Young people are as passionate as ever about working in the field of sustainability. However, the field remains a difficult one to break into, and the pandemic has placed additional challenges on job seekers. Today, BA Geography Graduate and KCL Sustainability Engagement Assistant Helena helps you reflect and consider how you can embed sustainability into your career planning.
Throughout this blog, I define a job in sustainability as a job that overlaps, in some way, with the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda. The transition to ‘greening’ the job sector has accelerated in recent years. From growing public interest and pressure to changing regulations, the sustainability sector is growing. More and more companies are looking for individuals who can help them minimise sustainability risks within their operations, while new businesses are being founded directly in response to the climate crisis and wider sustainability agenda. And, whether or not you agree, we’ve all heard people talking about the pandemic as a sort of “trial run” for tackling the climate crisis or as a moment of “societal reckoning”, after which we will re-build better.
Questions to find your sustainable career path
- What about sustainability interests you?
Originally defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, sustainability can be understood as a framework for thinking about societal development across a wide variety of interconnected issues. As a result of this rather general definition, sustainability has become somewhat of a buzzword that means many different things to many different people.
Have a think about what sustainability means to you. You could be passionate about environmental issues, human rights, social justice, global health or food systems. While you may be passionate about more than one specific area of sustainability, a good place to start is by narrowing down what about sustainability interests you, asking yourself which topic(s) drive you, what you are most knowledgeable about – and this is when you can discover those beginning ideas for a sustainable career path.
- Who would you like to work for?
Similarly, a “job in sustainability” does not fit into one mould. Sustainability cuts across many industries. You could work in government, charity, business, finance, consulting, research, filmmaking, fashion, marketing etc. Sustainability could be the core focus of your work, or simply represent a small aspect, and you could be searching for a job in sustainability because of your values or because of your knowledge base, or both. For example, you could be an administrator or accountant who aspires to work for a company or NGO that promotes sustainability in its core mission. Or you might have studied and gained experience in a related field such as geography, environmental science, biology, human rights, gender studies etc. and aspire to work in this given field.
- What is your skillset?
While employers value passion, they’re also looking for skills. Thinking about how you fit into sustainability also means reflecting on your skills, as well as what you enjoy. Think about your technical skills (climate change, climate modelling, engineering, business, management, communications, knowledge of a particular industry, etc.) and soft skills (innovation, commercial/business awareness, creativity, systems-thinker, teamwork, leadership, etc.), as well as how you can develop these. And, with each opportunity and experience, think about what you enjoyed and what didn’t enjoy, and reflect upon the skills you’ve learned and developed. Thinking about how your answers to the above questions intersect will help you better define your next steps – further work experience, graduate studies, volunteering?
Practical steps for students – from students
Two King’s students have given their recommendations for those who are looking to develop your employability while at university. Emily (PhD student and Sustainability Engagement Assistant working with King’s Sustainability) says:
“Get involved with things that interest you, you never know what opportunities might come from it! Don’t be afraid to reach out to people or start something new. I’ve also used the King’s Career Service for interview preps and CV checks – they’ve been genuinely helpful!”
And Bethan, (2nd year BA English student and Sustainability Engagement Assistant working with King’s Sustainability too) recommends this:
“Don’t wait for opportunities, make them. Network where you can. Talk to everyone. Email or message individuals and companies that inspire you (with sincerity) and ask for advice or to shadow them. I have had many great and professionally valuable experiences through doing this.”
Written by: Helena Fazeli