Sustainability planner: Learn more about the career

Many companies have recognized the value of a dedicated sustainability staff: reduced utility costs, cuts to operating expenses, more efficient production and an increase in the firm's standing among the public as well as industry peers, to name a few possible perks. 


Sustainability planners are often behind an organization's various green initiatives, handling many of the direct operational responsibilities necessary to keep projects running smoothly. Those interested in such a role may want to consider pursuing a degree like a Master of Sustainability Leadership, as the curriculum covers subjects such as strategic sustainability, communications, leadership and more. 

A typical day in the life of a sustainability planner


The specifics of each sustainability planner's daily routine will vary depending on the priorities of the organization. Some could require more of a focus on paperless initiatives, while others may be attempting to embrace biofuels, wind, solar and other forms of alternative energy. Regardless of the particular responsibilities, sustainability planners will likely begin their workday with a look at projects currently in progress. They will review both qualitative and quantitative data points regarding these matters and will contact co-workers, subordinates and third-party business partners as needed to keep projects on track.  


These professionals will also review their organizations’ large-scale goals to see where new sustainability plans could be implemented, particularly those that have the potential to save money. They will then brainstorm with staff to determine specifics, from feasibility of implementation to practical financial concerns, of new plans.


Depending on the nature and size of the company, a sustainability planner may also need to travel. Responsibilities requiring remote work could include visiting the project site of a building being designed according to LEED building specifications or checking the energy use and dispersal methods of an existing facility to determine if any inefficiencies exist. Also, planners may handle the responsibility of training staff throughout the organization on how to adhere to sustainable best practices.


Planners may be tasked with persuading corporate partners or clients to sign off on new sustainability plans. In this context, it will be necessary to understand the full impact of the initiative and be able to answer questions. They must understand the motivations of individuals who don't immediately grasp the importance of sustainability, and communicate the value behind these initiatives. Finally, sustainability planners might develop relationships with environmentally-focused nonprofit organizations so that their businesses can contribute directly to the well-being of their communities.

A closer look at the professional landscape of a sustainability planner 

Sustainability planners work alongside many colleagues in different specialties. Because of these interactions outside their discipline, planners may spend a significant amount of their time with people who have little or no understanding of sustainability and conservation. Planners should always be prepared to explain concepts simply and directly. Emphasizing the cost benefits that a sustainable process overhaul can produce is often an ideal approach. This could increase the chances of buy-in across the organization and solidify company-wide understanding that sustainability-oriented projects are essential to future success. 

The pay sustainability planners can expect to receive will vary based on their employment—namely, whether it's in the public or private sector—but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites $69,400 as the median salary. Those working directly for or in conjunction with the federal government can earn more than $100,000 a year, and the highest 10 percent in this career had salaries greater than $120,000.

Becoming a sustainability planner

According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree constitutes the minimum qualification necessary to obtain an entry-level role in sustainability planning, while a master's degree like an MSL can be extremely valuable for anyone pursuing a higher position in the field.

Other steps in addition to college courses can also be helpful. Experiential learning or prior work history provide hands-on experience that can ultimately be critical to professional goals. Prospective planners can obtain certifications from accreditation organizations in the sustainability field that may be beneficial if they want related careers. Groups include the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management and the Ecological Society of America. 

Learn more about your potential career as a sustainability planner

Sustainability is a complex sector. Those with a passion for green practices and technologies who want to qualify for prestigious positions within the field can consider earning the online Master of Sustainability Leadership degree from Arizona State University. Students can learn to improve their skills as they relate to strategy, geopolitics, economics, compliance and other factors affecting sustainability efforts.

Sources:
ASU Online – Master of Sustainability Leadership
PayScale – Sustainability Manager Salary
PayScale – Environmental Planner Salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Environmental Scientists and Specialists
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – How to become an environmental scientist or specialist
Institute of Hazardous Materials Management – CHMM General Recertification Information

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