Sustainability Bulletin: Exploring sustainability's ties to your career

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Be the master of your own destiny with a career in sustainability. The options are endless.

We can all envision a time, not too long ago, when eligibility for a job depended on knowledge of the sector and skills related to it.

A degree and/or higher credential certainly didn’t hurt, nor did it to have previous, hands-on experience. Fast forward to 2019 and many previously qualified candidates could find themselves at a disadvantage, because of a new sheriff in town: sustainability.

The 1987 Brundtland Commission Report defines sustainable development as one that “meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Thirty-two years later, the term “sustainability” is viewed as a critical, long-term plan that needs to be adopted by every sector and those involved. Sustainability is not just a way of life, but an enduring mindset.

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In order to address this evolving phenomenon, global entities are changing their outlook. In its December 2017 survey, McKinsey & Company stated that “the integration of sustainability into functional work doubles the likelihood that a company will report financial value from their efforts”.

Money is not however the sole driving force behind many organizations’ decision to be more engaged. The McKinsey survey noted that other top reasons included “to align with our goals, missions, or values; build, maintain, or improve reputation; meet consumers’ expectations; improve operational efficiency; and to attract, motivate, or retain employees”.

It used to be commonplace for companies to simply hire a manager to lead their team. Sustainability however, suggests that every team member is well-equipped with sustainability skills in order to understand and be capable of executing the organization’s goals and objectives together. Instead of focusing on ‘self’, holistic empowerment should be the new mantra.

In light of these changes, students are now faced with a professional conundrum. Do they continue along their previous academic route, headed toward an inevitable cliffhanger; or, do they adapt to, and embrace the world of opportunity that sustainability knowledge offers.

In November 2018, the Global University Employability Ranking, published by Times Higher Education (THE), revealed that “institutions promoting sustainability skills are much more likely to produce employable graduates”. Vital real-world skills include “teamwork, communication and problem solving”, it added. Meanwhile, the fourth goal of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for “the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Undoubtedly, sustainable knowledge is a lifelong asset. While some schools across Canada are still dreaming of the notion of sustainability, many others are already equipping students for new jobs in this field. A quick Google search reveals numerous graduate programs currently being offered, including environmental science; sustainability; natural resources, energy and the environment; and capacity development and extension.

At Fanshawe College, a parttime course called “Sustainability Basics” promises to “address a critical gap in the sustainability field”.

The United Kingdom’s Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education believes that “educational institutions have a responsibility as anchors in their communities, to be agents for change”. It also notes that “education is at the heart of global sustainability”.

Knowledge is indeed power, but without an understanding of their available options, students are at a serious disadvantage. Angie Knowles of ECO Canada reveals that sustainability jobs can be found in government; research institutions; not-for-profit organizations; large companies in manufacturing; oil and gas; mining; forestry and utilities; and businesses in retail, finance and insurance, proving that our career choices really are infinite with sustainability.

Change is inevitable and in order to gain a competitive advantage, students need to broaden their respective skill set and mindset. Keep abreast of globalization and trends in technology; network with colleagues, professors and informed groups; read; and continuously develop your mind. Constantly ask questions.

Get involved in the community and engage in meaningful work. Lessen your own carbon footprint but at the same time, leave a sustainable legacy. Don’t leave your future and well being in the hands of others. Sustainably seek and you shall find.