By Melissa J. Anderson

Last week’s Women of ALPFA summit brought together Latino professionals in business, finance, accounting, and investments to learn about opportunities in emerging industries. Held at Goldman Sachs, the conference welcomed male and female professionals to hear a panel of senior professional women working in new fields and markets.

Moderated by Theresa Torres, Director for Diversity and Employee Experience for Verizon Communications, the panel included Elizabeth I. Diep, CPA, Senior Manager at PwC; Erika Karp, MD and Head of Global Sector Research at UBS Investment Bank; Heather M. Kellett, Global Director of Operations at KPMG; Silvina Nunez, Senior Business Manager at JPMorgan Chase; and Maria Otero, Esq., Founder and President of the Women’s Venture Fund.

While the women discussed diversity issues and venture funding, the hot topic of the evening was green investments and green jobs.

“There are many ways to define sustainability,” said Karp. Particularly, she said, “long term.” As the economy evolves and companies begin to trend toward a sustainability consciousness in the near and longer-term future, green will be the newest emerging industry for career seekers.

Macro Trends Point toward Sustainability Viewpoint

Research shows that sustainability is a top of mind issue for high level professionals at multinational corporations. For example, Kellett said that KPMG recently performed a survey with the Economist Intelligence Unit and found that 62% of firms have a sustainability strategy in place, and 33% are in the process of developing them. “This is no longer a niche activity,” she explained.

The mainstream attention sustainability is now receiving from business is a result of four macro trends, Kellet continued: the energy crisis and energy security, climate change, resource pressure, and population increase.

“Looking at these macro trends we are seeing multinational businesses looking at now… they are managing risks coming out of this so they can have a sustainable business going forward,” she said.

Karp pointed out that sustainability isn’t simply an ethical issue. She said, “ESG – environmental, social, and governance issues – all it means is looking at the really material factors that are impacting investing.” The perception of sustainability now is an acknowledgment that the planet’s resources and climate have an effect on business.

Businesses are realizing that sustainability efforts are no longer a “nice to have,” they’re a “need to have,” Torres commented.

Green Jobs on the Rise

Torres said, “That these careers didn’t exist six or seven years ago, is really a testament that these organizations said you’ve got to step up the process.”

Additionally she said, employees new to the workforce are expecting companies to have a green strategy. “A lot of [Gen Y workers] are looking for ‘what are your CSR efforts?’ and ‘what are your efforts around sustainability?’”

The conference came on the heels of a report by the Brookings Institution on the green or clean job market. According to Brookings, there are 2.7 million green or clean jobs in the US – more than in the fossil fuel and bioscience industries. While most of the jobs are in manufacturing and public services, the report says, “A smaller portion of the clean economy encompasses newer segments that respond to energy-related challenges. These include the solar photovoltaic (PV), wind, fuel cell, smart grid, biofuel, and battery industries.”

Additionally, the report said, while this segment didn’t grow as fast as the US job market at large, it is expected to pick up. The report says:

“The clean economy grew more slowly in aggregate than the national economy between 2003 and 2010, but newer “cleantech” segments produced explosive job gains and the clean economy outperformed the nation during the recession.”

The report continues:

“However, this measured growth heavily reflected the fact that many longer-standing companies in the clean economy—especially those involved in housing- and building-related segments—laid off large numbers of workers during the real estate crash of 2007 and 2008… At the same time, newer clean economy establishments— especially those in young energy-related segments such as wind energy, solar PV, and smart grid—added jobs at a torrid pace, albeit from small bases.”

Job growth in clean tech is growing, and based on the comments of the panelists at the ALPFA summit, as today’s largest companies place a greater emphasis on sustainability, we can expect to see more.