Exploring the Journey to a Career in Sustainability: Reflections following Grin.Eco's Podcast Interview with Kris.

You might think about your career in sustainability – because who doesn’t want to save the world while also figuring out how to pay rent? It can be idealised and misrepresented – you won’t get to educate people from the position of being right. You won’t be a superhero with a recyclable cape. But it can be a noble, rewarding, and inspiring way to live your life, use your time on this earth, learn, challenge yourself, and work in a quickly changing and complex environment full of interdependencies with other fields. It can be an exciting adventure. I hope I can help you understand it a little bit more.

 

The Rising Demand in Sustainability Careers

We’re living in a time where businesses all around the world suddenly want top-level sustainability expertise, after pushing it away and ignoring it for years. Why now? Whether it’s because of pressure from investors and customers waking up to commercial benefits and competitive advantage, attracting a more motivated workforce, wanting to provide more health and balanced life to humanity, respecting the planet and improving life and biodiversity, or glimpsing the horrible consequences of what will happen if we keep our heads in the sand.

It's like suddenly realizing that broccoli can taste good if you cook it right. This shift brings opportunities galore as well as challenges for career development because you will be operating in a largely unexplored territory, future-oriented, often handling things that haven’t been done before.

But before you get excited: talent and passion alone don’t qualify you to save the world, words and statements alone aren’t enough, and it takes time, incremental progress, and focus to develop your competence.

 

Bridging the Skill Gap

  • Educate Yourself: By that, I don’t mean watching documentaries while sipping on organic wine (unfortunately). Rather, dive into climate science, policy, and sustainable business practices. Develop your skills in engineering, and bring them to renewable energy generation, energy flexibility, and energy efficiency. Because knowledge is power, and in this case, it might just be the power to save a lot of living creatures – humans included.
  • Gain Practical Experience: I know getting out of the house and confronting the unknown to gain new experiences can be anxiety-provoking, but we need your courage. Get out there – become an intern, volunteer, or start your own project in your current workplace. It’s like a “choose your own adventure” book, but it can include more composting.
  • Specialise: Sustainability is broad as it is full of niches, pockets of specialisation, and branches of knowledge in scientific, political, economic, business, social and technological fields that don’t even know they’re working in the same direction. Find your niche – be it in energy efficiency (i.e. industrial sector energy audits), or fundraising (i.e. climate change-focused NGOs). Accept that your first plan will be full of flaws because it is very likely to be! Be open to exploration and keep your eyes open, join the right organisation, and pretty soon you and your career will find each other, like protagonists of a romantic comedy movie.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest trends. It’s like following gossip in popular culture, but with less drama and more hope for the future. Maybe not less drama.
  • Show Initiative: Don’t just wait for someone to hand you a meaningful purpose. Start something! Sitting in the evening on the edge of your bed, ask yourself some important questions. Time flies quickly, so without putting it off for the eternally safe tomorrow - what do you truly believe in? Why is it important to you? Are the things in your way truly obstacles, or can you look at them as opportunities? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

 

Navigating Scepticism

When you start working in the climate change space, pretty soon you won’t be able to tell people what is it that you do without provoking a strong opinion – positive, or negative. It’s like being a vegan, or on a carnivore diet in that respect. It doesn’t help that the issue that should be an open discussion about our progress and actions as humanity is now politicised, which causes more division, and makes dialogue more difficult. Additionally, climate science is complex, and its effects are not immediate, and not easy to understand. The technological opportunities and challenges, and their impact on our lives and the planet are multi-layered and difficult to understand.

In this potential turmoil, remember that managing conflicting viewpoints is an essential part of societal progress. Arm yourself with facts and data. Most of our knowledge is based on some assumptions, so there is nothing wrong with having limited experience, empirically testing your worldview, and trusting some key figures you respect. When deciding to enter the discussion, just know the assumptions and data you’re basing your argument on – and be curious about the source of the other person’s conviction. Listen, and foster a respectful dialogue - be really interested in why they think a certain way.

The goal should be to find truth together, and sometimes that means finding limits in our own understanding and coming out with the awareness of the lack of knowledge we should aim to fill. It’s a good outcome. If you’re aiming to be right, you won’t learn, grow, develop. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be right, but seeking just being right in my mind is like smoking a cigarette – it feels good, but it’s really bad for you.

 

The Role of Collaboration

Saving the world isn’t a solo mission. Batman had Robin, you have... well, potentially millions of people! Find your tribe and work together. It’s like assembling the Avengers, but your superpower is gained with grind, work, and discipline, rather than i.e. a radioactive spider.

 

Final Thoughts

Choosing a career in sustainability is like deciding to become a Jedi – noble, but challenging, and occasionally can involve talking to trees. It demands patience, grit, and the ability to connect to others because, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

 

Want to hear more on this topic? Listen to the podcast episode here.

 

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