AXIS Performance Advisors

Demystifying sustainability

Sustainability Professional Association

Copyright 2007 AXIS Performance Advisors

Sustainability: Why we need a professional association

By Darcy Hitchcock and Marsha Willard

Editors Note: Go to to learn about the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, the resulting organization we created.

Courtesy Pixomar,

Courtesy Pixomar,

Over our career, both of us have been attracted to leading-edge professions. Back in the 1970’s we were engaged with the coalescing field of training and development, the application of education and systems development methods in organizations. Then the total quality and teams movement geared up in the 1980’s thanks to the thrashing of the US automakers by Japan, a trend that has continued today now that Toyota is, for the moment anyway, the biggest automaker. We rode that wave as the ‘self-directed work team ladies’ for our first decade in business. In both of these cases, there was at least one professional association that emerged to give the field coherence and credibility and its members career development opportunities.

We hitched our wagon to the sustainability movement after we had our ‘spear to the heart’, Ray Anderson-style epiphany back in 1997 when we held a think-tank to explore the implications of this mysterious and intriguing new term that had shown up in the Harvard Business Review. For years, we’ve been asking, “So where is the professional association for sustainability?” For most of this past decade, we’ve gotten a ho-hum response. But a year ago, the idea gained traction and somehow, after it became clear that no other organization was or was planning to serve this function, we ended up with the dubious task of making it happen.

What is needed

A year ago, we engaged Larry Chalfan and Dorothy Atwood at the Zero Waste Alliance in creating the International Society of Sustainability Professionals under their non-profit umbrella. We started by doing some unsophisticated market research, polling people we knew and people they knew about whether there was a need for a professional association for people working in the area of sustainability and if so, what services were most needed. Our suspicions were validated. About 90% of the people we polled liked the idea and identified the services they would find most useful:

  • a database of people doing this work so professionals could find one another, and
  • tools and best practices for immediate application.

“This looks to be an extremely valuable initiative and I trust that it stimulates much interest.  It is an important step for sustainability if it is to be taken seriously as a professional discipline and develop further standing.”

Founding Member Phil Hughes, Director
Centre for Public Agency Sustainability Reporting™, Melbourne Australia

Inventing a high-tech approach to a professional association

Based on input from Roberta Anderson at the Food Alliance and Steve McGrath from Sustainable Solutions Unlimited, both of whom surpass us in tech-savvy know-how, we decided to use the tools of the Internet to provide the typical services of a professional association in an entirely new way, one less dependent on traveling to events (with all the attendant greenhouse gas emissions). We’ve built a site that marries the capabilities of MySpace (to help you find others with similar interests), Wikipedia (where you can share and co-create resources), Blackboard (for distance learning) and Elluminate (for webcasts).

What about all the other sustainability organizations?

We recognize that there are a number of existing organizations related to sustainability and we don’t want to undermine them. But none act as a professional association, committed to serving the active practitioners. And many focus only on one sector (e.g., ICLEI, AASHE, WBCSD), one philosophy or framework (e.g., TNS, BALLE), or one geographic area (e.g., CSR Chicks, ORTNS).

Since sustainability is about the whole system, not the pieces, ISSP isn’t planning to supplant any of those organizations but rather to connect their members where synergies are possible. There is real value in these other organizations, in their ability to tunnel into issues specific to them and to provide local networking events. But there are benefits to sharing material and resolving issues of a general nature more widely. Content about green purchasing, climate change, social audits, and sustainability assessments are relevant across all these organizational divides. Why should everyone start from scratch writing job descriptions for Sustainability Director positions and re-crafting Sustainability Policies? Let’s share sustainability ‘wheels’ instead of reinventing them!

ISSP Membership Benefits

Networking—Connect with people in your geographic area, within a specific organization, or find people who are working on specific types of projects or have certain skills.

Sharing resources— Search for a tool, policy, case study, book or other resource and be able to see at a glance which ones were deemed most worthwhile by other professionals. Co-create documents or resources with other professionals.

