Embracing Sustainability: A Universal Responsibility Across Professions

Since GPM launched 15 years ago, the landscape of sustainability has undergone a remarkable transformation. Back then, sustainability was often relegated to a niche corner at conferences, viewed through the lens of “trends” and “the future” – a promising yet distant consideration. Those days, however, are now firmly in the rearview mirror.

Today, sustainability is not just an add-on; it’s a critical component of success across the globe. Its evolution from an emerging topic to an indispensable aspect of our professional and personal lives is a testament to the collective awakening to its importance. Gone are the times when it was tucked away as a sub-stream; sustainability now demands a comprehensive approach that transcends traditional environmental concerns, embedding itself into the very fabric of every profession and skill set.

From engineers to educators, financial analysts to facilities managers, the universal call to act sustainably resonates louder than ever. It compels professionals across all fields to weave sustainable practices into the tapestry of their daily responsibilities. This seismic shift in perception underscores a collective realization: sustainability is not just about safeguarding the environment—it’s about securing a viable, thriving future for generations to come.

As I reflect on GPM’s 15-year journey, (I have been on this since 1994) it’s clear that the path towards sustainability is both a shared challenge and opportunity. It invites us to reimagine how we work, live, and interact with our planet. The narrative has shifted from sustainability being a future trend to an immediate, actionable priority. Today, embracing sustainability means to go beyond treading water to regeneration. It means actively participating in shaping a more resilient, equitable, and prosperous world for everyone.

The Universal Call for Sustainability Competencies:
The multifaceted nature of sustainability means that it’s not just the responsibility of those in environmental roles. Every professional has a part to play in driving their organization’s sustainable agenda forward. This universal call to action underscores the importance of developing sustainability competencies, regardless of one’s field or position. This was the driver behind our development of the world’s first true competence standard for sustainability leadership.

In the GPM Competence Standard for Leadership in Sustainability, we provide a framework for understanding the key competencies needed to navigate and contribute to a sustainable future. This standard outlines essential areas such as ethical leadership, environmental stewardship, and social equity and inclusion, offering a blueprint for professionals across various sectors to develop their sustainability skill sets.

Some Key Areas for Professional Development (There are 8 total in our standard):

  1. Ethical Leadership: Understanding the ethical implications of business decisions and leading with integrity to ensure that actions contribute positively to society and the environment.
  2. Environmental Stewardship: Emphasizing the importance of conserving natural resources, reducing waste, and minimizing environmental footprints across all professional activities.
  3. Social Equity and Inclusion: Promoting fairness, diversity, and inclusion within organizations and ensuring that practices contribute to a just and equitable society.
  4. Sustainable Design and Innovation: Encouraging innovation and the adoption of sustainable design principles in products, services, and processes to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Strategies for Integrating Sustainability into Professional Development:

  • Education and Training: Seek out workshops, courses, and certifications focused on sustainability to enhance understanding and skills.
  • Practical Application: Look for opportunities to apply sustainability principles in your current role, regardless of your profession.
  • Collaboration and Engagement: Work with colleagues, industry peers, and stakeholders to share best practices and drive collective action towards sustainability goals.
  • Continuous Learning: Stay informed about emerging sustainability trends, technologies, and regulations affecting your field.

The Impact of a Sustainability-Focused Workforce:
Integrating sustainability competencies into one’s professional skill set is not just beneficial for the planet and society; it also has profound implications for individual careers.  Forbes lists sustainability skills as the #2 most sought after competence behind Generative AI.

Here’s an expanded view on the importance and impact of a sustainability-focused workforce on one’s career:

Importance of Sustainability Competencies in Career Development:

  1. Market Demand: The global emphasis on sustainability has shifted market demands, with an increasing number of companies seeking professionals who can contribute to sustainable practices. Acquiring sustainability competencies makes you more attractive to forward-thinking employers committed to social and environmental responsibility.
  2. Career Opportunities: As businesses strive to become more sustainable, new roles and career paths are emerging that specifically focus on sustainability initiatives. This evolution offers exciting opportunities for professionals to engage in work that not only aligns with their values but also positions them at the forefront of innovative and impactful projects.
  3. Professional Growth: Learning about and implementing sustainable practices encourages continuous professional development and adaptability—qualities highly valued in the modern workplace. These competencies foster a mindset geared towards innovation, problem-solving, and resilience, enabling professionals to navigate and excel in a rapidly changing world.
  4. Leadership and Influence: Professionals skilled in sustainability are poised to take on leadership roles, guiding their organizations through the complexities of integrating sustainable practices into their operations. This not only elevates their position within their organization but also amplifies their impact on shaping a more sustainable future.

Impact of Sustainability on One’s Career:

  1. Enhanced Reputation: Professionals known for their sustainability expertise often enjoy a higher reputation within their industry. This recognition can lead to increased trust from clients and colleagues, broader networking opportunities, and a stronger personal brand.
  2. Job Satisfaction: Engaging in work that contributes to positive social and environmental outcomes can significantly enhance job satisfaction. Knowing that your efforts have a meaningful impact beyond the bottom line can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment that transcends traditional career metrics.
  3. Resilience in Economic Shifts: As industries adapt to incorporate sustainable practices, professionals with relevant competencies are more likely to enjoy job security and resilience against economic shifts. Their skills are essential to the ongoing transformation of their sectors, making them invaluable to their employers.
  4. Global Perspective: Sustainability competencies often require a global perspective, understanding how local actions fit into the broader context of global challenges and solutions. This worldview is increasingly important in our interconnected world, enhancing one’s ability to work across cultural and geographical boundaries.

Sustainability is a universal responsibility that requires the active participation of professionals across all sectors. By drawing on frameworks like the GPM Competence Standard for Leadership in Sustainability, individuals can identify key areas for development and take actionable steps to integrate sustainability into their professional lives. The journey towards sustainability is a shared one, with each profession and skill set playing a critical role in shaping a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future.

A Call to Action:
Reflect on how sustainability intersects with your professional responsibilities and consider steps you can take to enhance your sustainability competencies. Whether it’s pursuing further education, advocating for sustainable practices in your workplace, or simply becoming more informed about the issues, every action counts towards building a more sustainable world.

Curious how your skills align? Download our free standard! 

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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