Looking for a Professional Credential in Sustainability?

By: April Brown
Senior Projects Manager

In 2011, the MIT Sloan Management Review’s sustainability survey of global corporate leaders found that about 70% of respondents are increasing their commitment to sustainability within their organization, a drastic growth from the 2009 version of this survey, which was only 25%. Consequently, in the last decade, a career in sustainability management has gone from virtually non-existent to ranking as “hot” on a list of in-demand professions.

From third-party sustainability consulting to salaried sustainability management staff and C-Suite executives, millennials have an ever increasing opportunity to find a job that makes an impact and aligns with their values. Furthermore, the massive growth in demand for higher education degrees in sustainability has led to corresponding growth in degrees in social and environmental business and management among most colleges and universities throughout the states – big and small, public and private.

That said, until now, there has not been a professional credential that assesses and maintains the professional expectations and competency of the sustainability practitioner.  The International Society for Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), whose mission is to empower professionals to advance sustainability in organizations and communities throughout the globe, is setting out to change that. ISSP started in 2007 and, since then, they served their mission by providing professional development in the form of webinars and a structured sustainability certificate program. Additionally, ISSP provides  a professional membership program and resources for active members. In the last few years, ISSP has been seeking input and feedback on the needs of the field through a handful of surveys of working sustainability professionals.
The results show professional certifications and credentials are what hiring managers look for in the candidate pool. Since 2010, ISSP has developed a comprehensive understanding of the core competencies and job task requirements for a sustainability practitioner. With this thorough understanding, which they have published on their website, they are now developing 2 professional credentialing exams, ISSP Sustainability Associate and ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional, which will be available to the public in November 2015.
What is a sustainability practitioner?
According to ISSP, a sustainability practitioner is a professional who spends more than 25% of his or her time planning, implementing, managing, and reporting sustainability efforts for organizations and/or communities. This includes internal and external practitioners.
While the complete details are still under development, what they do know is that the two levels will require the following, in addition to on-going professional development to maintain the credential:
  • ISSP Sustainability Associate – Individuals who are new to the field of sustainability but have sufficient education and training to pass a test on basic knowledge and understanding of key sustainability concepts. Specific eligibility requirements include:
    • Complete application form and pay application fee
    • Sign the Code of Ethics Declaration
    • Pass the ISSP-SA Certification Exam
  • ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional – Experienced sustainability practitioners who demonstrate a combination of sustainability-related work experience and formal education. The certification for the ISSP CSP will be awarded to those who pass a more comprehensive test based on ISSP’s job task analysis. Specific elegibility requirements include:
    • Complete application form and pay application fee
    • Meet the ISSP-SA requirements
    • Pass ISSP-CSP Certification Exam
    • Meet certain educational qualifications
    • Meet certain work experience qualifications
The exams will cover a comprehensive list of job tasks that are documented in a 20-page report by ISSP. In summary, an ISSP Certified Sustainability Professional should be competent in the following areas:
  1. Core Sustainability Concepts – Demonstrate a familiarity with foundational concepts of sustainability
  2. Stakeholder Engagement – Develop and maintain interpersonal relationships with key stakeholders
  3. Plan Sustainability Strategies – Lead and influence the creation of comprehensive sustainability strategies and systems
  4. Implement Sustainability Strategies – Manage the implementation of sustainability strategies and initiatives
  5. Evaluate Sustainability Efforts
  6. Adjust Plans
Each exam is a 2-hour, 100-question online exam. All candidates must begin at the Sustainability Associate level and progress to the Certified Sustainability Professional level. Specific eligibility requirements do apply. The questions will be randomly generated from a pool of 1000 questions contributed by a team of subject-matter experts. Because the exam is delivered online, candidates will know their score immediately upon completion. A candidate must earn a score of at least 80% on the certification exam to pass. As with any professional credential, there will be credentialing maintenance and professional development requirements, within a 3-year reporting period.