What Does a Sustainability Specialist Do?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

From identifying environmental risks to driving sustainability initiatives, sustainability specialists perform varied tasks. Discover what it’s like to be a sustainability specialist and what it takes to become one.

[Featured Image] A sustainability specialist works on a tablet to develop a new energy conservation program for her organization.

The concept of “sustainability” centers on catering to present needs while remaining mindful of your responsibility to future generations [1]. The accelerating threat of climate change makes these efforts even more critical. For example, as of 2020, approximately 99 cities worldwide reported instances of heatwaves [2]. Looking ahead, the experts at Statista anticipate that about 45 cities will face the enduring threat of heatwaves between 2022 and 2025 [2].

The forecast calls for a steadfast commitment to responsible development practices that fulfill the aspirations of the current generation while preserving opportunities for generations yet to come. One of the essential professionals who focus on enabling this change is called sustainability specialists. Read on to learn more about this important job, including tips for starting a career in this field.

What is a sustainability specialist?

A specialist in sustainability assists public and private organizations in overcoming their sustainability challenges. Blending business expertise and environmental expertise, sustainability specialists work toward formulating business strategies that align with ecological preservation and organizational goals.

What does a sustainability specialist do?

One of the primary responsibilities of sustainability specialists is the promotion of sources of renewable energy, including hydropower, solar, and wind, as viable alternatives to conventional energy sources that contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Other everyday work duties you might encounter as a sustainability specialist include the following:

  • Gathering, upkeeping, and communicating climate, sustainability, and energy data

  • Ensuring compliance with environmental regulations

  • Monitoring firms’ progress toward long-term sustainability goals

  • Educating teams on new sustainability initiatives

Sustainability specialist skills

Becoming familiar with sustainability’s three primary pillars is essential to building the knowledge and skills you’ll need. Environmental, social, and economic concerns must all be considered for a robust and effective sustainability strategy.

Beyond understanding those three areas, developing the following skills can ease your way into a sustainability career:

Technical skills

1. A strong foundation in environmental science

Sustainability is inherently interconnected with various scientific disciplines. With a strong understanding of the scientific underpinnings of environmental problems, you can foresee potential challenges related to climate, biodiversity, or resource availability, ensuring that your firm’s long-term sustainability goals are realistic and attainable.

2. Data analytics

Your proficiency in handling data enables you to shape and guide a firm’s adoption of sustainable practices. For instance, through data analysis, imagine you observe a rising energy consumption trend in specific work departments. Analyzing and assessing this data, you propose installing energy-efficient systems, contributing to your organization's sustainability efforts.

3. Knowledge of environmental laws and regulations

Environmental laws include climate change and biodiversity protection agreements, enacted through cooperation between national and foreign governments. However, these laws are ever-changing to address growing challenges and advancements in environmental science. Consistently keeping track of and educating yourself on new industry standards allows you to adapt your sustainability strategies to comply with current legal standards.

Workplace skills

1. Effective leadership

Your leadership skills become pivotal as you empower team members to embrace sustainability practices and ensure the team remains resilient during organizational changes. Essentially, your ability to lead directly influences the success of integrating sustainability into an organization.

2. Clear communication

Whether articulating the tangible benefits of sustainability or aligning everyone with your firm’s broader environmental vision, your communication skills are vital to building understanding and support among stakeholders and employees.

3. Teamwork

Teamwork skills come into play as you join forces with colleagues across departments. For instance, you may work closely with the finance team to analyze the economic feasibility of proposed initiatives or collaborate with the operations team to adeptly implement eco-friendly practices. Teamwork lets you harness the diverse expertise within an organization, leading to a well-rounded and successful sustainability strategy.

Sustainability specialist salary and job outlook

The average annual salary for a sustainability specialist ranges from nearly $50,000 to more than $83,000, according to March 2024 data sourced from multiple job listing sites. The table below lists the base pay provided by Zippia, Payscale, Glassdoor, and Salary.com [3, 4, 5, 6].


Sustainability specialists have a promising job outlook. In 2022, the renewable energy industry supported an estimated 13.7 million jobs worldwide, a steady increase from 7.3 million in 2012 [7]. 

Sustainability specialist career path

The route to becoming a sustainability specialist isn’t linear. However, the following offers a breakdown of steps you can take to gain relevant experience:

1. Education & training

While obtaining a master’s degree can open doors to a sustainability specialist position right after college, an alternative and equally valuable path is starting with an entry-level position within a company. Engaging in entry-level work allows you to gain practical business experience, understand organizational dynamics, and cultivate professional connections. These experiences become valuable assets when seeking a promotion to a sustainability specialist role.

If you prefer the degree route, business, environmental science, and sustainability are popular major choices for sustainability specialists.

2. Certifications

Holding relevant certifications boosts your standing within the sustainability field, signifying your commitment to staying updated on industry best practices. Below are a few widely recognized certifications you can consider:

  • Certified Climate Change Professional (CC-P) 

  • Associate Environmental Professional (AEP) 

  • Sustainability and Climate Risk (SCR) Certificate

  • Certified Energy Manager (CEM)

  • Certified Business Energy Professional (BEP)

  • Certified Renewable Energy Professional (REP)

  • Certified Environmental and Safety Compliance Officer (CESCO)

Learn more with Coursera

For those with passion, knowledge, and skills, sustainability can be an excellent career path. Start preparing with the Introduction to Sustainability course, available on Coursera. Offered by the University of Illinois, this course delves into the essential aspects of sustainability theory and practice, including environmental economics and policy.

You could also complement that beginner-friendly course with the University of Pennsylvania’s  The Materiality of ESG Factors Specialization, also available on Coursera. The four-course series in this Specialization will introduce you to the basics of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing. 

Article sources


United Nations. “Sustainability, https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/sustainability.” Accessed March 10, 2024.

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