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How can I prepare for a future career in sustainability?

Hello! I'm a first-year college student who is currently applying for internships and taking courses geared toward a career in environmental science or conservation. But, I'm curious about what I can do to better prepare for getting a job post-graduation! Do you have any tips for success?

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Raya’s Answer

A very good approach Sophia - so glad to see the new generations interested in learning about sustainability. I believe you have got great pieces of advice from the experts above.

I will add that you may need to start reading about sustainability as it so broad and it goes in two main streams: Corporate and Technical. From the corporate perspective, learn more about the ESG. You can do this by actively engaging yourself in community initiative related to environment (E) and social (S) programs. You may also read about government green policies (G) to better understand countries' laws and regulations. As said above, this requires different types of skills, more on communication and presentation skills equipped with strong knowledge.

As for the technical sustainability, this is more into environmental science education, engineering fields, expertise in carbon footprint calculating and greenhouse gas emissions.

However, whatever area you are interested in within sustainability, this remains great and super important. Continue in learning about sustainability and help create that positive impact.
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Asheen’s Answer

Hi Sophia, the previous answers might well apply for a career in conservation, that's a side of sustainability I don't know very well. My experience and expertise is in corporate sustainability (now also called ESG, for environmental, social, and governance). When I've hired entry level folks for jobs in sustainability working on my teams, I've shied away from hiring those with dedicated sustainability degrees. To me, sustainability is more of a lens, and topical understanding, than a skillset. When I needed someone with a technical background, I hired for a technical background with a minor in sustainability; when I needed someone more on the communications side of the work, I hired someone with a comms background who had also taken a bunch of courses in sustainability.

The job of a sustainability professional is really to be a translator, so as Lilia said, having a broad background will allow you to talk the language of many people, and translate your sustainability needs into theirs. For example, you should be able to chat green-building with the facilities team or architects, sustainability's return-on-investment with the finance folks, and the details of a carbon footprint or a product life cycle assessment with the engineers. Not that you need to be an expert in all these; expertise in one and exposure to the others should be the goal. Pick an area you really want to "own" as your area of expertise, and start blogging about it.

As James said, having internships in the space, and networking into it, are the two main keys to success. Reach out to many people who have jobs that interest you on linkedin (including me, if mine interests you!) and ask for 30 minute virtual coffees. They won't all say yes, but if you ask ten people, I'll bet at least five will agree. I did the same thing when I was starting out and I try as much as I can to pay it back.

Join professional organizations: Net Impact, local orgs like SBN, or even just sustainability meetups in your area. And don't just join, but volunteer for their leadership teams. When you agree to put on a panel discussion of 3-4 people that you admire, it gives you the excuse to reach out to those three people and make a real human connection. Multiply that by 2-3 events each year and you'll have a dozen mentors in jobs you want in the span of a year! That's the best way to secure an internship.

HTH,
Asheen
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Lilia’s Answer

Take geography courses, especially physical geography courses, but don’t skip the world regional courses. You want to understand the environment and the people living in it. No conservation or sustainability approach will succeed without the support of the people.
A broad background will better prepare you for success
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Melody’s Answer

Hello Sophia,

Indeed, this is a challenging field, primarily due to its limited funding. However, it's crucial to focus on what truly ignites your passion in this domain. In such a landscape, you might find yourself playing the dual role of an innovator and job seeker. I recall a conversation with a colleague from my state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who shared that he juggled various roles to not only meet his financial needs but also to fuel his passion in this field.

I would highly recommend reaching out to the DNR in any state where you envision yourself working, or pose these inquiries to your college professors. You'll find that many professors engage in projects throughout the year or during the summer, which could offer you a broader view beyond just the job opportunities available.

Remember, every challenge is an opportunity in disguise. Here's to your future endeavors, may they be filled with success and fulfillment.
Thank you comment icon I appreciate your support, Melody Sophia
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James Constantine’s Answer

Hi Sophia,

Building a successful career in sustainability necessitates a blend of education, hands-on experience, networking, and a deep-seated dedication to preserving the environment. Here's a guide to help you navigate your way towards a career in this sector:

1. Education and Skill Enhancement:
- Select the appropriate academic route: Opt for a degree in environmental science, sustainability, conservation, or a similar discipline. Seek programs that provide specialized courses on sustainability concepts, renewable energy, climate change, resource management, and environmental policy.
- Acquire cross-disciplinary knowledge: As sustainability challenges are multifaceted and interrelated, it's beneficial to take classes in economics, sociology, public policy, and business. This will give you a comprehensive grasp of the social, economic, and political dimensions of sustainability.
- Hone technical skills: Get acquainted with the tools and technologies prevalent in the sustainability sector. This could encompass GIS (Geographic Information Systems), data analysis software, environmental modeling tools, and sustainability evaluation frameworks.

