More and more graduates are leaving school with an interest in finding a job that focuses on the many aspects of sustainability. Job seekers will find a nonprofit and for-profit employer pool that is increasingly open to exploring sustainable approaches such as paying employees a living wage, reducing overall waste and becoming more energy efficient.
Colleges and universities are also responding to this shift toward environmentally and socially responsible practices, and many now offer programs geared toward sustainability.
Several schools including Stanford, Yale and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute offer Sustainable MBA’s, and the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University offers both graduate and undergraduate degrees in sustainability.
A values-based education
The ASU School of Sustainability offers a Master of Arts, Master of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy in Sustainability. The undergraduate program, which was founded in 2008, offers either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Sustainability.
These programs take an interdisciplinary and whole-systems approach to sustainability as students examine social, environmental and economic facets of sustainability.
“This is a values-based degree. The students that come here to study sustainability don’t just study it, they live it; so they look for jobs that match their values,” says Amy Lively, internship coordinator at the ASU School of Sustainability. The ASU School of Sustainability also offers a minor in sustainability, so students in other disciplines can also explore how sustainability applies to their primary area of study.
What jobs are out there?
Almost any job can have a focus on sustainability, although Lively says some of the typical jobs in the green field - especially for those with a graduate degree and experience - include energy analysts, recycling program managers, sustainability coordinators, engineers, urban planners, architects and builders.
Network, network, network
For those preparing to enter the job market, Lively advises seeking out both internship and networking opportunities. For those already in the job market, Lively recommends staying educated about the new breakthroughs in sustainability either through a graduate degree and/or through networking opportunities.
“Get involved, go to Green Drinks gatherings, go to chamber of commerce meetings and seek out like-minded people,” she says. Networking events also give job seekers an opportunity to discuss sustainable initiatives and ideas for implementation with potential employers.
The sustainability field is constantly evolving, and even those with a degree need to stay abreast of these changes. In addition to keeping up with the latest developments, networking, and interning, Lively also sees value in earning certifications in a specific field such as the LEED Credential for those pursuing a career in green architecture and building.
Any job can be a green job
Lively, who also teaches the internship class at the ASU School of Sustainability, emphasizes the importance of looking for a job that matches a candidate’s areas of interest. “We teach a sustainable approach to doing the job that you want to do. Consider the job first and the sustainability angle second. What is it you want to do, and how will you implement sustainability into that and then get the training you need?”
ASU School of Sustainability students intern in a variety of fields including government, health care, wildlife, retail, education, nonprofit and even entertainment.
Lively also encourages sustainable job seekers to look at any job as a green job. “The economy and job market are tough, but just because a job isn’t advertised as a green job, I still encourage graduates to use the sustainable approaches they learned in any job they take on.”
Embrace internships and volunteer positions
Potential employers want to see candidates with prior experience. Plus, given the broad job base for careers focused on sustainability, it is a good idea to try different types of internships in order to gain experience and hone in on a specific field of interest. Katie Peige, a 2010 graduate of the ASU School of Sustainability, credits her five internships during college with preparing her for the tough job market.
Peige worked for a variety of organizations including the Network for New Energy Choices, Greenpeace and the Maryland Department of the Environment. She just secured a paid internship with Herban Lifestyles, helping the company work towards USDA organic certification and helping to expand the company’s online platform by utilizing social media.
“When I go to green networking events, I can relate to a variety of different fields from composting to energy efficiency to transportation to architecture,” says Peige.
Create your own green career
The new “green” economy offers many opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs, too. Tom Szaky, founder of Terracycle, and Stephanie Bernstein, founder of To-Go Ware, prove it is possible to start a sustainable company and make a profit.
“Whether you are a student, graduate student or career changer, there is a lot of room for entrepreneurs," Lively says. "This is a wonderful time to start something new if you can find a sustainable way to solve a problem or invent a product.”