Getting into sustainability and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)

Many Manchester students and graduates are motivated to work in the environmental sector or sustainability. You may be studying a relevant degree programme, or it could be something which is important in other parts of your life.

There is no single environmental or sustainability profession: sustainability encompasses a wide range of technical and non-technical jobs in industry, local and national government and voluntary organisations.

What is sustainability and CSR?

Sustainability is the concept of meeting our needs without compromising the future. It encompasses natural, social and economic resources.

Definitions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) vary between organisations and individuals. Generally it is defined as helping organisations conduct their activity in a way that is ethical, taking into account their environmental, social, economic and human rights impact.

It is important for anyone interested in the career to decide what sustainability and CSR means to them. Elements of CSR are often embedded into a job without the fact being made explicit and is it increasingly becoming core business practice rather than a separate function. It may also be possible to influence a role and/or an organisation from within to make a difference so you may be able to transform a job into one including CSR.

It is possible to work in consultancies, in-house CSR teams, social enterprises, charities, campaigning groups and think tanks or government.

First some facts

A relevant degree may not be enough

  • Supplement your study with volunteering and work experience that evidence your knowledge of and commitment to environmental work. In some cases, employers may require a higher degree such as a masters, or the specialist knowledge gained from such study. This is typical of some environmental consultancies where they need new recruits to get off to a fast start.
  • Masters level qualifications CSR courses exist but are not a prerequisite for entering the field.
  • Roles are not always suitable for graduate entrants so you may need to build up experience and consider CSR as a medium-term objective. For instance in-house CSR jobs are often only advertised to internal candidates so consider joining a corporate and making a sideways move later.
  • Tip: If the employer you are aiming for prefers candidates with a master’s degree, it is worth enquiring whether they offer course sponsorship, or whether you could undertake an internship with them between your bachelor’s and master’s degree

Relevant experience makes a difference

  • Even if you are studying a relevant degree, employers still look for work experience as evidence of your commitment to environmental issues and for any relevant practical experience gained.
  • It does not have to be paid or full time, but it does need to be ongoing rather than just the odd day then nothing for 12 months. Be prepared to do anything (even if wellies are involved to start with) and stick at it.
  • Relevant experience could include: volunteering to assist a charity with a CSR project or an internship or period of work shadowing in a CSR department or consultancy. You can also demonstrate your commitment, skills and experience by influencing policies and actions in any organisation to be more environmentally sustainable or socially responsible.

Entry level jobs are not always advertised

  • Though graduate opportunities exist with larger employers (typically the larger multidisciplinary consultancies and oil/utility companies), entry-level jobs can sometimes be hard to find.
  • Many organisations in this sector are SMEs (small to medium sized) and they can recruit differently. Some jobs fall into the ‘ongoing recruitment’ category, advertised as they come up in response to work coming in to the business.
  • An effective strategy is to target organisations that interest you: research their current opportunities on their website or consider making a speculative application.

Stay current with environmental and sustainability sector issues to discover potential career paths and to impress recruiters at interview

Join a professional institution/learned society. Membership is usually discounted for students and can provide a gateway to specialist information, events and networking. Many Professional institutions have environmental or sustainability sub-groups too. Some particularly relevant ones include:

Build your knowledge from home. This will demonstrate active interest but could also be a taster for further education. The following offer a range of short courses on ecology and sustainability issues:

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