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The sustainability challenge #1: Choosing the harder path.

The journey towards a job in corporate sustainability.

Being raised in an environmentally conscious German household, I have always realized the importance of environmental protection. But how did I finally end up as a Sustainability Manager trying to push the implementation of complex Sustainability Strategies in even more complex, large companies? Given the multifaceted nature of sustainability it’s not an easy task. Many companies are willing to incorporate sustainability into their daily business but research shows that they are still lagging behind. So why am I putting all my energy in this topic, even though it’s complex and every day brings a new challenge? To be honest – I do not know exactly but I know that it is the right thing to do and this is what I want to be doing.

How did I become a sustainability manager and acquired the necessary skills?

When working with Accenture, I joined a newly-created Sustainability Community of Practice without even knowing in detail what was behind it. I just knew I had to get involved. I soon realized that I wanted to focus on sustainability fulltime, which required building up my knowledge in the field. Finding suitable trainings and study options was the next logical step. I quickly realized that at that time the only way to dig deeper into the topic was to pursue a Ph.D. in that field as my aim was to contribute to the corporate responsibility area on a strategic level. I also quickly found out that in Germany Leuphana University Lüneburg was the right place to be. After submitting my Ph.D. application, I was offered the opportunity to do a Ph.D. at the INFU UNESCO Chair for Higher Education in Sustainable Development. I preferred pursuing an external Ph.D. i.e. to not work at the chair as I wanted to continue working in the corporate environment to combine and use the insights from both worlds. Even though it was stressful it turned out to work out quite well, mainly due to the unexpected and continuous support offered to me by fellow PhD students and faculty from Leuphana as well as Sustainability Managers and consultants. I can only assume that this supportive nature links back to the sustainability field itself – possibly people are intrinsically motivated and want to drive the topic rather than being motivated by personal gain. Today, I still try to give back this support whenever possible, be it through supporting interested people in finding their sustainability career path, answering questionnaires from students or through lecturing. By providing this support I hope to at least rudimentarily inspire younger generations to pursue a career in that direction. It actually makes me quite happy to see the growing interest in corporate sustainability!

Why did I choose to work in the corporate sector?

Whilst doing my PhD I decided to join Telefonica’s Corporate Responsibility Department, focusing on corporate sustainability strategy, reporting and communication, which gave me the opportunity to directly link the job and the Ph.D. Currently, my role at Allianz is being responsible for the group wide sustainability reporting and to support the global sustainability strategy development.

Interestingly I am repeatedly confronted with the question why I worked and work in large international companies rather than in an NGO, a smaller potentially family-owned business or a company which has already fully inherited sustainable values. Forced to reflect on all these questions, I had to challenge my values and beliefs. I argue that I can advocate sustainability in nearly any company as long as there is honest and serious engagement in sustainability topics and a true commitment by senior management (I will talk about necessary conditions in companies to successfully implement sustainability in one of the next blog posts). Based on more than 10 years of working experience in companies, international organizations and pursuing a Ph.D., I personally have the feeling that I can contribute a lot in the private sector.

Large international companies provide the opportunity of having a huge reach to enable positive impact on society, setting best practices and motivating peers and people on the fence to follow.

But most importantly, I see that we need all sectors working together – from academia to private and public sectors to align our forces in order to solve the sustainability challenges that lie ahead.

Those were my quite personal two cents. I would be happy to hear your thoughts and questions.

Join the discussion also on twitter: @saskiajuretzek

This blog post has been published first on my LinkedIn blog. Published blog posts:

The sustainability challenge #1: Choosing the harder path. The journey towards a job in corporate sustainability.

The sustainability challenge #2: It makes good business sense – so why are corporate sustainability strategies not implemented more successfully?

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