Careers in Sustainability Consulting, Sustainability Marketing and CSR

by Mallory Martino, MBA ‘14 (11/15/12)

Mallory Martino, MBA ‘14

Lessons learned at Sustainable Global Enterprise Club 101 regarding sustainability consulting, sustainability marketing and CSR.

I came to Johnson knowing that I wanted to pursue a career focused on sustainability, but I quickly realized that to achieve this goal I needed to determine how I defined sustainability and find companies with a similar perspective. This is no easy feat given the breadth of the sustainability field.  I was incredibly thankful that the Sustainable Global Enterprise Club spent the first few meetings of the year focused on explaining different areas within sustainability.

I am passionate about approaching sustainability issues as business opportunities. More specifically, I am passionate about the intersection of business and society and how corporations can use their money, resources and power to affect positive change in the world. Given my desire to secure a consulting or internal strategy role, I chose to join the Sustainability Consulting Affinity Group; however, I am also interested in exploring the corporate social responsibility (CSR) field.   So I was very excited when I received an invitation for  “Sustainable Global Enterprise 101”, a session featuring information on sustainability consulting, sustainability marketing and CSR presented by three second year MBA students who did the SGE immersion.

The session began with Pratima Arapakota, who spent her summer with Sodexo in their Office of Sustainability & CSR, covering the basics of corporate sustainability. She explained that firms with strong corporate responsibility initiatives are looking to combine passion and purpose – as are the people in those roles!  These initiatives are used to both cut costs and differentiate themselves from competitors. One of the things I struggle with is the idea that corporate sustainability/responsibility translates to philanthropy. While I believe this is a component of a responsible company’s initiative, I am particularly interested in the business of sustainability. Thus I find it challenging to identify companies who have a similar perspective.

Pratima explained that there are three stages of sustainability in corporations:

1.       Corporate Philanthropy

2.       Operations Management

3.       Embedded Sustainability

I had never seen these perspectives laid out like this and it became immediately clear to me that I am interested in companies that have reached the embedded sustainability stage of their responsibility initiative.  Pratima also talked about how to approach the job search. The first option is to pursue a corporate sustainability role by networking into a company with an existing corporate responsibility team. The second option is to pursue a non-sustainability role in a company/industry with a long-term plan to switch to sustainability. Hearing Pratima talk through these options reassured me that no matter which path I choose I can find a way to make a positive impact.

Following which, we had Ufei Chan who spent her summer with Weaver Wind, speaking about careers in sustainability marketing. Ufei talked about making the business case to C-level executives for sustainability by incorporating the idea of appealing to the values of target customers and focusing on the “entire citizen.” Ufei used the example of Nike to illustrate her point. Nike decided that they wanted to make sustainability core to their business without sacrificing their position as a performance brand. The Flyknit running shoe was the result of this initiative and Ufei showed us a great video that describes the product and in a subtle way explains how it is meets both the sustainable and superior performance requirements. Check it out

The final area, sustainability consulting, was covered by Clint Cherco who spent his summer at Accenture Management Consulting.  I was particularly interested in this part of the session as I am currently pursuing a management consulting position.   My dream job is to be a consultant that works with clients to develop responsible business practices that ultimately help solve social problems such as FSG, Dalberg, BSR, etc.

Clint laid out four paths to finding jobs at the intersection of sustainability and consulting:

1.       NGO/ Non Profit Consulting Firms (FSG, BSR, Bridgespan, Aspen Institute)

2.       Boutique Consulting Firms (SustainAbility, Dalberg, BluSkye)

3.       Management Consulting Firms (PwC, Accenture, Deloitte)

4.       Internal Consulting (Google, GreenBlue, EDF Climate Corps)

It was incredibly helpful to see sustainability consulting broken into these four areas as it allowed me to better position both my current and future job searches.

At the end of the session the three facilitators took a minute to reiterate that when it comes to finding a sustainability job you must figure out what your passionate about, focus your time and energy, and of course, NETWORK!  

Johnson has an incredible alumni network, a well-connected Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and opportunities to meet practitioners at sustainability-related conferences.  I couldn’t be more excited about being a part of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Johnson and am looking forward to a career that allows me to combine my passions with my business school education!