Thinking about a career in sustainability? Allbirds’ sustainability manager says now’s the time to step up

The intensity and urgency of the climate crisis has led more businesses to focus on sustainability hires. Hana Kajimura shares how rewarding this career growth area can be.

It’s the start of a new decade and, naturally, many of us are taking the time to set new goals for what we hope to achieve for the year ahead and beyond. It’s an optimistic time for blue-sky thinking, or it was, before the skies across New Zealand turned an unsettling sepia as the Australian wildfire crisis became all-consuming, its devastating consequences felt around the world.

“Of course we’re all paying attention to what’s going on in Australia and just the intensity and magnitude of what’s happening,” says Allbirds’ Hana Kajimura over the phone from the brand’s San Francisco office. “The wildfires we’ve been having in California are not even anywhere near what’s happening in Australia but those days when the fires were bad and you couldn’t leave your home because you couldn’t breathe the air outside, that felt apocalyptic and very scary. And the more that happens, I think the more action will be taken.”

When faced even viscerally with environmental disaster, the sustainability manager can see a silver lining, and that’s what makes the work she does so valuable. She’s on a mission to impact the environmental crisis from the inside out, refusing to be overwhelmed by the cloud of challenges facing companies today.

Hana shares what’s involved in a sustainability career, and how you can get into the industry:


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Allbirds (@allbirds) on

Foot in the door

As a sustainability manager, Hana helps Allbirds find solutions to environmental and social sustainability issues through all aspects of their business – product, supply chain and operations. Working on a small dedicated team, Hana’s role includes high-level and strategic projects, including setting climate targets, as well as more tactical every-little-bit-counts tasks like foraging eucalyptus bark from the local park to be used in their product shoots and ensuring the office sorts rubbish into the right bins. She travels to New Zealand to visit the local sheep farms, to Italy for the textile mills and Europe for industry meet-ups.

“I was very lucky that Allbirds was prioritising [sustainability] so early on. But I do think it’s becoming more and more popular and as companies realise that this is no longer a nice-to-have, that customers are demanding answers around sustainability from the brands they support,” she says. “I think teams are expanding and companies are starting to put more and more resources behind them. I think the smaller, newer companies have a stronger a point of view and are able to move a lot quicker and a lot more decisively.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Allbirds (@allbirds) on

Covering new ground

The role was new to her two years ago, which she saw as an exciting opportunity to build a sustainability program from the ground up.

“Clearly nobody has figured it out yet because we’re in this place, this dire state as a world. And there’s so much more urgency and intensity now that it feels like a new frontier,” she explains. “It feels like you are charting new territory and creating roadmaps that are truly new and different. It’s really exciting to feel like you are pioneering that space and I would encourage anyone to get in now while we’re still making up the rules.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Allbirds (@allbirds) on

What background do you need?

When starting her career, Hana had one question she wanted to solve: “How do I impact the climate crisis?”

After completing a major of environmental science in college she worked at Bain & Company, advising clients across industries including technology, healthcare, private equity, and energy on how to act more sustainably. She’s also worked with Google X and Environmental Defence Fund on clean energy projects.

The specific skills from this area are helping her re-imagine what being ethical can look like within a fashion business. “I think it’s been helpful and refreshing to come at it with a fresh pair of eyes.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Allbirds (@allbirds) on

Collaboration is key

We all have to work together if we are going to create a brighter future for everyone, and Hana says the sustainability sector is the most collaborative she has come across – often on the phone to other mindful fashion brands, including Eileen Fisher, Patagonia and Maggie Marilyn in New Zealand.

“Everyone’s a good friend and we’re all just trying to leave things a little bit better than we found them,” she says. “I think we’re at a point where everyone’s just looking for answers and action. Even if they’re not perfect, it feels better than sitting around and debating what perfect should look like.”

Using fashion to tell a story

Throughout her career, Hana has learnt that different industries have different roles to play in making the world a better place. Fashion’s unique role is storytelling – “making some of these concepts that are really complicated and hard more accessible to customers”.

In the last couple of years, Hana says the most gratifying part of her work is witnessing public perceptions start to shift. “Of course, Allbirds is not solely responsible… but even in the last two years, we’ve seen an enormous uptick in both the frequency of this conversation as well as the sophistication of it. And it’s really rewarding to feel like you’re a part of that,” she says. “And I think that’s been a specific shift that we’ve seen in the industry as more and more brands, like even Gucci, come forward and say that they’re committing to carbon neutrality. I think that’s super exciting.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Allbirds (@allbirds) on

How to find the right sustainability role

When it comes to applying for sustainability roles, Hana has a pro-tip for finding out how serious the company is in their commitment: “One thing that’s really important to look for is where the sustainability team is located within an organisation. You can find it anywhere. Sometimes it’s in HR, sometimes it’s in marketing – neither of those is very promising because it says something about the priorities as a function.”

Product is the department it should be in. “I sit on the product teams, so right alongside design and development and product strategy, and that’s the engine of our company, it’s what fuels our growth. But also it’s where the majority of our environmental impact lies. It is the best place to be, to actually have a voice in the decisions that impact the company.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Allbirds (@allbirds) on

The time is now

Learning from Greta Thunberg, no less, at a recent industry event that 100 of the world’s largest companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions, Hana sees the industry’s challenges as clear as the day. “We know exactly what to do and we have all the technology that we need to do it. We just need more decisive leadership.”

Words: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photo: Supplied