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How to get an environmental job and become a sustainability specialist

environmental sustainability specialis

Helping the environment doesn’t just mean taking a low-paying internship or non-profit job anymore. As Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues play more and more in companies, along with Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR), finding a sustainability job has gotten easier. Here are several ways to get started and become a sustainability specialist. 

What color green is your parachute?

Sustainability covers a lot of topics, so first find a subject that interests you. Clean energy, resource conservation, wildlife protection, environmental racism or climate change are all topics in this space. Sustainability also includes other purpose-driven areas, such as equity, diversity and inclusion. If you’re not sure, start with What Color is Your Parachute?, a classic career guide. Then look beyond simple career possibilities to delve into sites where existing professionals or interested parties go. The National Association of Environmental Professionals has a list board with topics including biological resources, water and coastal, environmental justice, cultural resources, and emerging professionals.

After finding a subject you like, look to choose a career path. The book Profession and Purpose focuses on finding the right sustainability profession, and is written by Katie Kross, the Managing Director for Duke University’s Center for Energy, Development and Global Environment. Working in sustainability doesn’t just mean choosing an environmental area, but deciding if you are more interested in being an engineer, scientist, educator, lawyer, business professional or social activist.

A good starting point is also to see what existing jobs are out there for sustainability specialists. Some career boards focus on environmental issues, such as Green Job Search and Ed’s Clean Energy and Sustainability Jobs list. Another resource, Sustainable Career Pathways includes interviews with tips from people who got sustainability jobs. The Weinreb Group, while focused on executive searches, can let you know where the long-term future of your career in sustainability may be. 

Study

Many universities have sustainability programs, either undergrad or graduate. With the pandemic, more offerings are being made available online. If you have identified a focus area as detailed above, this will help you narrow down your choices of colleges.

And while the environment and sustainability may be the focus, experts also recommend studying business and economics. Any future professional project undertaken will need to be evaluated for costs and benefits. The University of Wisconsin Sustainability Management program recommends learning about law, marketing, business strategy and the triple bottom line: people, profit and planet.

You can also study a particular expert to see who you most identify with. If you find you are interested in sustainable design and development, you will want to check out William McDonough. In biology and oceanography, a major leader is Sylvia Earle. The podcast The Environment Show identifies several people who have made or are making positive impacts.

Dedicated ESG companies and non-profits

Identifying ESG companies focusing on your sustainability focus area can help you see what skills they are looking for. In sustainable design and architecture, HDR works on resiliency, sustainability and environmental science. A strong leader in the renewable energy space is Rocky Mountain Institute. Renown design firm IDEO has launched a non-profit dedicated to tackling major global issues.

Companies are also expanding into ESG spaces. For example, Pearce Services, a major provider of repair, maintenance, engineering, installation and expansion solutions for telecommunications industries, has recently acquired a solar and wind company, including battery storage and electric vehicle charging.

Join a club and volunteer

There are several clubs that may be available in your community or you can engage with online. Net Impact specifically looks at the intersection of sustainability and business, and has both collegiate and professional chapters. Greendrinks is a casual, social clubs that has chapters in 316 cities worldwide. Longer established clubs like the Sierra Club can also help you connect with like-minded people. 

Even if there isn’t a relevant club where you are, you can still volunteer with one-off events. Your existing company may hold special events for Earth Day, April 22. Check in with your community for events like raingarden training, natural resource volunteers, or recycling education. For example, in Washington state, trained volunteers teach people about the brackish water ecosystem of the Puget Sound with Sound Water Stewards.

Alumni networks

If you already attended college, checking out your alumni network is a great opportunity to find people you have both a history and perhaps a future in common with. Not only will networking help you meet like-minded people, it can hone your interpersonal skills in communication. This, along with learning about management, will help set you apart from other people vying for the sustainability professional jobs, according to the University of Wisconsin.

Conclusion

More and more opportunities exist for both young people and career changers in sustainability. With research, volunteering, education and networking you may find yourself in a career with a purpose sooner than you realize.

Further reading:

Green jobs and job boards to find your next role

MBA Programs in Clean Tech and Sustainability

Working to Save the World: Green Jobs Outlook 2020

Other articles about green careers

Check out our resources library

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