Follow the jobs: Sustainability leadership rises among Indiana manufacturers
One way to understand what an industry values is to look at hiring trends. In Indiana’s advanced manufacturing industry, that approach would suggest that sustainability leadership is increasing in value. Over the last five years, the number of sustainability-related jobs in Indiana has risen steadily, with manufacturers posting more sustainability positions than any other industry sector.
Additionally, 4 in 10 Indiana manufacturing and logistics companies now perceive sustainability as an important attribute for winning new orders from major customers, according to recent research conducted by Conexus Indiana and the IU Kelley School of Business Center for Excellence in Manufacturing. While sustainability is not yet considered a primary driver of new business for most companies in Indiana, hiring trends at both the local and national levels paint a different picture.
Often defined as balancing environmental, economic and social factors, sustainability has been a focus in corporate America for decades. Its rise in popularity has led corporations to invest in sustainability strategies and appoint leaders to execute those efforts. In developments that mirror the rise of the Chief Information Officer in the late 1980s and 1990s, many Fortune 100 and 500 companies have now added Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) to their executive leadership teams (a 2022 survey by The Weinreb Group found that the CSO position grew by 228% in 10 years). And hundreds, if not thousands more companies have appointed vice presidents, directors and managers of sustainability.
These modern corporate leaders are charged with casting a vision for sustainability and implementing programs to achieve those goals. They also have more tangible responsibilities, including ensuring their company adheres to sustainability reporting and disclosure requirements (especially for publicly traded companies), communicating sustainable practices to customers and supply chain partners and making sustainability a profitable proposition rather than a cost of doing business.
In Indiana, such professionals are being sought more in the manufacturing sector than anywhere else, according to 2022 Lightcast labor market analytics data. Manufacturers have accounted for 22.5% of all posted sustainability positions, with most of those jobs being listed as sustainability manager, director of sustainability, sustainability specialist and sustainability program managers.
In manufacturing and logistics specifically, you might see these employees engaged in reducing water use, minimizing waste from industrial processes, conducting product life cycle assessments, implementing energy management systems or deploying a fleet of electric delivery vehicles.
While adding new positions increases costs, firms are seeing those costs as an investment that is expected to deliver a return. A growing body of research continues to show how those financial returns can be achieved: through reduced energy costs, efficient and low-emissions supply chains, increased customer sales, use of next-generation materials for product innovation and more. Plus, annual surveys have revealed a resounding opportunity for firms to attract and retain younger talent who are increasingly interested in being hired by companies that prioritize sustainability.
These benefits reach far beyond a company’s four walls. When Indiana’s manufacturing and logistics companies hire sustainability teams and leaders, the companies will be better equipped to outcompete their counterparts in other states; hence, creating more jobs for Indiana workers and making Indiana a better place to live.
As large corporations continue to prioritize sustainability roles in their hiring practices, it is likely that Indiana’s supplier base (particularly the small- to mid-sized companies) will be expected to meet such standards. If there is one lesson to be gleaned from the current state: Sustainability can be a catalyst for innovation and company growth, rather than an additional cost. But like any new business strategy, realizing its potential requires an accountable leader and a committed team of professionals.