What is a Sustainability Expert?
As we move further into the 21st century, issues surrounding global warming, resource consumption and overpopulation are surfacing more frequently. Concern over rising oil prices and electricity use has sparked interest in alternative fuels such as hydrogen, solar energy and wind power. Some responsible and forward-thinking corporations, businesses and individuals are taking steps to improve their ability to self-sustain, or run independently of depletable resources. These companies turn to sustainability experts -- consultants who analyze the way an organization runs, the energy it consumes, and the waste it produces, and find ways to bring the organization closer to sustainability.
According to sustainability expert Dr. Richard T. Wright, a sustainable system is one that maintains its capacity to operate without depleting the resources its operation relies on. The best examples can be found in nature – for example, a forest gets its nutrients from:
- The soil, which is
replenished by fallen trees and leaves
- The sun, a non-depletable
- The rain, a self-sustaining system
These characteristics make a forest able to carry on for eons without depleting its resources.
Though it’s not possible in the foreseeable future for modern society as a whole to continue without the need for outside resources, it is possible for cities, businesses and individuals to adopt characteristics of sustainable systems, thereby reducing the amount of resources needed to sustain them. For example, if the area of land needed to sustain the agricultural and resource needs of a city (also known as the city’s ecological “footprint”) were sustainable, then the city itself would be sustainable. Though no city has yet reached that point, cities and businesses are taking steps to move in that direction through the use of non-depletable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, and through the conservation of depletable resources such as fossil fuels and electricity (more on that later). They make these transitions through the advice of sustainability experts.
What does a sustainability expert do?
Sustainability experts and sustainability firms act as consultants to their clients, which may be governments, cities, corporations, small businesses, organizations or individuals seeking to reduce their ecological footprint. Some sustainability consulting firms, such as SustainabilityExperts.com, assist in an organization’s planning in order to solve or prevent problems relating to energy, transportation or agriculture. A sustainability consulting firm may consider a business’s energy use and create a plan for the use of renewable energy, or assist in a city’s planning to allow more effective use of alternate transportation. They may also assist in architectural and building design to allow for more efficient use of energy.
Sustainability consultants can also address ecological and environmental problems that may affect a company’s reputation. WSP Environmental, for example, considers factors such as a client’s land use, water management, emissions management, and noise and vibration control in order to mitigate and prevent any environmental, social and reputational risks the client could potentially face.
These companies employ agents from a diverse array of industry backgrounds to assist organizations in their efforts to become more “green.” As environmental issues continue to create public awareness around the notion of resource depletion, these consultants and experts will see a productive future in creating sustainable, green businesses.
How do I become a
experts come from a variety of backgrounds, and sustainability is a new and
vibrant avenue of business. Firms like to hire people with a background or interest in civil, structural, electrical or
mechanical engineering, as well as biology,
ecology and other water or earth sciences.
Because sustainability is a new industry without well-worn career paths, specific majors and degrees are not as important as the focus you take in your area of study. Self-motivation and a clear direction toward environmental preservation and conservation are some of the most important qualities a sustainability expert can have. Specific details pertaining to education requirements and salary tend to depend on the hiring firm and its particular specialty.
What can my business do to be more sustainable?
Every business can benefit from the advice of sustainability experts in some way, starting with small but cost-saving energy conservation efforts. Many energy-efficient businesses already follow these and other tips:
- Use compact fluorescent lighting, as it uses 1/4 the energy and lasts 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs
- Turn off or minimize lighting when the office is closed
- Use lighter paint schemes in the office, as lighter colors brighten a room with less required lighting
- Use natural lighting when you can -- it's proven to brighten workers' moods anyway
- Use computers and office equipment marked with an Energy Star label -- their efficiency standards are expected to save businesses over $2 billion in the next 5 years
- Set monitors to sleep mode when they're not in use, and turn computers off if no one is using them
- Recycle toner cartridges, paper, and office food waste such as aluminum cans and plastic bottles
- Use motion-activated faucets in bathrooms, as they turn themselves completely off