Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Aspiring Sustainability Professionals Should Learn in College

Here is some advice from young professionals for college students interested in pursuing a career in sustainability. Getting ready for the workplace starts when you are in school. Learn from the experience of a group of sustainability professionals as they offer insightful advice. This advice focuses on areas of study (courses, programs) and extracurricular activities (academic and personal) .

In an article titled "Young sustainability leaders reveal their career success secrets," Emma Campher asked GreenBiz 30 under 30 honorees— about their higher-education experience, and what advice they have for rising college students who are interested in the intersection of business and sustainability.

Second only to networking and connecting with others, these young professionals stressed the importance of gaining access to practical experience that enables students to get their "hands dirty." This could involve internships, fellowships, and volunteer projects. Many expressed the importance of seeking out new experiences including travel abroad. It is also important to try to make sustainability issues tangible.

They said that students should be intellectually flexible and learn to explore issues from a variety of perspectives. It is also important to learn how to speak the languages of the civil, public and private sectors.

One of the most useful pieces of advice came from someone who said it is a good ideal to learn from working professionals who are doing what you hope to do. This individual suggested doing "informational interviews with people whose career paths you really admire." Ask them how they got there and more about their day-to-day experiences.

Above all students should build their confidence, find their own voice and learn to be tenacious problem solvers.


In response to a question about the most helpful classes and topics of study these young professionals stressed to need to pursue classes that provide tangible skills. They suggested studying corporate sustainability, specifically greenhouse gas and water accounting as well as supply chain transparency. They singled out the importance of business classes but they also mentioned philosophy.

One person said that it is important to take classes that provide insights into psychology, persuasion and marketing because you will need to be able to convince people. Another suggested taking challenging courses that push students "outside of their comfort zone, knowledge and confidence."

Still another professional said that it is important to take classes that ask ultimate questions about the human condition, "where reason is beyond itself, and truths cannot be confirmed or validated." This translates to a commitment to seeking, looking and questioning or as they explained it, "live the question."

Others suggested studying sustainable development, social justice, environmental chemistry, LEED certification,  and coding for websites.


In response to a question about the most helpful extracurricular activities, the green professionals counseled students to join sustainability-focused organizations, groups and clubs. Some suggested that students should get involved in environmental and climate activism. A couple even mentioned that students could start a student organization. It was recommended that students should support on-campus sustainability initiatives including things like recycling, energy, waste and water reduction, and renewable energy. 

Become active in school politics and engage in local policy or volunteer in the community. In addition to working in the field, a great way to build professional experience as a student is to become a UNEP Regional Youth Representative with the United Nations.


Beyond learning about the issues there are a number of specific skill sets referenced by these professionals This includes working as a team, strategic planning, and collaboration. Students should also learn how to forge alliances with diverse stakeholders. 

Make sure to see the article titled, "Comprehensive Green School Information and Resources." It contains links to over 325 articles covering everything you need to know about sustainable academics, student eco-initiatives, green school buildings, and college rankings as well as a wide range of related information and resources. 

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