The power of the right sustainability job title


The power of the right sustainability job title

Posted on 15 March 2023

​The field of sustainability is rapidly expanding and diversifying, with ‘Sustainability Manager’ being the 2nd fastest growing job title in the UK on LinkedIn . This growth is matched by the speed of change in corporate sustainability, with new areas of focus, technological innovation and different approaches evolving rapidly. From addressing social justice concerns like modern slavery to mitigating environmental impacts, and fostering community engagement, the sustainability field is diverse and dynamic.

However, the rapid change can pose a challenge for the sector when it comes to job titles! It is not uncommon for two companies in the same industry to have a very similar role function but with very different job titles, or vice versa. Of course, this has always been somewhat present across industries as they mature, develop and compete for the best talent; however, it seems particularly pronounced in sustainability, due to the speed of growth and the diversity of the topic.

Does this matter? Yes. It matters for a number of different reasons.

1.      Corporate action is at the forefront of driving large scale change, and to be able to meet the demands of the goals, the sector needs to be a beacon for inclusivity.A clear career map, including job titles, both for those in the industry looking to take their next step and those wanting to get into it, will undoubtedly make jobs in the sustainability sector more accessible.

2.      Recruiting sustainability professionals is currently incredibly challenging. A 30%+ salary rise is not uncommon when moving roles and this is confirmation of the demand outstripping the supply of candidates in the market. In such a busy market, with hundreds of roles being advertised, it is essential a job title communicates the role function accurately. If not, unsuitable candidates will continually be drawn to the adverts, and suitable candidates will not apply due to assumed misaligned responsibilities, or simply not seeing the role. There is not always a perfect answer to this, however in the current market, every single candidate counts and therefore communicating the correct title is crucial.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to job titles and we find the biggest challenge is often for organisations who might be recruiting their first sustainability professional. To give some clarity, we have listed below the four main role categories we are seeing most frequently across corporate sustainability.

Environment: The most ‘traditional’ title for managing corporate environmental impacts. This role often has ensured compliance with environmental legislation, managing Environmental Management Systems (EMS) such as ISO 14001 and environmental permitting if required.

Carbon: As the name would suggest, this role is focused on helping clients manage and reduce carbon and energy usage. This can derive from a broader sustainability background, or a more technical stance, but both are often involved with data management and analysis and perhaps ISO 50001. Typically, carbon focussed positions will lead on innovation and projects to move beyond compliance, setting targets and action plans driving organisations towards initiatives such as Net Zero.

ESG: The term ESG was previously seen more prominently within the financial services and investment industry, where ‘ESG Analysts’ employed by major investment funds, would be analysing investment opportunities and assessing the associated ESG risks and opportunities. The ‘ESG’ title has started to become more widespread across different industries, focused on ensuring transparency and accountability. The title is also being used for a very broad set of role functions across sustainability.

Corporate Responsibility: CR Manager, or CSR, is generally responsible for the social elements of sustainability. This could include diversity and inclusion, community engagement, charity partnerships and employee engagement and often has a strong cross over with an organisation’s communications function.

Sustainability Manager: This role title seems to currently be the ‘go to’ across many industries. We have found this typically encompasses the ‘future proofing’ aspect of sustainability, setting targets and creating tangible action plans to get there. This can incorporate a variety of different aspects, often specific to the industry sector and this tends to be the running theme across sustainability focused vacancies.

Our advice to hiring managers trying to attract the right candidates, is to select the title that is most closely aligned with the responsibilities of the role you are recruiting. In many large, global organisations, it can be tricky to change official job ‘family’ titles, so if you are restricted to using Sustainability, we would suggest where possible using combinations to define the role function more clearly, for example ‘Sustainability Manager – Reporting’, ‘Sustainability Manager – Social Impact’ or ‘Sustainability Manager – Environment’. This will help the role stand out and communicate the focus of the role to the candidate market, helping those in the industry see what the routes to entry and progression are.

If you have any type of ‘Sustainability’ vacancy, or are looking for additional advice, contact Isla Robson who leads the Sustainability team at Irwin and Colton on or 01923 432 801.



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