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Recent Grads Increasingly Look for Careers in Sustainability

J. Mijin Cha

Listening to the political discourse, it would be easy to assume that there was little to no interest in sustainability. Congress is unable, or unwilling, to pass meaningful climate legislation and climate advocates are being compared to mass murderers. The EPA is continually under attack, as is the notion that we should even regulate pollution. Even something as innocuous as sustainable development is hailed as a UN-led conspiracy to take over the U.S. (through bike lanes and walkable communities, I guess?). In short, the landscape is bleak for sustainability advocates.

Yet, at the same time, interest in working in sustainability continues to increase, particularly among recent grads. The number of jobs in sustainability has nearly tripled in recent years and colleges are adding more and more classes on issues of sustainability in response to student demand. In fact, all levels of higher education are increasing their sustainability programs from certificates in continuing education programs to community colleges offering more renewable energy technician training to business schools offering MBAs with a social or environmental focus.

The increasing interest in sustainability jobs can be partly explained by a shift in values in younger generations. The economic downturn, some theorize, caused some deep-down soul searching and the desire to change the world is being incorporated in career plans. The desire to have meaningful work, rather than maximizing income, is reflected in a recent survey on the American dream. The survey found that the younger generation (born between 1977-1993) consider personal fulfillment more important than money when considering whether or not they have achieved the American dream. In fact, they value personal fulfillment over money by the largest margin of any generation.

This shift in values is something that should be encouraged. More people working in jobs that offer personal fulfillment can help break the stranglehold that profit-driven corporate culture has on our economy and society. If people begin to value things other than money, many of the destructive practices that are now justified by profit will no longer be acceptable because profit will no longer reign as king. Sustainable practices- both for people and the planet- can start to take hold and businesses will no longer have an excuse to not provide paid time off, work-life balance, or incorporate more environmentally sustainable practices.

We can encourage more young people to enter into sustainability by providing the legislative framework for a strong green economy, including mandates for renewable energy production, tax incentives on par with what fossil fuel industries receive, and protections for domestic industry growth. By doing so, we not only create jobs for young people, we ensure they don’t inherit a climate crisis.