CEO's Corner: Defining an Impact Job

By: Liz Maw | August 19, 2013

Preeti works at a microfinance organization in Ecuador, helping low income entrepreneurs start businesses. Clive works at an organic food company on new product development. Sara is a customer service rep at a major bank, and an active member of her branch's green team.Which of them have an impact job?A number of experts, including R. Paul Herman of HIP Investor and Carol Cone of Edelman (both of whom will be speaking at the 2013 Net Impact Conference in Silicon Valley this October), have put their fingers on a growing phenomenon: the new human-centered or purpose-driven economy. At the heart of this economy is the impact job. At Net Impact, we've started using this term a lot (you can see it all over our online Career Center). But how is this defined?

Toward a more flexible definition

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a green job as either jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.But what about social impact? And how do we define impact job so it accounts for different sectors? Different job functions? Perhaps Taproot founder and Net Impact friend Aaron Hurst's definition might resonate: Only take jobs that provide products and services that are healthy for individuals, society and the planet.

With the blurring of the sectors through the creation of B Corporations and similar models, the explosion of the number of nonprofits in the U.S., and the ubiquity of corporate responsibility reports, we need a definition that is both meaningful and flexible.Given our mission, Net Impact has been thinking very carefully about this question, and has come up with an initial working definition:

An impact job is any position in which a person has the agency to use their position as an employee to make a positive social or environmental impact. This could include any or all of the following:

  • Nonprofit or foundation jobs
  • Government jobs
  • Jobs within B Corporations or similar for-profit, socially-responsible models
  • Dedicated CSR/corporate philanthropy/sustainability roles in companies
  • Mainstream jobs in companies where at least one of the following is true:
      • The company's primary product or service is socially or environmentally responsible, and leadership prioritizes a social and/or environmental mission, or shared value;

        • 5% or more of employee time can be on voluntary impact activities (e.g. green teams, pro bono work, or side projects);
          • Sustainability factors are regularly integrated into decision-making and performance evaluation.

          I previewed this first to our Board of Directors. We had a robust discussion, and the consensus landed on not putting parameters around what is or is not an impact job, but letting people self-define. The main contention was that a dedicated CSR manager might not feel like they are able to make a genuine impact if they feel stymied at every turn. On the other hand, a truck driver hauling organic dairy products in a fuel-efficient vehicle might feel like his or her work is making an impact with every ride.

          Join the conversation

          What do you think? How broad, or specific, should we be in defining an impact job?

          I also want to hear from you about how we can help more professionals make greater impact in their current job than they do now, whatever the role. We'll be working on more professional program strategy over the next year with a group of Chapter Leader advisors and others but in the meantime, here's how you can provide your input right now:

          • Join me on our annual Lifetime Member CEO call this Sept. 12 (lifetime members will receive an email invitation soon; not a lifetime member? Upgrade now.)
          • Share your thoughts in the comments below


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