How to build a career in Sustainability in Pakistan

Sustainability   noun [ U ]UK  /səˌsteɪnəˈbɪlɪti/ US  /-ətIi/
The idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that cannot be replaced and that do not damage the environment

After my MSc in Sustainability Management (MScSM) from the University of Toronto, I decided to move to Pakistan to pursue my career in sustainability. The program prepared my classmates and I to become leaders in our fields and to think ‘out of the box’ when solving the many problems of the world. Basically, when we graduated, we had the egos of superheroes and so right after our convocation, I was on a flight to Karachi from Toronto, hoping to play my part in making the world a better place.

Back in 2016, the term ‘sustainability’ was still new in Pakistan and had not become mainstream as yet. Slowly but surely, the term has become more prevalent in the development sector, followed by keen interest from the private sector. The public sector in the province of Punjab has made good headways towards the promotion of renewable energy and the province of KPK has also began work in managing forests and reducing deforestation significantly. However, the rest of the country is still behind and needs a lot of political push to get on the sustainability road.

Contrary to most developed countries, getting a job in sustainability in Pakistan is not an easy task. This is mainly because of a lack of understanding and awareness. In order to fulfill a career in sustainability, one must be willing to keep themselves updated with the sustainability issues within the country and around the world. Nevertheless, Pakistan (or any developing home country) is an ideal place to set foot if you want to make a considerable difference as there are many apparent problems – both within the systems in place and without. In most cases, professionals that have considerable work experience and savings make their way ‘back’ to Pakistan to make a difference or give back, but now the trend has begun to change with younger overseas Pakistanis moving back to begin their careers with the mindset to change the status quo and make a sizeable, positive contribution to society.

Sustainability Issues to Solve

Here is a list of some of the many ‘sustainability’ issues to solve in Pakistan and each is worthy of an article of its own:

  • Sustainable investing & finance
  • Air pollution & GHG emissions
  • Green infrastructure & sustainable design
  • Sustainability reporting
  • Solid waste management & recycling
  • Rural community management
  • Rural to urban migration
  • Renewable Energy
  • Climate change mitigation & adaptation
  • Environmental degradation
    • Wetland management
    • Coastal management
    • Forest management
    • Urban forestry
    • Fisheries
    • Sustainable farming & agriculture
  • Corporate social responsibility or corporate responsibility
  • Due diligence & compliance
  • Philanthropy
  • Research & Evaluation
  • Media & Communications

Organizations working in Sustainability

Through the list above, it is easy to realize that almost all fields have sustainability within them. No matter what career you follow, whether in finance or engineering, sustainability issues will be aligned to your work and will eventually bump into it as you go forward in your career. However, to have a career focused on sustainability, the following non-governmental organizations are a great way to begin your search and understand the work being done in sustainability and sustainable development in Pakistan:

It is, however, difficult to get jobs in these organizations based in Islamabad, Lahore, & Karachi, respectively, but it is a good idea to invest your time in getting in touch with someone in the organizations as well as reading through their research work. SDPI also conducts an annual conference at the end of the year in Islamabad relating to the many sustainable development issues of the country.

If you want to make quick sizeable impact, working in the private sector is something worth considering. With the UN Global Compact and Sustainable Development Goals, businesses all around the world (including those in Pakistan) have to voluntarily adhere to sustainable principles in their governance and operations. They have to report on their supply chains, gender equality at the workplace, human rights, environmental compliance issues, emissions, water use, energy use, and the list goes on. Since businesses extract many resources from the environment and make profit of it, they are held more accountable than NGOs or NPOs. The organization I work for, Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business (CERB) at the Pakistan Business Council, looks after many of the ethical, environmental and social issues governing businesses.  Similar to CERB, many of Pakistan’s companies have departments dedicated to sustainability to manage sustainability issues every day.

Local companies like Soorty Enterprises, Artistic Milliners and Gul Ahmed are providing top quality cotton and denim products around the world and require sustainability professionals to report on their water use, carbon emissions and energy use every day. They also look after opportunities for corporate social responsibility. Pakistan’s chapters of Unilever, P&G, Colgate-Palmolive, Reckitt-Benckiser, Nestle Pakistan and many more international companies manage sustainability issues within their organization every day, without having a dedicated department to sustainability. Engineers and managers working in these firms have to manage sustainability issues every day as part of their jobs. Other local companies, such as Engro International Steel Limited (ISL), International Industries Limited (IIL), ICI Pakistan, and English Biscuits Manufacturers (EBM) also embed sustainability in their practices every day and are good companies to work for.

When it comes to banking, the State Bank recently released the Green Banking Guidelines, pushing banks and financial institutions to become more sustainable in their practices, by evaluating who they lend their money to. While sustainable financing is still at its early stages in Pakistan, it will be interesting to follow this sector in the future if one is interested in sustainable financing. Further, any financial analyst or manager will run into sustainability issues through their work and hence, can embed sustainability in their work every day.

Another type of organization to work for are the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Albeit it is very difficult to get jobs in these companies, such as Pakistan State Oil, there are many benefits to working here. The jobs themselves have many perks, but have a difficult governance structure to work in. Corruption is also an issue to consider, but it is a good place to invest your resources in – as your work directly affects the economy of the country. Similarly, become a government employee at organizations such as the Planning & Development Department have many perks as well. However, again, it is tough to get jobs in the government. Similar to most public institutions across the globe, these jobs face a lot of red tape and makes it difficult for an individual to make a difference quickly.

However, what is certain is that no matter what type of sector you decide to work in, it is possible to embed sustainability in your every day work and make a difference.

Tips to build a career in Sustainability

  1. Stay updated
    Be informed about the issues around sustainability in your local area, province and country. Relate these issues to global sustainability problems and solutions.
  2. Have a mentor
    It is always good to have a mentor in any field, but particularly more so in sustainability, where you can quite easily be let down when your work doesn’t seem to be as impactful as you wished. A mentor will remind you of the reasons why you decided to pursue your particular field even on the rainy days.
  3. Embed sustainability in your work
    As mentioned earlier, you can embed sustainability in your work whether you are an accountant, an engineer or a designer. All you have to do is be cognizant of the impact your work has on the larger society and environment, whether directly or indirectly, and your job is half done.
  4. What’s in a name?
    When I graduated, I wanted a job title that said ‘Sustainability Consultant’. Most of my classmates also wanted ‘Sustainability’ to be a keyword in their job titles, but what I now realize is that the name or title does not matter. Your title can be a ‘Procurement Manager’ and you would still be procuring sustainable raw materials for your company’s inputs and operations. Similarly, if you’re an auditor, you can assist companies in auditing their non-financial KPIs, such as energy and water consumption.
  5. Convince your boss to think about responsible practices
    If you work in an organization that does not prioritize responsible practices, you can convince your boss and board to embed them into the organization’s policies and code of conducts. You can always convince them by making a business case and proving that sustainable and responsible organizations have greater long-term financial sustainability than those that do not care for responsible practices.
  6. Walk the talk
    Being a sustainability professional means you have to always realize the impact of your actions at all times – which means no more unsustainable and irresponsible consumption  such as the use of single-use plastics. Make use of habits such as planting trees at every birthday, carpooling to work and bringing lunch in reusable boxes. As sustainability professionals we have to set an example for the rest and when we give in to our consumeristic cravings, we continue to walk the talk – with our reusable water bottles.

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If you need more advice on anything specific regarding a career in sustainability, feel free to e-mail me at fatima.fasih@pbc.org.pk. I’ll be more than happy to help!

 

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