In What it's Like we ask people working in a variety of roles across the range of sustainability sectors to tell us about their organization, their work and their career path. In this edition of What it's Like, we hear from Salem Afeworki, Founder and Program Director at Value Sustainability. Salem is also an Emerging Leader in E2's Emerging Leaders' program.
What is Value Sustainability's Mission and Core Strategy?
Our Mission is to create an enduring legacy by building a resilient infrastructure and communities. Our Vision is to become a regionally recognized brand name by capitalizing on human innovation and resourcefulness. We plan on being an agent for change by integrating sustainability, systems thinking and responsible leadership into daily business practices.
1. Provide holistic and lasting solutions in line with latest policy and technological advancements.
2. Build a network of national and global partnerships to promote knowledge exchange.
3. Motivate and encourage our clients to implement and follow sustainable practices.
4. Develop and scale green businesses and public-private partnerships.
Tell us about your role
I am the Founder of Value Sustainability, a consulting firm that provides sustainability and climate change services. I am an E2 1 Hotels Fellow, and also serve at Los Angeles County Sustainability Council and City of Irvine’s Green Ribbon Committee. In this capacity, I advise cities and counties on how to best address their environmental and social challenges. As a small business owner, I wear multiple hats. Most of the time, I’m working on a project that we have already won or putting together a proposal to win a new project. I also attend conferences to promote our services and learn about latest trends and best practices in my industry.
How did you get the job- what has been your career path?
I did my Bachelors degree in Journalism, and later did my Masters in Environmental Management and Renewable Energy Application. I have also completed several leadership trainings in environmental sustainability, climate change and business administration at UC Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of Southern California. Prior to founding my firm in 2016, I held management and senior consultant roles in engineering and financial services firms in the U.S and internationally. I have worked in different industries and countries which has allowed me to master the skills of capturing and quantifying the value of sustainability as well as long term planning. My career path has also incorporated some component of education and increasing awareness on how sustainability helps in cost saving, revenue generation, risk mitigation and branding.
Describe Value Sustainability's work culture- what's it like to work there?
At Value Sustainability, we believe collaboration, partnership and teamwork are an integral part of a successful work culture in the 21st century. We mainly work in traditionally male dominated industries – transportation, infrastructure and energy. I challenge my clients constantly to set increasingly higher sustainability targets that grow their business and make a positive impact on society. With our work, we aim to make data and information available in a way that can be easily digested and applied to internal decision-making and get presented to city council/ boards for approval. I truly believe that we need diversity of backgrounds along with multidisciplinary approaches in order to solve complex contemporary challenges.
Describe the sector in which Value Sustainability operates
My firm focuses on public sector work by teaming up with Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) or environmental consulting firms. We are committed to excellence and, because we work across many industry sectors and clients, we bring great breadth and depth of industry knowledge. The need for sustainability services is increasing among cities and counties, and we serve this niche market in California. Our clients look to us as their trusted advisors who stay ahead of trends, policies, and regulations. They understand how those changes will impact their operations and businesses. Having broad professional networks and excellent reputations among consulting firms and agencies is very important for us. This helps us create more opportunistic solutions as we further the transition to a low carbon economy.
What do you love and hate about your job?
What I love about my job is the opportunity to be part of diverse projects and initiatives. My role as a leader is to ensure that my team has the tools they need to be successful. I also like that my work allows me to educate our clients and the communities we serve on the benefits a sustainability program brings and how to identify win-win opportunities as well as no-regret solutions. We offer practical solutions using compelling stories and concrete project examples. What I am not a big fan of is putting a proposal together for agencies that requires filling out endless administrative forms. However, that is a small price to pay and we have developed templates and pre-filled forms to make the experience more bearable!
What advice do you have for job seekers interested in working in your industry?
* All experiences count. Make sure that the internship opportunities you pick give you skills that will propel your career in sustainability. Go after good quality and educational experiences.
* Get involved in professional associations as much as you can. Leverage these groups to connect with like-minded people.
* Learn, unlearn and relearn. Be open-minded and constantly educate yourself on the latest innovation and technologies. Seek a balance of book learning and hands on experience.
* Find a mentor or a sponsor that is willing to support you with your career development.
* Work on improving your communication and presentation skills. Technical skills are very important but so are interpersonal skills.
Where can people find you?
What is your favorite animal?
A dog! I haven’t had one for a while because I have lived in many cities and countries. We plan on adopting one in the near future.