Advancements in the Field—Engage in discussions through topic-centered forums to get answers to difficult challenges from experienced professionals.

Professional Education—Take classes with a cohort of peers, accessing the best instructors from all over the world.

Conferences—Participate in periodic webcasts and teleconferences on leading-edge topics. Get briefed on the latest development in the field or asking questions of the author of a newly released book.

Local Connections—Create your own groups, either by geographic area or interest area, to organize your own networking opportunities and events.

Career Assistance—Search this section devoted to career advancement with job postings, job descriptions, salary studies and other useful.

Professional Journal—Peruse the e-journal that will point you toward the latest articles, book reviews, or events that have been posted on the site.

Professional Standards—Join the discussion about professional accreditation.

Who helped us get ISSP off the ground

We have benefited from the advice of a fabulous and global Advisory Board, and we invited roughly 50 experts from around the world to be the Founding Members who have populated the site with useful content. We’ve had the hope all along that ‘If we build it, they will come,” and the more who join and participate, the more we all can benefit. Please go to and take a look at what we’ve created. Please consider joining or having your organization become a sponsor to help us make sustainability standard practice around the world. Support the professionals who do this work.

ISSP Advisory Board

  • Susan Anderson, Director of Portland, Oregon’s Office of Sustainable Development
  • Eric Friedman, Director of State Sustainability, State of Massachusetts
  • Jill Bamburg, Dean at Bainbridge Graduate Institute
  • Warren Flint, Five E’s Unlimited and founder of Sustainability Now
  • Brian Glazebrook, Manager, Supply Chain Social Responsibility, Cisco Corporation
  • Tim O’Riordan, member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission and emeritus professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia.
  • Mark Starik, professor at George Washington University, School of Business & Public Management Environmental and Social Sustainability Initiative (ESSI)
  • Jean-Claude Vanderstraeten, APJ Environment Director, Hewlett-Packard Asia Pacific and Japan
  • Rick Woodward, Sustainability Director for Coastwide Laboratories

ISSP Founding Members

We invited these people for their recognized expertise in sustainability to load useful content onto the site.

-Allen Lee, Xenergy
-Annie Landfield Grieg, Four Elements Consulting
-Bob Doppelt, Institute for a Sustainable Environment
-Bob Pojasek, SAI Global
-Bob Willard, author
-Cheryl Welch, Tualatin Valley Water District
-Doug Freeman, Arnoldcreek
-Ester Mathews, Austin Energy
-Fabio Vancini, Fichtner Economics + Environment
-Joel Makower, Green Business Network
-Karl Ostrum, NBIS
-Kathy Brewer, Hewlett-Packard

-Katie Sullivan, ICF International

-Katy Ansardi, Sustainable North Carolina

-Linda Lovett, City of Corvallis

-Lucie Drummond, DLA Philips Fox

-Lucy Brehm, Shorebank Pacific

-Madeline Snow

-Michele Crim, City of Portland, Office of Sustainable Development

-Molly Chidsey, Multnomah County

-Nik Blosser, Celilo Group & Sustainable Industries Journal

-Pamela Brody-Heine, Eco Stewardship Strategies

-Peter Clark, ICF International

-Rick Woodward, Coastwide Laboratories

-Roberta Anderson, Food Alliance

-Susan Bragdon, Oregon State University

-Susan Milhauser, City of Lake Oswego

-Susan Sakaki, Sustainable Earth Initiative

-Susan Sokol Blosser, Sokol-Blosser Winery

-Terry Moore, Sustainable Dallas

-Todd Rawlings, Washington Mutual Bank

-Tom Badrick, Legacy Health Systems

-Tom Crawford, Praxis Northwest

-Wayne Rifer, Rifer Environmental and Green Electronics Council

A special thank you to our early-adopter corporate sponsors!

  • Hewlett Packard
  • Garvey Schubert Barer
  • Business Week

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