Sustaining a career path in the green economy

New career opportunities in sustainability are opening up all the time.

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Sustainability is often framed as an economic burden, loading consumers and businesses with additional costs.

But this is a misconception: the green economy is opening up a new world of job and career options. New industries are springing up to create more eco-conscious products and services, while existing businesses seek to be more sustainable.

For all this, however, it is still a relatively young industry, and there is a pressing need for workers to upskill and reskill for careers related to sustainability.

Elena Wrelton is environmental compliance manager with Elves, a compliance scheme for end-of-life vehicles in Ireland. The organisation runs on a non-profit basis.

“Some companies are making incremental improvements to their operations which have both environmental and efficiency benefits,” Wrelton says.

“Others are focused on the delivery of key products in the sustainability area, such as wind turbines. This has a sustainability benefit in the transition to renewable energy, but it is not without its own sustainability issues that need to be considered – for example, the challenge of recycling wind turbines.”

Chris Collins, country president for Ireland at Schneider Electric, says new jobs are emerging all the time.

“We are seeing roles like chief sustainability officer, sustainability director or manager, who are responsible for measuring and managing the impact a business has on the environment,” Collins says.

Wrelton says careers in sustainability are set to grow.

“The concept of the circular economy is gaining traction. This can be seen as a way of delivering on wider sustainability goals but it also recognises the need to look at an issue holistically, to consider the whole life-cycle of a product and how it sits within wider systems.

“This means that a product’s impact has to be considered at every stage – at design, production and end-of-life, as well as through the business model that delivers the product to the end-customer. Is the product designed for a long life, for repair and, when reuse is no longer possible, high-quality recycling? Does the business model support these activities, for example, through providing product take-back or refurbishment opportunities?

“Sustainability is an area that will become more integrated, so it will be a daily consideration in the majority of roles.”

Collins says not everyone who works in this space has the word “sustainability” in their job title.

“Sustainability is becoming integral to the culture of organisations, from the top down or the bottom up, depending on the company. It’s become more of a collective responsibility, impacting everyone. For most companies, it’s about building sustainability into what they do.” This requires a shift in mindset to become more widespread.

Collins says mindsets are changing all the time, but many executives still believe that cutting CO2 emissions and reducing carbon footprints compromises profitability.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth. Smart investments in digital platforms that manage and automate electrical installations across buildings, office campuses, company data centres, manufacturing plants and industrial sites create a more efficient, reliable, safe and sustainable business.”

At UCD’s Innovation Academy, Dr Thomas Macagno is course director and education innovation lead for a number of sustainability courses. He says much of the skills needed are simply about managing change.

“My role is to help us be a leader in sustainability education, and what makes us unique is combining sustainability with innovation,” he says.

“We approach instilling the mindset of sustainability as a verb and not a noun. In line with design thinking, we look at where your organisation is, instead of going in and dictating changes. I was a technical expert in environmental sustainability myself, but I came from a product management background and knew how to implement change.

“We are preparing people to tackle complex problems, equipping them with the right tools and approaches,” Macagno says.

Collins points to the company’s own research which shows that two million new jobs could be created in Europe and the US by adopting clean energy technologies.

“The energy transition involves many complex challenges and opportunities which are crucial to creating a more sustainable future for everyone. It also means investing in new infrastructure and skills to future-proof our workforce and facilities. Every new role we create plays a part in helping our customers meet their net zero targets, while providing a boost to the green economy,” Collins says.

A selection of sustainability courses from undergraduate through to CPD

Undergraduate courses
  • UCD offers three level eight undergraduate courses in sustainability, including sustainability with business and economics, sustainability with social sciences, policy and law, and sustainability with environmental sciences. Core modules look at sustainability from a global perspective, and all include interdisciplinary research, a professional placement and field work both in Ireland and Europe.
  • DCU runs a four-year, level eight BSc in environmental science and technology, where students get a grounding in key science subjects alongside the analytical and practical skills to understand and protect the environment.
  • At TUS, a level seven BSc in environmental science and climate will develop student knowledge of environmental science and management, with lab, fieldwork and mapping skills among the core skills learned.

Postgraduate courses

Continuous professional development
  • At the UCD Innovation Academy, the professional diploma in innovation for sustainability trains people to take an innovative and creative approach through the use of design thinking. The focus on design thinking ensures participants will develop wider skills, beyond sustainability, bringing creative thinking into the heart of their workplace.


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