Whether sustainability is a lifelong passion of yours or a brand-new interest, making it part of your career is more viable than ever. More and more businesses and organizations are looking to recruit sustainability specialists as consultants, team leaders, and executives across professional sectors — from healthcare to commerce, manufacturing to technology to public policy, and beyond. There are so many different career paths in the sustainability field that it’s possible to find one that fits you, no matter where your passions lie. If you’re interested in building a career as a sustainability specialist, we have seven ways you can get started right away.
1.) Expand your knowledge.
The most straightforward way is to deepen your knowledge by enrolling in a sustainability master’s degree program that can give you a broader understanding of the multifaceted aspects of this field. Truly tackling issues in sustainability — whether you’re focused on the environment, food access, or social equality — means being able to look at complex intertwining systems through the lens of both short- and long-term solutions. You’ll need to know how to process and analyze information, write reports, effectively present your ideas or findings, communicate well, and more.
An MBA in Sustainability or MPA in Social Justice and Sustainability will teach you how to practice this systems thinking approach and tackle various complex problems from different angles. Ideally, you’ll want to enroll in a program that is fully focused on sustainability, rather than just incorporating it into one or two classes. While programs offering sustainability courses are becoming increasingly popular at colleges around the country, some schools — like Presidio — have been centering this work for almost 50 years.
A sustainability master’s program can not only give you the skills and insights you need to embark on a rewarding career path, but also help you build connections with other passionate climate justice innovators through a diverse network of faculty and alumni.
While a sustainability degree can help you clearly identify your career trajectory, you can absolutely engage in other activities to gain experience and add to your resume as you pursue your studies. Volunteering is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the sustainability field and gauge the type of work other sustainability professionals are doing. Look into organizations and nonprofits near you and consider offering up your time and talents to their causes. Check out places like:
You can also discover volunteer opportunities via sites like CharityWatch.org and CharityNavigator.org. Volunteering is not only an incredible way to expand your knowledge, but it also may help you identify where exactly in the sustainability field you wish to work.
3.) Hone your “soft” skills.
Sustainability is driven by forward thinkers who recognize that the field is foundational to building a successful future. Those looking to become a sustainability specialist or consultant — especially those interested in an MBA or MPA in sustainability — need to prioritize their “soft” skills.
Soft skills are also often called interpersonal skills or non-technical skills. They include things like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, work ethic and integrity, dependability, and adaptability. These capabilities are key components in a sustainability career. Developing or honing your soft skills is crucial in order to successfully develop and implement real-world climate solutions and obtain buy-in from key partners.
A good sustainability program will integrate the development of these soft skills into your professional work and studies so that you can be more effective, whether you’re in a boardroom, a nonprofit fundraiser, or a legislative session. You can also practice your soft-skill development in your day-to-day life. Lean into your current roles and ask friends, family, and coworkers for advice on how to improve these aspects of your performance.
4.) Get involved.
Wherever you currently live and whatever stage you’re at in your career, there are almost certainly opportunities for you to get involved in sustainability efforts. If you’re currently employed, check with your workplace to see if they have any sustainability initiatives in motion, whether it’s a recycling program, green commuting club, reducing energy usage initiative, etc. If you’re a student, be on the lookout for clubs or campus programs that focus on minimizing environmental impacts, increasing student equality and involvement, and/or community outreach opportunities.
And if, on the off-chance, you can’t find anything like this to get involved in, here’s the good news: this means there’s an exciting opportunity for you to start your own project. It could be anything from an annual volunteer outing to an in-depth assessment on effectively utilizing resources. Translate your passion into a project, club, or sustainability initiative right that can create a positive impact right in your own community.
5.) Gain some work experience.
Like many career paths, internships can be instrumental in gaining experience and perspective on the sustainability field. If you’re enrolled in a sustainability degree program, like one of the cutting-edge programs offered at Presidio Graduate School, staff and faculty can often help connect you with internship or job shadowing opportunities. For example, Presidio has PGS Consults, an expert consultancy firm that offers MBA students the chance to shadow sustainability consultants and gain real-life experience working for clients.
For some, an internship may not be possible because they are already juggling full-time work responsibilities. In those instances, consider approaching your current employer about folding some sustainability tasks into your responsibilities. If you are currently pursuing a sustainability degree, this can be a vital step toward starting a career as a sustainability consultant or specialist.
6.) Talk to the experts.
It may seem a bit old school, but there is a lot to be said for sitting down with people who have a career similar to the one you envision for yourself and talking to them about it. Arrange times to meet and discuss their professional trajectory — like how they got to where they are now, where and what they studied, and what kind of experience they recommend you get. You can truly gain invaluable information over the course of even a half an hour interview.
Look into local experts and sustainability professionals or research who is running nonprofits and organizations in your community before reaching out. Who knows? You might just make a valuable connection or even find a professional mentor in addition to learning.
7.) Read up on the latest journals and thought leaders.
No matter what area of sustainability you’re most interested in — whether it’s business-related or science, trade, or policy — there are almost certainly researchers, scientists, and experts who are writing articles, white papers, and other research-focused materials about what is happening within the sustainability field. From new developments and technologies to in-depth analyses and opinions, these thought leaders are providing important insight into where sustainability is at and where it’s going.
Invest some time and resources into reading these journals and papers. Not only will this pay off during interviews, jobs, coursework, and class discussions, you will undoubtedly gain a clearer picture of what the future of sustainability looks like and what your role in shaping that future will be.
Stand out with a degree in sustainability from Presidio
A master’s degree in sustainability offers professionals the chance to align their progressive goals and values with a like-minded company and build a meaningful career. If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, Presidio Graduate School offers MBA and MPA degrees in sustainability backed by experience and passion. For more information about how students from across the country can earn a master’s in sustainability online, contact us today.