What kind of assignments and projects do you do in your job?
Sustainability work at the Big Four can generally be divided into two main areas: sustainability reporting and sustainability advisory. For sustainability reporting, all publicly listed companies publish financial reports which are audited by a third party. In addition to reporting financial information, many companies publish information about their sustainability performance. This can include data on greenhouse gas emissions, electricity usage, workplace safety, and employee diversity, for example.
A significant part of sustainability work at the Big Four involves helping with different aspects of sustainability reporting. For example, helping a company understand which sustainability information is relevant to their stakeholders, building processes for gathering sustainability data, making calculations based on the data, creating the reports, etc. Finally, to add credibility to their non-financial reporting, companies can pay for a third party, like KPMG, to assure their sustainability data, essentially vouching for the data's accuracy.
The second area of work is sustainability advisory. This means helping companies with strategic questions typical of management consulting, just with a sustainability angle. For example, how will consumer trends affect the market for your products? What are the implications of new EU regulations for your business?
What kind of advice would you give to students who are interested in sustainability work?
Sustainability is a broad area with many subcategories, and many students worry about finding their specialization as a result. During my studies at Aalto I was interested in many different subareas, such as public transportation, social entrepreneurship, circular economy, and sustainable finance. I certainly felt pressure to narrow my interests down.
I would say that in the beginning, it's okay to be a "generalist" and not know which area of sustainability interests you most. However, as your studies and early career progress, it's good to be aware of which kinds of sustainability questions are most relevant to the business or organizations you might want to work for. This also means finding out what kind of concrete functions in the organizations work with sustainability. Is it procurement? Compliance? Communication? Research and development? It can be difficult from the outside to get a clear picture of exactly how organizations are tackling sustainability. That is why traineeships and project courses with real client exposure are invaluable. Sending a message on LinkedIn and grabbing coffee with people in the field is also a great approach.
Once you start to understand the sustainability questions that organizations are struggling with, you can begin to profile yourself as a specialist that can help them in these areas (assuming the questions overlap with your interests). Your thesis, minor, and project coursework are all great ways to start finding your niche. But don't worry too much! These are also things you figure out along the way during your first few jobs.
What do you expect wish from the future?
The field of sustainable business is evolving rapidly as sustainability becomes a more prominent concern for citizens, regulators, investors, employees and companies. Previously when working with sustainability consulting, a great effort needed to be dedicated to convincing prospective clients that sustainability is something valuable to take seriously. That work is getting easier. Sustainability is only going to become a more important topic, one that practitioners of many different professions will need to be familiar with. As a Finnish-American, I also feel very thankful to be able to work in the EU, which deserves praise for its dedication to sustainability issues internationally.
Get to know Nicolas's career path also on LinkedIn!