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Emerging Occupations

Sustainability Specialist

In general, sustainability specialists champion environmental best practices to help their team deliver a project that meets or exceeds green targets. They address issues such as waste-stream management, tracking and minimizing carbon emissions and other environmental impacts, green and social procurement practices, and achieving energy efficiency.

This is an emerging occupation. It may have evolved from an existing occupation or emerged in response to consumer needs or technological advances.

Also Known As

Sustainability Manager, Sustainability Consultant, Sustainability Coordinator, Sustainability Design Coordinator, Environmental Sustainability Specialist, Specialist – Sustainability Communications, Sustainability Program Specialist, Sustainability Specialist Policy Analyst

Updated Mar 24, 2023

Sustainability specialists help organizations achieve a triple bottom line. That is, they help organizations ensure they are accountable to:

  • People—those they employ, those they serve, and those in the local and global community
  • Planet—they have positive or neutral environmental impacts, and they strive to eliminate negative impacts
  • Prosperity—they are equally financially responsible toward stakeholders, shareholders, and the local and global community

Organizations that strive to have a positive relationship with the environment, society, and the economy are practising sustainability. To do this, they develop, implement, and oversee sustainability goals, standards, and practices.

Sustainability specialists focus mainly on infrastructure, human behaviour, and project management. In general, they:

  • Consult with owners and clients to determine sustainability goals
  • Conduct a materiality assessment and matrix (a method used to identify and prioritize the most important issues for an organization and its stakeholders)
  • Collaborate with other professionals to develop sustainability project goals, objectives, initiatives, or strategies
  • Establish and define key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Monitor or track sustainability indicators such as environmental impact, social or community impact, materials selection, carbon impacts, and energy efficiency
  • Manage documentation related to certifications such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) certification
  • Manage complex projects and diverse teams of professionals
  • Coordinate public reviews and participate in public hearings on major projects
  • Research and stay informed on social and environmental trends, policies, and legislation at the local, national, and international levels
  • Conduct environmental audits (for more information, see the Environmental Auditor occupational profile)
  • Assess or propose sustainability initiatives that account for factors such as cost effectiveness and technical feasibility
  • Collect information and inform decision makers about life cycle impacts, cradle-to-cradle technologies (products used, recycled, and reused without losing material quality), and sustainability best practices
  • Contribute professional services to developing and implementing sustainable community plans
  • Facilitate the development and implementation of resource management plans for noise, water, land, and energy
  • Create or maintain plans and develop reports or presentations related to sustainability initiatives and their results
  • Create business cases to persuade decision makers to make sustainable choices
  • Identify or procure needed resources (including funding) to implement sustainability programs or projects
  • Prepare a sustainability baseline report to measure performance for the organization’s operations
  • Establish the organization’s sustainability objectives, such as reducing emissions or waste generation
  • Collaborate with stakeholders
  • Access an independent international organization, such as GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) for methods and standards of sustainability reporting
Working Conditions
Updated Mar 24, 2023
  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg

Sustainability specialists primarily work in offices. They may travel to other locations to consult with stakeholders, facilitate groups, or gather information. Consultations with stakeholder groups may be held during the day, after regular work hours, or on weekends. Working days can be long and irregular.

Traits & Skills
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Sustainability specialists need:

  • Tact and persistence
  • A strong code of ethics
  • Communication, interpersonal, and facilitation skills
  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • The ability to apply concepts directly to complex, real-world problems
  • Organizational skills
  • The ability to make practical choices when rules and social behaviour conflict

Sustainability specialists should enjoy having clear rules and guidelines for their work. They should enjoy documenting and analyzing data and solving problems in innovative ways. They should have a sense of public responsibility and be comfortable managing complex projects and directing the work of others. An interest in current affairs and the environment are strong assets.

Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 24, 2023
  • Minimum Education 4 years post-secondary

Most emerging occupations develop from more than one occupation. People working in this occupation may come from a variety of education and training backgrounds. Before enrolling in an education program, prospective students should contact associations and employers in this field to investigate education options and employment possibilities.

This is not an entry-level position. However, people with project management skills may come into this role from an engineering, architecture, or science-based background. Sustainability specialists must be well informed about:

  • Social, economic, and environmental impacts, issues, and strategies
  • Environmental management methods and techniques and related legislation and regulations
  • Energy conversion, conservation, materials science, and renewable energy at a general scientific and engineering level
  • General life cycle analysis and sustainability index
  • General business and management functions
  • Organizational development and change
  • Environmental management systems, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
  • Research and data tools such as AutoCAD, Microsoft Office, and Structured Query Language (SQL)

Most sustainability specialists have post-secondary education in fields such as the environment, sustainability, architecture, engineering, geography, biology, planning, or management. Employers most often prefer applicants with several years of education, training, and experience related to sustainability or Environmental Social Governance (ESG).

For more information about post-secondary schools in Alberta that offer related degree programs, see the following occupational profiles:

To expand or narrow your search for programs related to this occupation, visit Post-Secondary Programs.

Completing a program does not guarantee entrance into an occupation. Before enrolling in an education program, prospective students should look into various sources for education options and employment possibilities. For example, contact associations and employers in this field.

Certification Requirements
Updated Mar 24, 2023
  • Certification Not Regulated

Some employers prefer to hire individuals with specialized certifications. Some examples of voluntary certifications include:

  • LEED Green Associate or Advanced Professional (LEED AP) specialty
  • Certified Passive House Designer
  • Certified Energy Manager
  • WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Environmental Professional (EP)
  • Sustainability Excellence Associate (SEA) or Sustainability Excellence Professional (SEP)
  • Environmental Audit Certificate
Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Emerging occupations typically are the result of:

  • An increased human need
  • Technological advances
  • Greater specialization within an occupation

Often there are too few people working in an emerging occupation to gather survey information. Therefore, it can be difficult to define advancement opportunities or employment outlook. Some Albertans already are working in this emerging occupation, but future demand for it is unknown.

Sustainability specialists are responding to an increased need for communities and organizations to use triple bottom line (people, planet, prosperity) and life cycle accounting. This includes an increased need for sustainability planning and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards. It also includes a need to understand natural resource management and sustainability principles.

Sustainability specialists may work on a salaried or contract basis for:

  • Industrial manufacturing or production facilities
  • Retail, finance, and insurance corporations
  • Universities, colleges, and research institutions
  • Laboratories involved in energy conservation or sustainability activities
  • Utility companies
  • Government departments (including Indigenous governments)
  • Not-for-profit or non-governmental organizations

Employment Outlook

Employment outlook is influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Time of year (for seasonal jobs)
  • Location in Alberta
  • Employment turnover (when people leave existing positions)
  • Occupational growth (when new positions are created)
  • Size of the occupation
  • Trends and events that affect overall employment

Explore emerging workplace trends in Alberta that could affect this occupation.

Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Often there are too few people working in an emerging occupation to gather survey information. Therefore, no current provincial salary data is available for this occupation.

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Business, Management and Administrative Studies
  • Communications
  • Education and Library Studies
  • Engineering and Science Technologies
  • Engineering, Architecture and Related Studies
  • Environment, Forestry and Related Studies
  • Sciences
  • Social Sciences, Law and Religious Studies
Other Sources of Information
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Canadian Environmental Certification Approvals Board (CECAB) website:

ECO Canada website:

International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) website:

Canadian Green Building Council website:

Canadian Passive House Institute (CPHI) website:

Canadian Institute for Energy Training (CIET) website:

International WELL Building Institute website:

GreenBiz website:

Get information and referrals about career, education, and employment options from Alberta Supports.

Updated Mar 24, 2023. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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