2. Hands-On Experience:
- Pursue internships and volunteering roles: Apply for internships or volunteer roles with entities engaged in sustainability projects. This will offer you practical experience and a chance to apply your knowledge in real-life scenarios.
- Engage in research initiatives: Team up with professors or research institutions on sustainability-related projects. This will not only deepen your understanding of the subject but also showcase your research skills and contributions to the field.
- Participate in student organizations: Join student-led sustainability clubs or groups on campus. These groups often host events, workshops, and projects that can provide you with practical experience and broaden your network.

3. Networking and Career Growth:
- Participate in conferences and workshops: Attend sustainability conferences, workshops, and seminars to stay abreast of the latest trends, research outcomes, and best practices in the sector. These events also offer great networking opportunities where you can meet professionals already in the sustainability field.
- Enroll in professional associations: Become a member of professional bodies like the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), or the Sustainable Business Network (SBN). These organizations provide resources, networking events, and job boards specifically for sustainability professionals.
- Establish a robust online presence: Develop a professional profile on platforms like LinkedIn and engage with sustainability-related content. Share articles, research papers, and your own insights on sustainability topics to position yourself as a thought leader in the sector.

4. Dedication to Environmental Conservation:
- Adopt sustainable practices in your everyday life: Embrace sustainable habits such as waste reduction, energy and water conservation, and supporting green products and services. Demonstrating your personal dedication to sustainability will enhance your credibility when pursuing a career in this sector.
- Stay updated: Keep track of current environmental issues, policies, and scientific breakthroughs. Subscribe to trustworthy news sources, follow leading sustainability experts on social media, and participate in discussions to deepen your understanding of the field's challenges and opportunities.
- Champion change: Use your knowledge and passion for sustainability to advocate for positive change. Whether it's through writing articles, participating in community initiatives, or engaging with policymakers, actively contribute to the sustainability dialogue.

In conclusion, gearing up for a sustainability career involves obtaining pertinent education, acquiring hands-on experience, networking with field professionals, and showing a strong dedication to environmental conservation. By adhering to these tips, you can set yourself up for success in a fulfilling career that contributes to a greener future.

Top 3 Authoritative Reference Publications or Domain Names Used:
1. Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) - https://www.aashe.org/
2. International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) - https://www.sustainabilityprofessionals.org/
3. Sustainable Business Network (SBN) - https://sbnphiladelphia.org/

Hope you find this useful,
Take care,
James.
Thank you comment icon Thank you for the advice, James Constantine. Sophia
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Judith-Ann’s Answer

Sophia, bless you for choosing a career to take care of our environment. I can't think of a more beautiful place to live and work than Hawaii. I looked up Ewa Beach and see that your beautiful beaches need love and protection. And of course, the City and County of Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation are responsible for the city parks all across the island of Oʻahu, from playgrounds to camp grounds, beach parks to botanical gardens.

The department also provides year-round recreation programs for all ages,and locally grown produce at People’s Open Markets or community gardens. Activities throughout the year include concerts, fairs, competitions and cultural exhibitions. Nā Hula Festival at Kapiʻolani Park is the longest running, non-competitive hula event in the state. All of these activities need good conservation for a sound environment.

Everyone is dedicated to keeping your island green, your residents and visitors happy and your facilities operating.
Enjoy and “ Add Quality to Life!” Considering this philosophy of your state, I would think you could find work in an area of conservation that interests you. For instance, if you love the ocean or underwater life, a career in conservation of our oceans would be of interest. While still in college, find events that appeal to you and volunteer or do an internship so that when you graduate you can step into a career with a salary.

Also, take a look at this link for ideas for your career:https://wildlife.org/wildlife-careers/
I certainly wish you tremendous joy and success in following your passion.
Thank you comment icon Thank you, Judith-Ann for the advice. Sophia
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Adeniyi’s Answer

Hello Sophie,

It's truly wonderful to see your interest in pursuing a career in sustainability. We definitely need more dedicated individuals like you in this sector. You're already making great strides by exploring internships and enrolling in relevant courses. I'd also suggest establishing connections with professionals within the field. If you have a knack for writing, why not pen down your thoughts on sustainability topics and share them on your social media platforms like LinkedIn? This could significantly increase your visibility in the industry.

Remember to start accumulating as many certifications as you can. While sustainability is indeed about preserving resources for future generations, the industry also places a high value on certifications. While you're still in college, it would be beneficial to pinpoint the specific area of sustainability you're most passionate about. This can guide you in identifying potential companies and roles that align with your interests.

I hope you find this advice helpful!
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