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Verdani Employees' Advice and Insights on Careers in Sustainability for the Built Environment


Author: Carli Schoenleber

August 14, 2023


As businesses continue to embrace ESG and sustainability, demand also grows for sustainability professionals across a widening variety of industries and disciplines. Between 2018–2022, Sustainability Analyst (#2), Sustainability Specialist (#5), and Sustainability Manager (#9) were among the top 10 fastest growing job postings on LinkedIn.[i] Yet, LinkedIn also reports that demand for sustainability jobs is outpacing the supply of qualified candidates.[ii]


Sustainability skills have become especially important in the commercial real estate (CRE) industry, where there is accelerating momentum to curb greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate risks, and strive toward establishing a healthy, inclusive, and biodiverse built environment. The field of sustainability for the built environment has evolved rapidly throughout the past three decades, and today, sustainability professionals are found throughout nearly every facet of real estate, including architecture and design, engineering, construction management, facilities management and operations, communications, business strategy, and more.

While most of us who work in this field are passionate about creating a healthier planet, when it comes to achieving that objective, no two career paths are identical. However, there are overarching career recommendations that translate throughout the field of sustainability for the built environment. With that in mind, this article provides career advice from 10 Verdani Partners professionals across a variety of experience levels and disciplines, offering insights on different paths to enter this industry, key skills and qualifications, and accreditations and professional development opportunities.

Whether you’re fresh out of college or amidst a mid-career transition, we hope our answers to the six questions below will empower you to initiate a career in sustainability for the built environment and steer it in a direction that resonates with your background, skills, and passions.


After reading, we invite you to learn more about career opportunities at Verdani by clicking here.


Meet Verdani’s career insights contributors:


 


“I got started as a city planner for the City of Anaheim where I thought I could have a big impact on the city around me. This was at a time when LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for New Construction was starting to hit the mainstream and I began an initiative at the city to encourage residents and companies to pursue the program. It then led me to realize the massive number of existing buildings out there that needed more help than new construction, so I directed my efforts towards LEED for Existing Buildings consulting.”

Jessica Loeper COO


“I had studied abroad in Costa Rica in college where I took a sustainable agriculture class. That experience encouraged me to switch my major to Sustainability and the Built Environment. I had a wonderful professor who was very passionate in the field and opened my eyes to the future opportunities working in this field would bring.”

Madison Dorman Associate Certifications Director

“As an assistant property manager of a mixed use building in downtown San Francisco, I was tasked with helping train staff on recycling and composting, which were front-and-center topics of 'sustainability' back in 2005. Through networking at local BOMA Sustainability Committee meetings, other property management staff started asking about tips for their recycling and composting programs.
I became one of the sustainability people in the local San Francisco property management network, and as the focus of sustainability expanded to include topics like ENERGY STAR and LEED certification, I continued to educate myself.
Eventually, a sustainability manager position was posted by CBRE, and a member of my network sent it to me thinking I was the perfect fit. I applied for and got the position in 2011, and the rest is history!”

Zachary Brown Executive Director of ESG

"The summer before my freshman year of college, I worked as a building performance intern at a local engineering firm. As someone who was torn between deciding to study architecture or sustainability in college, this was a great opportunity that meshed both of these interests.
Although I kept my options open while pursuing my B.S. in Environment & Sustainability, I still found myself gravitating back to this intersection between sustainability and the built environment. Whenever I had the opportunity to learn more about it through class or club projects, I'd take it, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about this field.
This genuine interest in sustainability in the built environment is what ultimately motivated me to pursue a career in it. With how much the built environment contributes to issues like climate change, it seemed like an innovative field that could significantly help protect our planet."

Kimberly Garcia ESG Coordinator


“Open mind, versatility, critical thinking, creativity, resilience, persistence. No one place or project is the same and has the same challenges.”

Emma Huizar-Felix Associate ESG Manager


“I think first and foremost to be in this field you need to be passionate about the work and making a change.”

Madison Dorman Associate Certifications Director

"You don't have to be an engineer or architect to work in this field, but being comfortable working with technical subjects (e.g., renewable energy, carbon emissions) is helpful. You do have to be willing to be constantly learning, since this field is changing so rapidly."

Mary Reames

Associate Communications Director


“To make an impact, it's good to focus on a specific area (like renewables or transportation) but also have a willingness to know enough about a range of sustainability topics 'to be dangerous' even if you don't have expertise in all of them.”

Julie Jacobson Senior ESG Manager & Executive Director of VIBE

“Data literacy and analysis skills. Regardless of your role, you'll be more impactful at accelerating sustainability efforts if you can use your built environment's data to its fullest potential. Knowing how to collect, clean, transform, analyze, and visualize data will help you be more effective and make better decisions. Data is everywhere and only becoming more prevalent and valuable, so data skills will continue to be in high demand!”

Elissa Brown Associate ESG Data Analytics Manager


“Good customer service, have multiple areas of strength, quick learner, ability to seek out information independently and without guidance, and knowing how to say 'I don't know' constructively to clients.”

Zachary Brown Executive Director of ESG

“The ability to adapt to a changing market, to have a curious mind, and understand the bigger picture of how all the little pieces can impact the broader puzzle.”

Jessica Loeper COO



“Be curious. What areas are you drawn to? Water? Renewable energy? Social engagement? There are so many avenues that a sustainability professional touches that it's best to start with what interests you the most and drives you to make an impact on our world.”

