Sustainability Officer


Sustainability Officers are senior-level directors, officers or managers who communicate and coordinate with management, shareholders, customers and employees to address sustainability issues.  These professionals oversee a comprehensive suite of activities related to reducing environmental impacts and applying sustainability principles. As a result, Sustainability Officers develop, implement and evaluate programs for their employers that support social, environmental, and economic sustainability objectives. Most Sustainability Officers come from diverse professional backgrounds and enter this position through past experience leading junior staff and managers. In their role as key organizational leaders, Sustainability Officers must have outstanding skills in strategic planning, human resources management, and relationship-building.

At a glance

Imagine that you’re standing in the main quad of a bustling university campus. As the new Sustainability Officer here, you’ll be developing a campus-wide program to encourage environmental stewardship and energy conservation. This initiative includes the expansion of the university’s existing research on applied environmental science and policy, as well as an ongoing community outreach program to raise awareness about sustainability issues. Since your role is central to public perceptions about the university, you will be reporting directly to the university’s President.Even though this is still your first week on the job, you have a full, fast-paced day ahead of you. You’ll be leading a number of meetings with different stakeholder groups to get more information on their needs and expectations for the university’s sustainability programs. You’re also planning to finish your research on a cost-benefit analysis for the program, and start writing a grant proposal to ensure that enough funding is available to support upcoming program additions.You know you’re up to the challenge of this new role as Sustainability Officer. Throughout your past work experience, you’ve developed strong skills in leadership, strategic thinking and connecting different departments and teams. These abilities will help you excel as you support the university’s goal of long-term, financially-feasible sustainability projects.

Job duties

As part of their work, Sustainability Officers often focus on:
  • Creating an overarching strategy for sustainability in their organizations with an accompanying mission or vision and clear operating principles.
  • Building short and long-range operational planning that incorporates sustainability practices.
  • Acting as an internal sustainability consultant in the organization to educate colleagues on emerging trends, programs and issues in sustainability.
  • Directly managing all aspects of sustainability initiatives and programs, including administration of office, staff and budgets.
  • Managing sustainable activities such as recycling, energy efficiency, and water conservation.
  • Conducting an analysis of current policies, costs and benefits associated with implementing sustainable practices in an organization.
  • Developing and implementing systems to measure the progress of sustainability initiatives.
  • Fundraising (especially grant writing) to support sustainability projects.
  • Engaging with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that their input is reflected in your organization’s sustainability policy.

Work environment

Sustainability Officers typically work in these settings:In the office:
  • Performing administrative activities to manage staff and budgets.
  • Developing, implementing and evaluating your organization’s sustainability programs.
  • Writing reports for upper management about the progress of sustainability projects.
  • Conducting research to identify new sources of funding and writing grant proposals to request additional funding sources.
In the field:
  • Attending training seminars to stay up-to-date with new developments in sustainability policy, practices and technology.
  • Participating in stakeholder engagement meetings to assess the needs and interests of key people in your industry.

Where to work

Sustainability Officers are usually employed by:
  • Municipal, provincial and federal governments
  • Post-secondary educational institutions
  • Environmental professional or advocacy organizations
  • Large corporations that have incorporated sustainability into their core business activities
  • Utility companies
  • Natural resource extraction corporations, including those in oil & gas, mining, and forestry

Education & requirements

Most Sustainability Officers have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in the following areas:
  • Environmental Policy
  • Law (specializing in Environmental Law)
  • Business or Public Administration
  • Urban Planning
  • Sustainable or Green Business Management
  • Engineering
In addition to the fields of study mentioned above, Sustainability Officers also need extensive management experience. Current sustainability practitioners can boost their soft skills for a future Sustainability Officer role with professional development courses in:
  • Public speaking and presenting
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Organizational management
  • Human resources management
  • Staff management
  • Financial management or budgeting

Salary

The mean annual starting salary for Sustainability Officers in Canada is approximately $54,000. More experienced Sustainability Officers earn an average of $63,000 per year.