Sustainability Careers in Our Changing Political Landscape: A {Green Career} Webinar Recap

March 12, 2017

By Pamela Berns   Green careerists and sustainability students have been wondering just how the changes in our government policies will affect their career choices. While Dr. Eban Goodstein is the first to admit he doesn’t have a crystal ball, his longtime experience as a career advisor and current role as Director, Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard College do afford him insights that can help jobseekers gain some sense of direction. We asked him to share those insights, along with strategies for education and job searching in a webinar hosted by GreenHomeNYC on February 16, 2017. Here’s what he had to say.

  “We are really at the end of an era, a forty-five year period of policy stability and bi-partisan consensus,” says Dr. Goodstein. “There is new leadership now, and we have to think about how to negotiate that.” With indisputable scientific data indicating that the planet has become a half a degree warmer in just the last three years alone, “you guys are signing up to figure out how we’re going to rewire the world…That remains our mission in spite of the politics of the day.” It sounds daunting, yet Dr. Goodstein balances the challenge with a dose of hope. “We’re still living in an extraordinary moment in the human project.” Sure, we are ” in a race,” he added, “but we haven’t lost yet.”   Priorities are most certainly shifting on a daily basis and, as a result, we may have to think differently about where the jobs are and will be. Dr. Goodstein identified three key career “buckets” for emerging sustainability professionals–policy, business, and education. Here’s how he expects things to stack up in the next few years.   Government and Policy: From National to Local If you’re thinking of government work, you’re not likely to see a lot of opportunity on the federal level. Places like the EPA, DOE or Park Service are not likely to do a lot of hiring. “There will still jobs in DC, but they will mostly be playing defense.” A more productive place to point your compass may be at the local and state levels. Dr. Goodstein anticipates a lot of creative energy in blue states and in blue cities within red states, as state and local governments pick up the slack. He also sees continued potential for policy work within businesses.   Dr. Goodstein also expects that the new political arena could actually result in some new career possibilities: “Run for office, get on your city council.” Engaging in politics and community building is “great for networking” and it helps you to build skills such as storytelling and the “courage to tell them what you think.” Persuasive communication skills are key no matter what “bucket” you decide to pursue. “To land any position in the field you need vision and courage, and the ability to tell a story and put yourself out there.”   Sustainable Businesses Not Likely to Revert to Business as Usual Dr. Goodstein doesn’t expect the momentum in the business sector to let up any time soon and, in fact, anticipates businesses moving to the “next level.” “Customers are demanding responsible business practices and global companies remain answerable to European regulations,” despite movement in the opposite direction in the US Federal government. In fact, the Harvard Business Review included an ESG factor to determine the winners of the 100 top CEOs for the first time this past year. Dr. Goodstein points to the sustainability advances of companies like REI, Unilever, Ecovative, Clif Bar, Nike and Levis, among many others, and noted that businesses “continue to need to be radically transformed.”   Dr. Goodstein divides sustainability business careers into four sub-buckets: Entrepreneurship — starting your own business; intrepreneurship, or building an innovative business model within a mission driven organization; corporate sustainability roles, such as being on the social responsibility team of a traditional company that is making the transition to sustainable business practices; and consulting for organizations ranging from BSR to KPMG to the Carbon Disclosure Project.   Education: More Than Just Environmental Ed While Dr. Goodstein doesn’t see sustainability education as having as much opportunity as policy and business, he does expand the definition beyond teaching to include researchers, professors, artists, journalists, and clergy. He doesn’t anticipate a lot of opportunity for environmental education in public schools and suggests that private schools, farms, and museums might be a better bet for those interested in environmental ed. In addition, he points out that the need for sustainability communication transcends fields.   What about Graduate School? According to Dr. Goodstein, while graduate school is not absolutely essential for a career in sustainability, an advanced degree is more likely to place you on the path to a leadership position. Deciding on the right graduate program depends on the career bucket you’re after. Start by looking for the intersection of what you love and what you do well. Then figure out “what the world will pay you for.”   For example, if you are interested in corporate sustainability, a degree that combines business management and sustainability, such as the Bard MBA in Sustainability, will give you the nuts and bolts of business education within a sustainability context, thus enabling you to go beyond compliance and into strategy.   Regardless of your focus, Dr. Goodstein can’t stress enough the importance of real world experience. For example, Bard’s low residency program combines live online classes with team consultancy projects in real businesses. In the Masters + Peace Corps program, students actually conduct research during their Peace Corps assignment and then write a thesis at the end of the program. The key is that students learn real skills on the job, while also building their networks, and gaining access to future employment opportunities.   Entry Level Job Strategy: Showcasing your Soft Skills No matter which bucket you choose, it will be critical to demonstrate to the decision makers who have the power to hire you that you have courage, perseverance, interpersonal skills, social media skills, ability to analyze and synthesize complex information,¬†and capacity to marshal data into a compelling and cohesive narrative. Dr. Goodstein offers one very effective strategy for gaining such recognition–and for gaining entry into the organization of your choice. Start by picking city you want to work in. Then select the bucket you want to pursue. Identify your specific passion, such as climate change, renewable energy, environmental finance, or biomimicry. Find three organizations doing the most interesting work in your chosen city, bucket, and passion. Find the person in charge within each of those organizations. Select a blog or newsletter for which you can write about your passion. Interview the three people for your article. Once the piece is written, share it with the people you interviewed. When you get a response, ask for an opportunity. Congratulations! Having successfully completed this process, you’ve effectively orchestrated interviews even before submitting your resume for the position. You’ve developed some key relationships and have gotten your foot into several doors.   What’s Next for You? As Dr. Goodstein points out, the underlying trends that brought over 30 Green Careerists to our webinar haven’t gone away. Whether you’re graduating or looking for graduate school, or making a lateral move to a career in sustainability, there remains a demand for professionals who have the soft skills, technical expertise, and above all, the passion to make the world a better place. If you need help finding the right bucket or are interested in learning more about Bard’s programs, if you want to sit in on a class or attend a Bard career workshop, you can contact Dr. Goodstein at [email protected].   (GreenHomeNYC is always looking for new writers and new topics for our blog and newsletter. We’d be thrilled to give you the opportunity to try out Dr. Goodstein’s job strategy. Contact [email protected] to find out how you can get involved.)