Jessica Loeper COO

“For recent graduates, internships are great way to discover positions you would be interested in and a good fit for, learn applicable concepts and skills, and gain relevant experience. If you are farther along in your career and looking to make a shift, I'd suggest volunteering, earning accreditations, or taking classes online to meet others in the industry and improve your sustainability knowledge."

Katie Teare ESG Manager

“Network with industry professionals, whether that is through going to local community events, joining green building tours, or reaching out to individuals in the field on LinkedIn.”

Madison Dorman Associate Certifications Director

“You're probably more qualified than you perceive yourself to be. Ask yourself, 'What skills, projects, and experience do I have that apply to the career I'd like to transition to?' Lean on those skills you have and put yourself out there!
Volunteer on committees, working groups, etc. Even if you're not an expert, you can take notes, be the hyper organized person, send the email summaries, etc. You'll learn so much from the experts by just being in the room and it will look great on your resume!
The ESG field is new and rapidly evolving. It's rare to find someone that has a lot of experience in ESG and commercial real estate. Having part of the equation and a deep desire to learn the other is often good enough."

Dana Weiss Director of ESG

“Learn about real estate before sustainability. The sustainability field is moving so quickly, it is an impossible task to keep up. Many people are reasonably knowledgeable about the latest sustainability trends, but few have knowledge about real estate, including building operations, management, and investment.”

Zachary Brown Executive Director of ESG


"I think sustainability is going to stretch into more roles than there are currently and touch on every department. If you have an innovative idea or passion for something related to sustainability that doesn't already exist in your role, bring it forward to your company (or future company) with a plan and make it happen."

Madison Dorman Associate Certifications Director



“LEED Green Associate (GA) is probably the most recognizable 'brand' still, but be bold and choose one that's in alignment with your interest(s).”

Julie Jacobson Senior ESG Manager & Executive Director of VIBE


“I personally believe getting a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) Operations and Management (O+M) accreditation gives a fundamental understanding of how building operations, building materials, and the habits of employees and tenants can improve or impact our environment.”

Jessica Loeper COO

“I typically recommend at minimum having your LEED GA or Fitwel Ambassador to show you have knowledge in this field. It is also valuable to have your CEM (Certified Energy Manager) accreditation if you plan to work in energy engineering and audits.”

Madison Dorman Associate Certifications Director

"Sustainability is a broad topic and covers a lot, so it's important to get a good sense of what you want to focus on before before selecting an accreditation."

Emma Huizar-Felix Associate ESG Manager



"In my experience, conversations around sustainability have evolved from simple, environmentally focused concepts such as recycling and energy efficiency to a deeper understanding of how all people, plants, and ecosystems are interconnected.
I also have seen the narrative shift from responsibility at an individual level to holding corporations and governments more accountable for their impacts.
I believe some of the most valuable skills in the industry include emotional intelligence, critical thinking, and maintaining a 'learner's mindset' when navigating challenging and constantly evolving topics."

Katie Teare ESG Manager

"Critical thinking! This field is an ever-changing raging river. What you learned yesterday will change today, but you'll still need to apply that knowledge in the future. You have to ask yourself 'What do I know that I can use to solve this problem?', 'What do I not know that I need to fill in the gaps?', 'Who can I convene to get the problem solved?'"

Dana Weiss Director of ESG


"Although I just started my professional career in this field, from what I've seen so far, I think creativity and innovation will be crucial for future success.
There are just too many factors that go into advancing sustainability in the built environment, and therefore, there is no easy, one-and-done solution. If you want to advance sustainability in this sector, you and your solutions have to be innovative and adaptable."

Kimberly Garcia ESG Coordinator


"When I started my career, we were still calling it 'environmentalism,' and the public wasn't yet aware of climate change; we were mainly concerned with toxic waste.
Because this field is evolving so rapidly, one thing that will be crucial for future success is a willingness to keep learning."

Mary Reames Associate Communications Director

"Back when I was going to college and grad school there were not sustainability focused degrees. However, as LEED became more mainstream, various jobs began to appear. Now there are whole teams of ESG professionals.
The key is learning how to integrate yourself into the entire company and not just be a siloed department."

Jessica Loeper COO


"This field is bigger than it seems from the outside in, so you must figure out what you are most passionate about first, whether that is data, certifications, writing reports, etc. If you don't know, I recommend just getting into the field and discovering within what you are interested in."

Madison Dorman Associate Certifications Director



"Earning the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) accreditation."

Zachary Brown Executive Director of ESG

"Getting my master's degree was a big help. I went through a very strategic selection of which program I was going to get most out of."

Emma Huizar-Felix Associate ESG Manager


"Achieving the Top 20 Fitwel Ambassador award was a big milestone for me to prove that my hard work on applications is recognized."

Madison Dorman Associate Certifications Director


"Getting my LEED AP, doing volunteer work for a sustainability consulting company (which ultimately led to my first consulting job), and working as a reviewer of LEED for Existing Buildings (EB) applications."

Mary Reames Associate Communications Director


"Earning my LEED GA, selling 1 megawatt of solar energy on a large low-income multi-family project in SoCal, teaching other agents and blogging about green homes for Redfin, chairing a branch of USGBC-LA, and joining Verdani."

Julie Jacobson Senior ESG Manager & Executive Director of VIBE



 

Author



Carli Schoenleber

Carli is a Content and Engagement Specialist for Verdani Partners. She has a decade of experience in the sustainability field, working across diverse roles in environmental communication research, environmental planning, marketing, and wetland science. She holds a B.S. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from the University of Minnesota and a M.S. in Forest Ecosystems and Society from Oregon State University.



 

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