Sustainability in Careers

Written by Sanae Samata
April 9, 2021


Written by Sanae Samata
April 9, 2021

The British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ), the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and Temple University, Japan Campus teamed up on March 29 to co-host a webinar entitled “Sustainability in Careers: Working for a Better Tomorrow.” Panellists from academia, business and the not-for-profit sectors shared insights into how sustainability might become an integral part of everyone’s working life, both in the short and long term.

Kicking off the interactive session, Moderator Tove Kinooka, director and co-founder of sustainability consultancy Global Perspectives Japan K.K., invited attendees to share what sustainability meant to them. The responses were presented in a word cloud and varied from  “future,” “green” and “responsible” to “ window dressing” and “bandage.”

Defining sustainability is important, said Heather McLeish, director at EY Japan, because it is a “broad umbrella,” with both tangible and intangible aspects, within a “growing and changing industry.”

William J. Swinton, director of international business studies at Temple University, Japan Campus, said that framing sustainability is a key activity of the university’s sustainability roundtable. Launched in 2019, the meetings bring together executives, advocates, investors and consultants to consider “how to promote, critique and assess [sustainability] within business.”

Swinton said the sustainability-related activities of the roundtable and other organisations are of growing importance amid the world’s ongoing fight against COVID-19 and the impact of climate change. Today it is “all the more necessary to look into the future,” he noted.


Grassroots action

In addressing how individuals can take action on sustainability in their organisation, Naomi Takase, talent acquisition director at LVMH Japan, outlined how she and her colleagues formed the firm’s sustainability community in Japan.

The idea was sown three years ago at an event to mark the 25th anniversary of LVMH global’s environmental division and has grown to a 93-person group. Members have organised charity events, implemented waste reduction guidelines and promoted change in corporate culture by such activities as removing vending machines and excessive waste bins.

“We don’t do big-scale; we do things that we can be involved in, but we get the full support of management,” she said, calling on attendees to start something or get involved in their organisation because “small changes can make a difference.”

Younger generations, in particular, are keen to play their part, and children—the workers of the future—are likely to see sustainability as a core component of their job, regardless of their role.

Tsuyoshi Domoto, co-founder and representative director of not-for-profit organisation Youth Who Code, said his students are “innately passionate” about sustainability and environmentalism.

“They have grown up wanting to live a sustainable lifestyle and that is where the culture is headed,” he said, pointing to young people’s education in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the influence of role models like Greta Thunberg. “Youth is definitely going to be the biggest group of changemakers when it comes to sustainability.”


Competitive advantage

Millennials (individuals born 1981–1996) are also having a significant impact on how organisations respond to sustainability. This group of 25–40-year-olds wants to work for employers that are aligned with their values and have a positive social and environmental impact.

The trend has helped convince firms to view sustainability efforts as a competitive advantage, with the potential to attract human talent, explained EY’s McLeish.

“The benefits [to the organisation] have really changed the dialogue. We’ve known for a very long time that we are damaging the planet, that not every human has equal human rights [because of climate change]. But the way we are talking about it is new; the way companies are internalising it is new,” she said.


Roles: current and upcoming

Despite the positive aspirations of organisations in Japan, a sufficient number of dedicated sustainability roles has not been created.

Sustainability tends to be either one part of an existing role—often in CSR or HR—or a responsibility assigned to someone with a passion for it, shared Robert England, executive practice leader at en world. Such behaviour can lead to lukewarm follow-through, the side-lining of sustainability and the burn-out of staff.

Firms that lead the way, however, are “providing [sustainability] roles for the right person,” he said.

Domoto agreed, pointing out that organisations serious about change integrate sustainability throughout business practices. Sustainability is also led by a business division rather than a CSR, HR or marketing division.

McLeish admitted that sustainability-related staff in Japan may be “wearing two or three hats,” but noted the growing number of roles in the market. Five years ago, firms hired most sustainability-related staff from abroad due to a lack of domestic talent but now there are “lots of people with degrees in sustainability,” albeit with no experience.

This lack of experience is a problem for hiring managers, shared en world’s England. Few people in Japan have a tertiary education related to sustainability and senior staff are seldom qualified to act as mentors in sustainability for new hires.

“Salaries of sustainability jobs are not where they need to be to attract the most capable or talented people,” he said. The struggle, he added, is choosing between those with relevant qualifications and those who have passion and energy, but not know-how.

Trevor Himstead, an undergraduate at Temple University Japan and a BCCJ intern, asked the panellists how he and his peers could make themselves desirable to employers.

Aside from being good at utilising technology and having an agile mindset, organisations are looking for people who can “stay up to date on sustainability trends,” said McLeish.

Takase added that students should “always be on the lookout for interesting internships” and express interest in being involved in sustainability projects in addition to their internship duties.


Education for all 

With continual change in the field of sustainability, England said most organisations would benefit from advice from consultants, to get “a road map” for navigating what they can do and how to do it.

For youth, too, focused education on sustainability is vital, said Domoto. Youth Who Code is designed to give students a clear purpose, to “code for impact.” At a recent hackathon, each theme was aligned to an SDG to aid students’ learning and deliver concrete outcomes that could “serve the students’ schools and environments.”

If sustainability is more integrated into education, both for youth and corporates, green thinking is likely to become even more central to work in the future, allowing everyone to have greater social and environmental impact through their career. It will be one more step, said panellists, on the way to achieving greater sustainability, which is a journey, not a destination.