last visited on June 1, 2016.
3 PayScale, website last visited on June 1, 2016.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on June 1, 2016.
5 American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), website last visited on January 30, 2017.
6 Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), website last visited on June 1, 2016.