Welcome to our interview series where we speak with purpose-driven and sustainability-focused professionals from around the globe. Every few weeks, we’ll dive into their journeys, learn about their wins and challenges, and the resources they couldn’t do without.
Prepare to be inspired and learn something new!
Today’s guest is Alessia Segalini, sustainability consultant from Italy.
Please tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and your current job. What inspired you to start a career in sustainability and what was your journey to where you are now?
I am Alessia and I live in Italy. I graduated in Political Science and International Relations with a dissertation on international environmental law, focused on biodiversity and its role both in the context of economic development of developing countries and the protection of traditional and indigenous knowledge. I have always been interested in social and environmental issues, and this interest grew during my Bachelors, as proved by the focus of my bachelor thesis. After my graduation, I decided to deepen my knowledge on sustainability challenges and pursued a Masters’ Degree in Sustainable Development (Development economics, Environmental policy and law, Social development) from the University of Milan.
I then started my career as sustainability consultant, supporting companies in the transition towards environmental and socially sustainable business models, with a focus on the enhancement of sustainability awareness and improvement of related performances. I first focused my work on sustainable finance and in general collaborated with financial institutions only, but I then decided to integrate my experience working also with other industries (Food & Beverage, Luxury, Retail…).
What’s your day-to-day like?
I go to the office or work from home (usually twice or three times a week, depending on the needs of my team). After work, I pursue my hobbies or meet friends, for example having dinner together, drinking a glass or wine or joining a cultural event. Before going to sleep, I like reading novels.
What do you like the most about the work you do?
Sustainability is a challenge and helping companies solve their own challenges with a customized approach is what I like the most. Feeling their satisfaction at the end of a project really encourages me to do my best.
How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?
As an advisor, I support companies in addressing their sustainability challenges, helping them measure and report their activities’ impacts, and establishing policies and frameworks to manage social and environmental issues relevant for their business.
As an auditor, I perform verification activities on reported sustainability information to ensure that it is accurate and reliable, addressing the concerns of investors and other stakeholders about the reliability of the sustainability information that companies disclose.
In your experience, what are the main challenges of working with mission-driven and sustainability-focused businesses?
The rapidly evolving landscape: new regulations and policies, new technologies, new practices, new trends. Staying up to date is complex, also because every company is different, and what matters varies from sector to sector.
Is there anything that you do outside of your work that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?
I try to be as much sustainable as I can also in my private life, for example using public transport or cycling, recycling my waste, doing responsible shopping (meaning, buying only things I really need). I buy fresh food and try to avoid food waste, preferring doing often shopping, supporting local food producers and buying less.
Also, during my travels, I try to be respectful towards the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities and the natural heritage.
In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be successful at a “green job”?
Green jobs embrace a wide variety of professional paths, from technical profiles like environmental engineers to managerial professionals like sustainability managers. Thus, it is not easy to identify one-size-fits-all skills since it really depends on what the daily activities and tasks are.
Anyway, I think it is for sure important to be able to understand legal requirements: worldwide, and even more in specific areas, like European Union, the regulatory context is evolving at a fast pace, and it is fundamental to be able to stay up to date as well as to anticipate emerging trends in order to gain competitive advantage.
Also, being keen on reading and speaking with data is crucial: in order to improve, performance should be measured.
Project management is another fundamental skill, and I do think this is also strictly related to communication skills and strategic thinking abilities. Sustainability, if properly integrated in the business, spans different areas (HR, Communication, Facility Management, Products…) and requires collaboration among different teams as well as with external stakeholders, such as in the context of industry initiatives. Sustainability projects are usually cross-functional and cross-sustainability pillars, requiring the ability to cope with multiple workstreams.
Last, but not least, general knowledge of sustainability practices, tools, standards, and frameworks is useful.
What green careers/sectors do you see growing the fastest right now and/or will become mainstream within the next 10 years?
I think green careers that will take off in the next years are those strictly related to the most urgent issues the world will have to face when it comes to promoting sustainable development:
- If we think about energy transition, the energy/environmental engineer will play a key role in helping companies to take advantage of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency
- The achievement of international commitments on climate and sustainability objectives needs the support of finance. Sustainable finance channels private investments into the transition to a sustainable and resilient world, and professionals able to manage or advice on sustainable financial products and services will be key
- With broader responsibilities, sustainability managers are in charge of improving business processes and behaviors in order to safeguard the environment and protect and promote social rights. Their role will be pivotal to successfully integrate business strategies with sustainability considerations.
What are the most common mistakes or misperceptions you have seen when it comes to green careers?
A common misperception is that green jobs lie solely within the newer agri-tech, renewable energy and climate solutions industry sectors such as carbon capture. However, several studies show that most of the new green jobs will be created in traditional industries, like manufacturing, considering their pivotal role in the green transition.
Another misconception I see is that there are few sustainability jobs, even if there is plenty of different possible careers, both in mission-driven companies and in “normal” companies, who are starting their green path and may need expert advisors.
You have a diverse background and experience working in sustainability reporting and assurance. Could you highlight some of the key differences and potential green career paths within industries/sectors you’ve worked with?
The disclosure of information on companies’ risks and opportunities arising from social and environmental issues, and on the impacts of their activities on people and the environment is getting more and more urgent. Investors, civil society organizations, consumers and other stakeholders are interested in evaluating the sustainability performance of companies. In this context, green washing (the phenomenon of companies giving a false impression of their environmental impact or benefits) misleads market actors and negatively affects companies taking concrete actions to green their products/services; assurance of reported sustainability information may help to ensure that it is accurate and reliable, addressing the concerns of investors and other stakeholders about the reliability of the sustainability information that companies disclose.
Considering what above, career paths in reporting and assurance are different but inter-related.
- Sustainability reporting is the activity of collecting information on social and environmental issues, to be communicated to stakeholders in the most effective and appropriate way. The most comprehensive and complete way of communicating is through a corporate sustainability report. Career paths may be undertaken both as an advisor or within a company as reporting specialist:
- As an advisor, you could work to support companies in performing stakeholder engagement activities to define the materiality matrix, whose output is the list of material sustainability topics on which the disclosure will be focused. Data and information collection activities follow, aimed to support companies in structuring and preparing their report.
- Within a company, especially in bigger ones, there are people dedicated to ESG disclosures, usually within Investor Relations or Communication teams, who take care of the activities mentioned above and prepare disclosures customized for different categories of stakeholders.
- Assurance activities include the verification of data and information collected by the company, as well as of the draft and final report, ensuring its alignment with the reporting standard selected by the company. In this case, an auditor career may be pursued.
Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with others looking to succeed in their purpose-driven career?
Be curious, open-minded, and challenging, both towards the context surrounding you as well with yourself. Never stop learning and questioning the world around you.
The idea of contributing to make a difference (even small) in the world.
Graduated in Political Science and International Relations, with a LL.M. in Sustainable Development, Alessia currently works as senior sustainability consultant in Milan (Italy), managing projects to support companies in the transition towards environmental and socially sustainable business models, with a focus on the enhancement of sustainability awareness and improvement of related performances. In her spare time, you can find her doing pilates or making pottery.