6 Steps to Becoming a Credible Sustainability/CSR Professional

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6 Steps to Becoming a Credible Sustainability/CSR Professional

What would you say are the top “impact” competencies for CSR/Sustainability professionals OR simply put, what skills do you need to accumulate to become a successful CSR Professional?

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016 - 11:30am

CONTENT: Article

Education is Playing Catch Up

The urgent need to create a more socially and environmentally responsible world has led to a boom in innovative solutions in areas such as; facility management, supply chain, design, manufacturing, standards, reporting, employee and stakeholder engagement , sustainable consumption and marketing. But, in the rush to solve the complex, system problems that we face, are each of us doing enough to “be credible” as our jobs and professions evolve?

A national study of CSR/Sustainability professionals in 2014 indicated that 53% said they felt that they “didn’t know what they needed to know” to credibly perform CSR/Sustainability functions in their jobs.  Meanwhile, an ECO Canada study in 2013 identified that 46% of employers with sustainability functions planned to hire additional staff and 84% of consulting firms also planned to bring on new Sustainability/CSR Professionals.

53% of CSR/Sustainability professionals said that they “didn’t know what they needed to know” to credibly perform their jobs.

Sustainability and CSR education is also evolving.  Competency models for Leaders and Practitioners are available; new college and university programs are being brought online annually and short courses are cropping up.  Some organizations are certifying CSR professionals in a two day workshop, while organizations like the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) requires experience, ongoing training and an examination for its Sustainability Associates and Professionals program.  ISSP has certified over 240 professionals worldwide in the last year.

The Resources to Build Better Skills Have Arrived

So what is a person to do if they want to advance confidently toward an environmentally sustainable and socially just human presence on the planet?  Clearly, our knowledge and skills need to evolve.

6 steps to carving a path towards a successful career as a CSR Professional.

  • Know what you need to know.  Recognize the need for an ongoing plan to develop your knowledge and skills in the fast paced sustainability/CSR world.

  • Go with the growth in CSR/Sustainability careers.Examine growth in the various job clusters and determine your aspirational career goals. (See Job Clusters chart to the right)
  • Understand the required competencies.Numerous competency frameworks have been developed and more are coming. Familiarize yourself with these competencies.
  • Identify your learning pathways. Create a multi-year learning plan.  Recognize that formal (college and university programs), non-formal (association or third party short courses) and informal (networking, reading, watching videos) pathways to competency development.  Build a plan using as many of these pathways as are appropriate for your goals. (See an inventory of Formal Education Programs Here)
  • Implement your plan and make a difference.

According to the 2014 CR Salary Survey, these are the top impact competencies for CSR/Sustainability professionals:  

  • Engage with Stakeholders. Sustainability cannot be done in isolation. Learning from stakeholder is vital to being successful.
  • Influence and persuade. Finding influencers and bringing them on board is key.
  • Plan and develop strategy. A good strategy is always important but adaptability and resilience are invaluable.
  • Measure and report impact. Study the numbers – companies work on numbers.
  • Project management.  Sustainability is all about dealing with a variety of projects at once.

If we are going to advance confidently as a sustainable presence on this planet – we need to move far and fast.  We can only do it together.

Click to learn more about the University of St. Michael’s College in University of Toronto, CSR/Sustainability Certificate


ISSP Professional Certification, Beta Test Candidate Handbook.  International Society of Sustainability Professionals.  January, 2016.

Key skills and requirements of CR practitioners. Business in the Community.   http://www.bitc.org.uk/services/training-bitc/cr-practitioners-key-skills

Leadership Competencies for Corporate Citizenship:  Getting to the roots of success.  Boston College, 2010. www.BCCorporateCitizenship.org

Managing Sustainable Global Supply Chains – Framework and Best Practices.  Network for Business Sustainability (2010).

Sustainability Talent Management: The New Business Imperative Five Sustainability Leadership Competencies for Your Competency Model.  Strandberg Consulting. 2015.

Keywords: Education | Business & Trade | CSR competencies | St. Michael's College | Sustainability Professionals | Sustainability and CSR education | Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS)

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