Insights on Sustainability

By Shania Sukamto

The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship.

The Discover+ Panel on Sustainability, held on 16 June 2020, was graced by Jaclyn Seow (Moderator), Head of ESG & Impact at Openspace Ventures; Alvin Seo, Group Sustainability Manager at Singtel; Erik Christianto, ESG Product Specialist, APAC at S&P Global Ratings; and Karen Sim, Senior Sustainability Strategist at Forum for the Future. Attendees included students at various levels of education with a desire to know the different career paths in sustainability and how to best position themselves for such roles.

Since this sector is rapidly growing and companies are scaling up their sustainability initiatives, you can expect more hiring for sustainability related roles. Even “non-green” companies are undertaking environmental, social, governance responsibilities. In Singapore, reporting and compliance are some of the fastest emerging areas in sustainability. Many big companies have a commitment to investors to publicly disclose their carbon footprint and pollution indices. So now companies in the Singapore Stock Exchange, for example, have to do disclosures every year, similar to a yearly financial report. From this year onwards, there will also be militant packaging reporting requirements as waste management becomes a greater challenge. In this line of reporting, you can expect to see the avid utilisation of blockchain technology to raise the traceability in supply chains.

Another key trend is the transition towards a circular economy. Currently, our economy is operating on a linear, take-make-waste pattern. However, we want to design out waste and pollution. Such a systemic change requires the concerted effort of stakeholders from various sectors — policy implementation, legislative change, incentives from government, shifts in focus in the corporate sector, habit and mindset change on the consumers’ part. 

No. There are many ways of getting into a sustainability-related role. You can come from an environmental engineering background, start by doing a lot of operational technical calculations, then move into sustainable finance as that data must be produced and translated for investors. If you’re from an arts & social science background, you can bring an acute awareness of current affairs and a global perspective to the table. Regardless of your background, it can be a springboard to advance into other roles. You can also augment a degree in business, for example, with a masters in environmental studies to gain more expertise.

It might seem like all the people working in sustainability have degrees of international exposure as the sustainability trend started from the Western markets. However, now that this is coming to (and rapidly growing in) Asia, there is great advantage in having local market knowledge and connecting with local businesses. There is a huge potential in engaging with SMEs to make sustainability the core of their businesses. Unlike big companies, which often have a reputation to protect, SMEs have less of a reason to do so. Having a good understanding of the local context is crucial as some environmental and social issues are more relevant in Singapore or more of a concern amongst the public. Hence, do not discount your ability to be a local expert (or to obtain a local university degree).

Communications skills are of paramount importance to all jobs but especially in sustainability-related roles. It grants you the ability to effectively convey and package information according to the audience that you are addressing. Communicating with the right words, tone and language can significantly shape your relationship with others. You need to know how to sell the idea of ESG to make a positive social and environmental impact, and how to convince profit-driven businesses that solving these challenges can secure or add value to their revenue streams. For example, neglecting environmental risks can lead to operational shutdowns. However, this idea is relatively new and convincing businesses can be challenging. Besides external communications, communicating the impact of your work internally is equally important as sustainability or CSR teams are usually the smallest in the company. Additionally, project management skills (managing budgets, timelines etc) are important too. Being well-informed about the various bodies of knowledge and being able to see links, pick out patterns and areas with potential for improvement will also give you an edge.

Firstly, it is extremely important to stay updated with the news and new developments in the industry. This way, you can bring insights from different worlds and systems into projects at work and get more creative in your suggestions. Read up as widely as you can (eco-business is a good start)!

Secondly, demonstrate your interest and awareness of the space. As most applicants have the basic skills required for jobs in this sector, having a genuine passion for sustainability can allow you to stand out. Show your willingness to get your hands dirty by volunteering your time with causes that you champion, starting a school initiative, getting active on Linkedin (sharing relevant posts, even posting your own thoughts about this) and connecting with others in the industry.

Moreover, it is important to gain personal credibility and success. Show that you are not just “all talk but no action” by embedding the notion of sustainability in your daily lives. You can reduce your environmental footprint by eating local produce and less meat, and offsetting carbon from your flights. This will be an inception seed for those around you and hopefully will become more conventional soon.

Most students want to score internships at the “big names” that pay really well, but you should look out for places where you can really learn and get connected to the right people in the sustainability field. That will be more beneficial for you in the long run.

Additionally, make sure that you are networking with purpose.

Lastly, brush up on your interview skills. It is crucial to know how to articulate your accomplishments, sell yourself and make relevance to past experiences.