How to Combine Sustainability With Your Career

Finding a way to make your career more sustainability-orientated doesn’t necessarily have to involve a change of industry or job role. Sophie Parsons and Julia O’Driscoll look at how to put your eco-priorities front and centre of your professional life.


“After university I went straight into the fashion industry, working as a stylist for four years,” says Eco-Age’s Communications Manager Grace Richmond. “It was in this period – dealing with beautiful clothes, shoes, jewellery, fittings, shoots, films and travelling around the world – that I started to become more conscious of my responsibility towards making the industry a safer place to be.” “I came across Chopard’s Green Carpet Collections at the Cannes Film Festival and worked with the Stella McCartney team who really cemented my interest in sustainability. It started to snowball from there, and soon I realised I wanted to move into this field in order to feel like I was really getting to know the workings of the industry as a whole. And moreover, if fashion was going to be my chosen area to work in, I wanted to at least make it a better place to be!” Nowadays it seems we need to know what to do with our careers before we’re even out of our primary school uniforms (in those days, it was a teacher for Sophie, and a Blue Peter presenter for me). But as we get older, those idealistic daydreams tend to fade as our ambitions come to reflect how we think about the wider world. And, of course, a passion for a profession can become secondary to financial needs and educational opportunities.   

With shared passions for slow fashion and mindful consumption, both Sophie and I joined Eco-Age as relatively recent graduates just as sustainability was becoming one of the most talked about topics in the fashion industry and beyond. But, as Grace’s experience demonstrates, sustainability doesn’t necessarily need to be your starting point in order for it to become the focal point of your career further down the line

“Keep yourself seriously well read, stay active and keep being interested and educated in your chosen area,” says Grace. Take part in the conversations that interest you and find ways to bring those topics into your workplace – whether that means finding a company that aligns with your values, or starting to make positive changes in your existing position. Here are a few starting points to make sustainability part of your professional life.

Find your reason

“While studying for my final year at university, on a design course that touched on sustainability in the briefest of senses, we were quizzed on the importance of ethics within our future career,” says Sophie. “Did we place value on how our work would affect society, or the environment? What importance did we place on creating a ‘voice’ through our work? When it came down to it, would our beliefs and morals directly affect what we would later be doing in our careers?”

“The answers to these questions became the grounds on which many of us based the beginnings of our careers on, establishing the ground rules for the stories told through our work. Finding your reason, be it plastic pollution in the ocean or excessive food waste, is essential in shaping how your career can begin to action change.” 

Start the conversation

If your chosen career doesn’t naturally fall within the realms of sustainability, it can be difficult to find a way to advocate for change. Taking it upon yourself to be the unofficial campaigner for sustainability in your workplace is a simple way to start up the conversation on what it is you can do, focusing on solution-driven conversations that showcase simple and achievable small changes.

With a ban on straws and other single-use plastics to be put in place April 2020, why not raise the question of removing disposables at work – swap out plastic cups for glassware and paper cups for reusable mugs, for instance. Starting small can open up a conversation that can then, hopefully, lead to wider change within your workplace. 

Or, be your own boss

Interestingly, Felix Winkler has found that building a business with a low environmental impact has been simpler than you first might think. “I am very lucky to be alive in a time where building a business doesn’t require a huge amount of resources,” says the Reflaunt founder, “Today, to build a business you need a few laptops and a couple of good brains. What makes the difference is your capacity to be resilient, persistent and driven.”

If you’re in a position to put sustainability at your business’s core principles from the outset, persevere in making it a priority throughout the ups and downs of your professional journey, and protect the passions that put it there in the first place. “What makes the difference is your capacity to be resilient, persistent and driven. When you are starting a business the hardest part is to keep your spirit up no matter what,” says Felix.

Create a community

As sustainability filters into mainstream conversations, finding people who share your passions and goals seems to be getting easier. Networking is key to establishing how sustainability can become more of a consideration within your job, with events on everything from sustainable fashion to tech innovations offering the opportunity to new possibilities within the world of sustainability. 

That’s not to say it’s easy – “I hated networking!” says Charlotte Turner, reflecting on her early career. “I used to find it quite difficult but if you’re in a room with people who share similar values and want to move towards a share goal, I think that makes it a lot easier.” In addition to opening up discussions, attending such events and staying informed on all things environmental news is crucial to fuelling your fire and potentially opening up future career opportunities too. 

Of course, your eco community can always be found closer to home too. “My family have been a huge help for me my entire life,” says Will Coulton of Rise & Fall. “Both my parents ran their own businesses and they gave me the confidence to try and build something myself. From a young age they always taught us kids how to be respectful to the environments we live in. I guess the mix of the entrepreneurial spirit and being brought to be respectful of the environment we pretty key to why I started Rise & Fall in the first place.” 

Keep learning

Staying informed with the ever-changing state of the planet and new innovations in sustainability is essential in better understanding the importance of enforcing change. Create a groundwork of your own knowledge on the topic – in turn, this could help to inspire more informed choices within your workplace too. Online platforms such as Future Learn offer accessible and free courses through which you can learn the basics of sustainable fashionfood production and supply chain technology.

As a business owner, find ways to eliminate single-use plastic and disposables from your company. As an employee, campaign for a more considered work environment, be it switching to a green energy source or opting for better recycling facilities. As an artist, use your creativity to intrigue and inspire curiosity on the subject, illustrating, writing, photographing, encouraging awareness. As a teacher, introduce the next generation to the basics of sustainability and the importance of our actions and the planet. Think outside of the box when it comes to making sustainable change – sometimes the smallest act can have the most lasting impact.