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Sustainability Manager / Head of Sustainability

A Sustainability Manager or Head of Sustainability provides an organisation with support and advice on all sustainability-related issues. They are responsible for an organisation’s sustainability strategy and develop initiatives to support this. Part of this includes influencing organisational culture by championing sustainability, driving innovation and encouraging continuous improvement.

The roles of Sustainability Manager and Head of Sustainability can be similar in terms of tasks involved, although the roles may report into different levels, or have different levels of responsibility. However, in different organisations, the titles can sometimes be used interchangeably, depending on the size and structure of the organisation in question.

Group of sustainability professionals in a meeting

The information in our job profiles aims to give a general overview of the role and a guideline to what it involves. The content is not intended to be exhaustive and roles will vary depending on the organisation and sector. The salary ranges are a guide only, as these are dependent on the size and location of the organisation.

Entry level salary range
Early career salary range
Experienced salary range
Senior leadership salary range

How does this role align to the green agenda?

This role has the green agenda at its heart. Individuals are responsible for ensuring that the organisation fully integrates the issues associated with sustainability and the environment into its operations. Sustainability Managers or Heads of Sustainability play a key role in championing the green agenda with both internal and external stakeholders to create a more sustainable future. Individuals in both roles are expected to advocate for sustainability and drive change in the business, while a Head of Sustainability will often be expected to fulfil this role externally as well as internally.

Two sustainability professionals talking in an office

Skills and capabilities

A passion for the sector and the ability to share this passion is a key component of the role.

Technical knowledge

  • Requires a broad understanding of sustainability across the environmental, social and wider agenda
  • Able to identify best practice and interpret this in the context of the organisation’s activities
  • Knowledge of appropriate legislation and regulations is an important pre-requisite
  • Experience could include having worked on:
    • Relevant reporting frameworks (e.g. Global Reporting Initiative, and Carbon Disclosure Project)
    • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tools
    • Supply chain sustainability and sustainable procurement
    • Net zero commitments such as the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTI) and associated tools and technologies, including carbon foot-printing, energy management and renewable technologies
  • Sector experience relevant to the organisation is often advantageous and in certain situations can outweigh technical experience.

Transferable skills

  • Continuous learning and the willingness to keep knowledge up to date
  • Adaptability and creativity are important to ensure alignment with the rest of the organisation
  • Effective communication skills are considered vital in a role that often influences decision-making and requires engagement with a variety of audiences at all levels, both inside and outside an organisation
  • Analytical thinking is valuable to understand and accurately interpret often complex data
  • Management: broader business management skills, such as project management, business case preparation, leadership etc. are often advantageous
  • Collaborating: the ability to collaborate and build networks is important to ensure strong partnerships with customers and suppliers, as well as with an organisation’s employees at all levels.

A day in the life

One of the attractions of a career in sustainability is that it provides a varied and interesting working life.

Typical duties and responsibilities include:
  • Reviewing sustainability related data, metrics and reports to identify issues and potential opportunities for improvement
  • Responding to queries from colleagues, suppliers, customers, investors and other external stakeholders regarding sustainability issues
  • Providing reports to the senior leadership team to ensure sustainability considerations are integrated into decision-making across the organisation
  • Advising internal colleagues on compliance with relevant laws, regulations and reporting requirements
  • Working with marketing and communication teams to ensure appropriate, accurate and useful information is available to all stakeholders
  • Reviewing suppliers’ approach to sustainability and addressing any issues identified across the supply chain
  • Keeping abreast of the latest trends and developments in sustainability and ensuring the implications for the organisation are understood and communicated.
Sustainability manager hosting a meeting

Both Sustainability Managers and Heads of Sustainability work collaboratively with different groups of people. They ensure leadership teams are fully aware of risks and opportunities associated with current and future sustainability challenges, as well as working with internal and external stakeholders to support organisations’ sustainability objectives.

Broadly speaking, a Head of Sustainability will have more responsibility and a wider scope of work, as well as a greater degree of input into strategic decision-making / oversight. So, while a Sustainability Manager may be responsible for specific projects and initiatives, a Head of Sustainability will be more involved in managing multiple projects, setting the overall strategy, and ensuring it’s aligned with the organisation’s wider objectives. A Head of Sustainability may also lead a team or work in a matrix structure to provide leadership across different divisions / business units.

The amount of strategic input for both roles is likely to depend on the size, structure and areas of operation of a business. A Head of Sustainability, however, will often be involved in developing and implementing the longer-term sustainability strategy to take account of the risks and opportunities for the business.

Entry routes

Potential career progression

To progress within sustainability there are several pathways, and you may want to consider looking for opportunities to expand your knowledge and qualifications in sustainability and related technical areas such as social value, environmental management, corporate social responsibility etc. You can also continue to develop broader business skills such as project management, presentation skills, strategic thinking etc. Further studies to support this, such as an MBA, or other business-based qualifications can also be useful.

It’s also important to understand all parts of your organisation in detail and look for opportunities to collaborate and build networks both internally and externally. Be proactive in identifying and implementing changes that will support your organisation’s sustainability objectives and allow it to respond to upcoming risk and opportunities. Demonstrating that you can lead projects and build a track-record of successful delivery can also support your progression.

There are various potential paths for these roles, which could include:

A more senior specialist sustainability role or one with a more complex/diverse or less mature organisation. For example, in larger organisations, a Sustainability Manager might progress into the role of Head of Sustainability.

A leadership role with responsibilities across a wider range of related activities, e.g., environmental management, health and safety, corporate social responsibility or environmental, social and governance (ESG).

A consultancy role either as independent specialist or as part of a larger consulting organisation.

A broader business management role in another part of the organisation using the networks and skills developed.

Relevant sectors

Sustainability Managers and Heads of Sustainability are needed in businesses across all sectors and organisations, in both the public and the private sector.

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Learn about the green agenda across different sectors

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