Insights on Sustainability

By Adriale Pang

Discovery+ is a series of online industry panels which give students the chance to interact with working professionals and learn about the careers they aspire to enter. These panels provide youths and working professionals with the opportunity to better understand industry trends, hear first-hand perspectives from industry professionals, and gain valuable advice on entering or navigating these industries.

On 2 November 2021, Advisory hosted Discover+: Sustainability, the 45th edition of the Discovery+ series. Speakers on the panel included:

  • Winne Tan (Moderator), Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Great Eastern
  • Lindsey Wiedmann, Chief Legal Officer, Maxeon Solar Technologies
  • Rayner Loi, Co-Founder and CEO, Lumitics
  • Wang Weixiang, Director, Environmental Policy Division, Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment.

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. Below are some key points shared during the session:

Sustainability-oriented jobs can be grouped into three broad categories:

  1. Jobs in traditional companies that are pivoting towards sustainability and are trying to meet the sustainability expectations of their customers, employees and shareholders.
  2. Jobs in companies offering sustainability-oriented solutions like food wastage trackers and solar panels.
  3. Jobs in government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on sustainability.

Across these three categories, there is a wide range of jobs available, such as handling the financial, legal, technological, engineering, or management aspects, all of which matter to sustainability. You certainly do not need to be a climate scientist to work on sustainability — you could be a banker, entrepreneur, lawyer, civil servant, and so much more, and still orientate your job towards sustainability.

People may not care about your cause because they do not recognise the urgency of the environmental problems that you see. It may be tough to convince skeptics that reducing food wastage actually matters, or to keep up the innovation that reduces the cost of solar panels year after year, but you need to keep firm to your passion for the environment, to get through the tough times in your job.

Take initiative and be proactive. If you are already working and want to make a career switch towards sustainability but are unsure how, you can simply start by launching a recycling programme or a green team in your current company. This can satisfy your passion for sustainability within your current company; or, when the time comes for you to move on to another company, it acts as a credible demonstration of your passion for sustainability. Rather than waiting for somebody to hand you an opportunity, you should create such opportunities yourself, as companies are unlikely to say “no” to them. 

At the same time, you should not feel limited by your job description. Singaporeans stereotypically tend to follow instructions to a tee, but you should push the boundaries, and future employers will notice your energy and give you a shot because of it.

If you are in school, you can work on tangible projects that demonstrate your passion for sustainability. Be resourceful and make good use of the many grants available, such as the SG Eco Fund from the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE). Showing that you have worked on your passions, by taking action rather than just talking about sustainability in abstraction, is crucial in convincing a potential employer that you are committed to the cause. You should also take part in community initiatives, and make use of the latitude and internships offered by universities. All these help you build your portfolio and CV early.

Additionally, if you know you have a passion for sustainability, think of creative ways to apply your skills and knowledge to the cause. For instance, you may be a communications and marketing professional, but you can get a job in sustainability focused on storytelling and getting buy-in from investors. Alternatively, your work experience may be built upon your core knowledge of banking and finance, but because you understand value chains, you might be able to get a job in climate financing. Especially with the likes of Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and even Al Gore’s online climate training classes, now is truly the best time for informal learning that can help you transfer your skills to a sustainability-oriented job. 

Finally, consider applying for jobs and opportunities that you find interesting, although they may seem like a long shot. Even if you do not tick all the boxes, by always putting up your hand, employers will notice your passion and energy and be more eager to work with you.

Every effort counts, so take action within your spheres of influence. For instance, within your family, convince your parents that they don’t need to double-bag at the supermarket. With your friends, convince them to use less plastic. With your colleagues, convince them to turn up the air-conditioning temperature. If environmental destruction were akin to being in a car that is hurtling towards the edge of a cliff, even as we struggle to step on the brakes, the least we could do is not step on the accelerator.

Also, money speaks. Pose hard questions to the brands you purchase from about their sustainability practices and let brands know that their commitment to sustainability affects your purchasing decisions. Put your money where your mouth is, such as by being willing to pay more in the short term for plant-based meats whenever the option is available, and eventually help to drive towards price parity with water-intensive meats.

Sustainability is going to matter more and more to all stakeholders, from customers to employees, shareholders to regulators. All parties are increasingly going to want to see disclosures by companies on their sustainability metrics. Some listed exchanges mandate a sustainability disclosure report, and companies saying that they have done nothing for sustainability will not cut it anymore. Hopefully, this spurs companies to realise that they can become more profitable when they are sustainable, which unfortunately is still rooted in a capitalistic way of thinking, but is at the very least a step forward. 

Moreover, given that sustainability will increasingly be viewed as a core function of businesses, this presents numerous opportunities for those wishing to join the sustainability sector. The production of a sustainability disclosure report involves data collection, data analytics, data auditing, data assurance, turning data into insights, storytelling with online platforms, etc. All these offer many opportunities for you to jump into the sustainability sector with other skillsets you may have. The preparation of such sustainability reports may also be brought in-house, rather than being outsourced to external consultants. 

Yet, the core job functions in the sustainability sector haven’t changed — what matters is still how you help the company make money, save money, and make the company look good. How do you help them make plans to comply with environmental regulations, leverage on environmentally-friendly and cost-saving technology, and sell their brand as environmentally-conscious?

Finally, one last trend is that climate financing for technologies like solar panels and battery storage will become more pertinent. Technology has leapfrogged in recent years, such as how solar panels have advanced dramatically in quality and cost-efficiency in the past 20 years. In particular, investments in sustainable technologies within Asia are critical to turn the tide of the climate fight. Therefore, places like China and India are where the opportunities are.