How to become a Sustainability Consultant? And Is it the Right Field For You?

I was replying to a post on Facebook where a student posted this question. I started responding to it after sometime I realized my response was becoming more like a post in itself. That led me to make this quick post. I am hoping this is useful for young professionals seeking opportunities in Sustainability. I also hope others can contribute and make this post complete by sharing your ideas.

So how do you become a Sustainability Consultant?

To begin answering this question, we should first understand that the term sustainability can be broadly defined as any development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs (This is the Brundtland definition that most of us are familiar with). In simple terms this means that whatever we do on this planet in our lifetime to make our stay comfortable, should not compromise the ability of our children and our children’s children to have a comfortable life for themselves and generations to come. Sustainability is not just “going green”. It goes beyond “going green” as in — it is a true balance of supporting the triple bottom line or the 3 P’s — People (Society), Planet (Environment) and Profit (Economy). With that said, It is a huge field if you are looking at career options. You can pretty much apply the principles of sustainability to anything you do- be it construction of a house or building, building a bridge or highway, manufacturing goods, agriculture and farming, making food, even to our lifestyles. So this offers a lot of career options if you embrace the principle of sustainability in whatever you do. Since this question was originally posted in a LEED group, I will share my thoughts as it relates to the built environment.

Becoming a sustainability consultant would mean — you should have the expertise in offering the best for your client. Expertise comes with experience, practice and continuous learning. If you have a background in any field pertaining to buildings, planning, designing, renewable energy technologies (such as a bachelor’s degree in building science, Architecture, Landscape Design, Urban Planning, Interior Design, Civil, Mechanical or Electrical Engineering…etc etc — anything related to buildings) — complementing your technical knowledge with knowledge in sustainable design, green building design, construction and operations, and green technologies can help you integrate sustainable design practices into your current profession. This in itself will give you a career boost in many areas as noted below:

  1. Design and Engineering (Urban Planning, Building Architecture, Interiors, Landscape, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Civil, Renewable Energy, Energy Modeling, Lighting Analysis, CFD analysis, Wellness of building occupants, Waste Water, Rain Water, etc.).
  2. Construction (Most of the trades such as construction pollution prevention, building Masonry, landscape, site restoration and preservation, storm water management, waste management, HVAC, Plumbing, Windows, Roofing, etc.)
  3. Construction Building Materials (Site management, storm water management, water treatment, waste management, bricks, thermal insulation, green roofs, low-e windows, flooring, furniture , appliances, etc.)
  4. Building Operations (Green Cleaning, Wellness, Building Indoor Air Quality Management, Pest Control, Landscape, Energy and Water Metering, Renewable Energy, etc)

This list keeps going.

Another thing to consider is a credential. A credential in LEED, BREEAM, LBC, Green Globes, Estidama-Pearl, Griha, Green Star, WELL,…any green building rating system would help you. Just having exposure to one of these rating systems can help you look at construction projects from a different perspective. A holistic approach is what’s needed for a project to truly embrace sustainability in the longer run. If you are a student, you can accomplish many of these things (like becoming familiar with green buildings and rating systems) before you graduate. You can even earn a credential while in school as many of the credentials don’t have any other prerequisites other than being 18 years of age.

Representing, I have had the privilege to visit many universities and professional institutions such as AIA, IIA, USGBC in the U.S and India where we give students a free workshop or presentation on sustainability, green buildings and rating systems. We try to give this presentation without identifying ourselves with a rating system and leave the choice to students and professionals. Many faculty members and students were against using a rating system as some were told that your building has to have air conditioning to be green (false) or has to be built with glass (false). It’s not the rating systems that matter it’s what the client wants and the end results. Ultimately all these rating systems are tools to incorporate sustainability into your projects. You can very well make a building green without pursuing an official rating. It’s you who is using the tool. You can use the tool the way you want it without any limitations. Some use it just to get a plaque for their buildings (and forget it) while others embrace it to the maximum extent possible. In fact, some certified green buildings perform no better than their traditional counterparts and sometimes even worse. Its not because something is wrong with the principle of green building design. Probably a green design was incorporated while constructing and to earn the building certification. Afterwards no one cared to educate the building operation team or occupants on how to use the building. Its like you have a green appliance at your home and you forgot to read the user manual :)

Now is Sustainability the right field for you? In my opinion, if you see yourself as an agent of change, and are committed to balance the wellness of people, planet and profit — then this may be right for you!

If you are interested to learn about the basics of sustainability or still not sure if this right for you — I encourage you to take our (GBRI’s) FREE course — Namaste LEED. Here is the trailer:

Link to the course:

Now, if you are an expert — I encourage you to share your thoughts and ideas.

Wishing you all the very best!

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Sustainability | Project Controls | Philanthropy - Dir. of Project Controls with Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of NY City.