In the 21st century, issues surrounding resource consumption, global warming and overpopulation are surfacing more frequently. Concern with rising gas prices and electricity conservation has generated a growing interest in solar energy, hydrogen, wind power and other alternative fuels. Some progressive corporations, businesses and individuals are looking into being more independent of depletable resources, and improving their ability to self-sustain. These organizations consult sustainability experts -- professionals who analyze a business, including the energy it consumes and the waste it produces, finding ways of making the business "smarter" and more sustainable.
What is sustainability?Sustainability expert Dr. Richard T. Wright defines a sustainable system as one that maintains its capacity to operate without depleting the resources its operation relies on. The best examples, he says, are found in nature. For example, a forest gets its energy from:
- The soil, which is replenished by fallen trees and leaves
- The sun, a non-depletable resource
- The rain, a self-sustaining system
These characteristics are what makes a forest able to carry on for eons without depleting its energy resources.
Though it’s not likely in the foreseeable future for modern society to continue as a whole without needing outside resources, it is possible for cities, businesses and individuals to adopt characteristics of sustainable systems, thereby reducing the number of depletable resources needed to sustain them. For example, if the area of land needed to sustain the agricultural and resource needs of a city (known as the city’s ecological “footprint”) were self-sustainable, the city itself would be self-sustainable. Though no city has yet reached that point, cities and businesses are taking steps to move in that direction by relying more on non-depletable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, and by conserving depletable resources such as fossil fuels and electricity (more on that later). They make these transitions with the guidance of sustainability experts.
What do sustainability experts do?Sustainability experts and sustainability firms are hired by firms and other organizations as consultants. Their clients may be governments, cities, corporations, small businesses, organizations or individuals seeking to reduce their ecological footprint. One sustainability consulting firm, SustainabilityExperts.com, helps organizations prevent problems relating to energy, transportation and agriculture. Sustainability consulting firms may consider a business’s energy draw and draft a plan for the use of renewable energy, or assist in a city’s planning to allow more effective use of mass transportation. They may also assist in structure and building design to allow for more efficient use of energy.
Sustainability experts can also address environmental and ecological issues as they affect a company’s reputation. WSP Environmental, for example, considers such factors as a client’s land and water use, waste and emissions control, and outside noise and vibration in order to mitigate any environmental, social and reputational risks the client could potentially face.
Sustainability consulting firms employ agents from a diverse array of backgrounds in order to assist organizations in their quest to become more “green.” As the growing attention on environmental issues continues to create public awareness around the idea of resource depletion, these consultants will see a productive future in creating sustainable, green businesses.
How can I become a sustainability expert?
Sustainability is a new and vibrant avenue of business, so sustainability experts come from a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. Firms especially 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-established career paths, specific titles, degrees and majors are not as important as the specific focus you take in your field of study. Self-motivation and a clear direction toward environmental conservation and preservation are some of the most important qualities a future sustainability expert can have. Specific details concerning education requirements and salary tend to vary with the hiring firm.
How can my business be more sustainable?
Every business can benefit from the advice of sustainability experts in some way, starting with small but cost-saving energy conservation techniques. Many forward-thinking businesses already use these and other energy-saving strategies:
- 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 also proven to brighten workers' moods
- 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 for longer periods of time
- 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