Careers

Featured Career: Sustainability Director

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Do you love nature? Are you eager to make the planet a better, more inhabitable place? If so, you may want to consider becoming a sustainability director.

Sustainability directors ensure companies, schools and businesses are always improving their impact on the environment. They facilitate eco-friendly practices for everything from bringing new buildings to life to ensuring products are having a positive effect on this planet we all share.


There’s still a lot of room for further specialization in this profession. Some sustainability directors work for companies, others work at universities. Some have even dedicated themselves to building their own environmentally conscious living spaces on a broad scale.

Almost every sustainability director shares a love for the planet, extensive knowledge about what’s good and bad for the environment and a desire to improve the lives of not just their fellow human beings but every living thing on the planet as well. It’s about making sure we treat our global home right in every way we can.

What Sustainability Directors Do

Every sustainability director has a different focus. The breadth of jobs in Roadtrip Nation’s archive of career stories is proof.

Cecil Scheib, director of sustainability and energy at New York University. Leads research to help combat climate change by making buildings more sustainable

Gabe Wing, design for the environment manager at Herman Miller. Manages sustainability efforts like product design, environmental footprint reduction, and safety

Jennifer Orgolini, sustainability director at New Belgium Brewery. Helps to create a progressive work environment by focusing on employee ownership and environmental advocacy

How to Get There

There’s no single path to becoming a sustainability director. Check out all the different ways the people mentioned above got started.

Cecil Scheib, director of sustainability and energy at New York University.

Started out studying music at the University of Maryland → felt that school was too big so he transferred to the University of Montana → found himself wanting to spend his life protecting the planet → transferred again to Stanford University and majored in civil and environmental engineering → started Dancing Rabbit, an eco-village powered by renewable energy → took his current job overseeing sustainability and energy at NYU.

Gabe Wing, design for the environment manager at Herman Miller. 

Chose a major in chemical engineering because it guaranteed a high paid career → hated it but graduated with his degree in that field → took a job in construction straight out of college → fell off a roof and decided to make use of his degree after all → once he started working in the field, he had a newfound love for it → took his job at Herman Miller and felt underskilled and anxious → with time, he grew to thrive in his new sustainability career.

Jennifer Orgolini, sustainability director at New Belgium Brewery. 

Was a graduate student in philosophy when she took a job at the brewery on the side → started on the bottling line and then did office work for the CEO → moved up in the company’s ranks just through always being to help other people → decided it’d be a good idea to get an MBA → became the company’s chief operations officer → redefined her role to include an emphasis on sustainability and that’s where she is now.

Education

You may think you have to be certain you want a career in sustainability management by the time you’re 18, but that’s not the case.

If you’re already pretty sure this is the way you want to go, start looking into schools that offer undergraduate environmental studies programs. It’ll definitely give you a leg up! But as you can see from the stories above, this is far from a necessity. People enter this field from all sorts of different angles.

Whatever path you take, you’ll need to demonstrate your expertise in the environment and our impact on it. Email, call or message people whose work you admire in this field and ask them what you need to know and how they wound up doing what they do! Paying extra attention in science classes is a great idea. And don’t forget to walk the walk when you start to talk the talk by starting environmentally conscious practices in your own life.

More Sustainability Director Stories from Roadtrip Nation

Tim Winton, sustainability consultant and founder of Permaforest Trust.

After graduating from college, Tim decided he wanted to live among the trees for a while. He spent two months planting them with a group of friends and the experience changed their lives forever. His main goal went from becoming financially successful to doing something good for the environment. He went on to found the Permaforest Trust, a nonprofit environmental education center.

Mieko Ozeki, sustainability manager at University of Vermont.

Mikeo was a philosophy major in college, but it was when he took an Outward Bound outdoor education class that he began feeling a life in nature was just as important as a life of speculation. For a period of time, he worked for The Food Project, providing young people and volunteers with information about sustainability. He returned to graduate school to get two separate degrees — one in sustainability studies, the other in environmental education — and now ensures the University of Vermont is as environmentally- and student-friendly as it can be.

How to Get Started Now

If becoming a sustainability director is an interest for you, don’t feel like you have to make it your only interest right away.

Consider if this is your ideal way of helping the world — there are numerous ways to help the environment, plenty of which don’t even require making it your career to do so! If you have a more general love of nature, keep your options open for a while!

If you’re starting to feel more certain that this is the road for you, focus on scientific or engineering endeavors in college or outside of it. Seek out like-minded people trying to figure out if this is the path for them and others who’ve decided it’s definitely the way they want to go. Browse sustainability blogs and websites. Intern. Email your questions to sustainability directors doing the exact kind of work you want to do. And always remember: This is one of those careers where you know for sure, day in and day out, that you’re doing a huge service in making the world a better place for us all!

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