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 Ebuka Onunaiwu, sustainability and social impact reporting consultant from Nigeria.
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 a sustainability/ESG professional with over 8 years of diverse knowledge and experience of environmental, social, governance and economic consulting and research. Currently, I am an experienced manager at a top consulting firm, where I lead a stream of the Sustainability/ESG and Climate Change unit. I am a certified carbon management professional, GRI-Certified sustainability reporter and trainer, and also a certified environmental and social risk manager.
My interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability was aroused in 2012 during my undergraduate degree, after listening to a public lecture on “Paying the Price for CSR: Social costs and dividends of oil and gas company approaches in Nigeria”. From that day, I nurtured and worked towards becoming a CSR and sustainability professional. I read publicly available thesis of masters students from various universities in the Uk that offer a masters programme in sustainability, CSR and any related course. My interest was further deepened as I studied key aspects of sustainability such as globalisation, climate change, environmental sustainability, poverty and inequality and other socio-environmental themes in my undergraduate geography degree.
What’s your day-to-day like?
My key responsibilities include business development, strategy development, service marketing, project management and delivery. On a daily basis, I identify and respond to opportunities within the sustainability space. I also lead the development of proposals and shape market offerings that clients can buy into. I engage my internal and external stakeholders on a periodic and a need basis. For the colleagues on my team, I delegate tasks on new projects and follow when necessary. I also provide status reports to my supervisors as needed. This may also be on a periodic or a need basis. I engage new and existing clients as necessary on new project offerings and project status respectively. This may be through virtual calls, email exchanges, and office and site visits.
What do you like the most about the work you do?
My overarching life goal has always been to bring large scale sustainable development to the regions where I work and to positively affect as many lives as I can through impactful economic, governance, social and environmental programmes. Working as a sustainability professional affords me the opportunity to do this. I may have a shortfall on the scale at which I want to deliver on my ambition but with every CSR or social investment programme that I advise businesses on, a life in a neglected community changes for the better. Also, I go out everyday with the mindset that if I get it right with my client, they would most likely get it right in society. This would in turn positively impact lives especially in local communities.
How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?
As a sustainability consultant, the length and breadth of my work is to make businesses become more sustainable in their practices and operations. Whether I am providing strategy advisory for clients, developing sustainability related policies that guide their actions or helping them disclose their impact which at the same time shines a torch on the negative footprints, I am in one way or the other addressing social and environmental issues. Businesses are the largest contributors to many social and environmental ills in society, therefore, by advising businesses on how to address these ill, I am directly contributing sustainable development
In your experience, what are the main challenges of working with mission-driven and sustainability-focused businesses?
A major challenge is for such businesses to distill their purpose mission across their internal and external stakeholders, as well as build the right system to help them manage their ambitious vision. Because sustainability is still a growing concept, businesses typically struggle to put in place the needed systems to address sustainability related issues such as labour management, human rights, environmental stewardship, carbon management, sustainable sourcing and many others.
Some sustainability-focused businesses also struggle with measuring the actual positive impact of some of their initiatives. While it is largely straightforward to compute and determine the financial return on investment of mainstream products and services, it is not the same for social and environmental initiatives and programmes. Many sustainability-focused businesses are still unable to grapple concepts such as social return on invedstment (SROI) and net positive environmental gains on social and environmental initiatives.
There is also the challenge of balancing financial sustainability and the purpose mission. While majority of the shareholders and investors of some of such businesses agree that corporate sustainability and ESG are integral to long-term business success, they also want to ensure that the business stays financially buoyant in the short term. Recently, some sustainability-focused businesses have come under immense attack from disgruntled shareholders and independent analysts who have described such businesses as sacrificing revenue growth for their purpose mission. While this may seem true for some of the criticized businesses, there is more compelling data from global research agency, Morningstar, that shows that sustainable funds outperformed traditional funds in the last decade.
Is there anything that you do outside of your job that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?
I contribute to promoting sustainability advocacy across diverse sectors. I have contributed to multiple sustainability advocacy initiatives as a working group member and as a panelist/speaker. Notable among these are Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) – Thematic Group of the Agriculture and Food Security Policy Commission; Floods and Wetlands Management Working Group for Lagos Urban Planning Processes, and the webinar on Reducing the Emission of Ozone-Depleting Substances & Greenhouse Gases among others.
In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be successful at a “green job”?
I think the top skills that would be relevant in the green include:
1. Research and analytics
2. Communications and reporting
3. Strategy and programme development
4. Assessment, monitoring and evaluation
5. Stakeholder management
What green careers/sectors do you see growing the fastest right now and/or will become mainstream within the next 10 years?
1. ESG Reporting Specialist
2. ESG Fund Manager
3. ESG Data Analyst/Specialist
4. Climate Risk Specialist
5. ESG Auditor
1. Energy (Renewable/ Alternative)
3. Circular economy and waste management
5. Consumer goods
What are the most common mistakes or misperceptions you have seen when it comes to green careers?
The biggest misconception that I have seen is that passion triumphs knowledge. Many young people get into green careers with the hope to change the world. While this is a worthy desire, it must be backed up with good knowledge of systems, guidelines, frameworks and processes within the sustainability space. Passion is not enough, young people passionate about changing the world must build capacity that is adequate to help them change the world. This may require taking multiple courses, trainings, certifications, just to mention a few.
A green career is also just like any other career, you need to understand how to seek and secure opportunities, how to network and negotiate, and how to consistently grow your career. Nothing would be handed over to you for free. You must set career targets and surpass them.
You have a diverse background and experience in economic, social and environmental consulting. Could you highlight some of the key differences and potential green career paths within industries/sectors you’ve worked with?
There are existing and emerging careers pathways for intending sustainability professionals. Most businesses now have a sustainability team that houses multiple professionals. Some businesses also have a separate health, safety, security and environment. This can be classified under the category of green jobs. Furthermore, I have noticed the growth in specialist areas such as climate risk, circular economy, lifecycle assessment, reporting, GHG management, social programmes, diversity and inclusion, impact assessment, monitoring and evaluation, and so many others.
Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with others looking to succeed in their purpose-driven career?
From my experience, succeeding in a purpose-driven career is largely dependent on how the individual is willing to build capacity across a broad spectrum of areas of sustainability. Sustainability is complex and it is also still evolving, therefore, it would be crucial for one to initially build capacity across the social, environmental, economic and governance pillars of sustainability before they try to specialize at a much later time in their career.
In an evolving field such as sustainability, it is also crucial to keep up to date with the trends and development in the space. This includes emerging guidelines and frameworks, new global, regional and local frameworks and so on.
What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going?
I really want to see businesses play a more convincing role in addressing societal issues. I see myself as a change agent that can drive and guide businesses in that path by virtue of the kind of advisory that I provide to them. This is my ultimate inspiration.
Ebuka is a sustainability/ESG professional with over 8 years of diverse knowledge of environmental, social, governance and economic consulting and research. Currently, Ebuka is an experienced manager in a leading global professional services firm. Ebuka is a certified carbon management professional, sustainability reporter and trainer, and environmental and social risk/impact manager.