1. Make time to build a supportive network
For some progressive organisations, sustainability has become an accepted driver of business strategy and you will find allies everywhere from the Finance Director to the maintenance team. For others at an earlier point in the journey, even the most resilient Sustainability Manager can feel isolated and worn down by the naysayers from time to time- especially if they do not have a team of their own. In this situation, it helps to build a supportive network of peers working in your field. Not everyone has the time or the budget to attend conferences and make these connections, but there are other routes available. Happily, sustainability is the subject of many free lectures, 'Green Drinks' and evening events. Many universities run public lectures such as the University of Oxford’s ONE series- and there are now several thriving online communities such as 2degrees where members can trade experiences and advice. Once you have a few trusted professional friends you can bounce ideas off, or simply have a good rant with, you will feel more energised and reminded that others face similar challenges.
2. Consider being a mentor or a mentee- and they don’t have to be a sustainability professional!
Alex Swallow wrote an excellent blog recently about the benefits of being a mentor and a mentee. Whilst excellent structured schemes exist (such as the IEMA programme), he makes the point that some of the best mentoring isn’t formal. Why not approach somebody whose work you admire and ask if they would mind having a coffee and a chat? Think laterally in your choice. Perhaps consider somebody in a governance position if you are experiencing political headaches- or a more senior sustainability professional in another industry if you want a new perspective. Equally, you may find that acting as a mentor allows you to step back from your own work for a moment. Mentoring an enthusiastic graduate, for example, may reinvigorate your own sense of purpose and remind you why you wanted to work in the field.
3. Make a conscious effort to separate your personal and professional sense of worth
I have seen many friends and colleagues over the years become disheartened or embittered because an initiative they strongly believed in was rejected. Whilst it is a strength of our profession that many sustainability practitioners feel personally connected to their work, we need to know when to step back. Much like a compassionate medic, empathising with the patient is very important, but an overly high level of involvement may jeopardise clear-thinking and take its emotional toll. As Sustainability professionals, we need to go easy on ourselves when we’ve invested in something that doesn’t work out- and if necessary, ask someone detached from the situation to help us see the positives and the next steps.
4. If none of the above appeals, be honest about the source of your dissatisfaction
For some, this will be obvious. Perhaps your organisation has cut long-term budgets for social programmes, or you are finding a team member or boss difficult to work with. Alternatively, you may have worked for the same organisation for many years and feel it is time for a change, but be fearful of making the leap. Other practitioners feel trapped in a charity desk job, secretly hankering after a fieldwork or community role. In this situation, a more radical change might be needed- and a change of scenery, or even industry, may be required. One colleague I know moved on from her Sustainability Director position in retail after the CEO admitted ‘we are really only interested in compliance.’ She has not looked back.
The skills required to work in sustainability are eminently transferable, and it is perfectly possible for an individual working in the private sector to transition to the charity sector, or vice versa. Others have struck out to set up their own social enterprises. If this resonates, you probably already know what you need to do.
by Jenny Ekelund
| || |