Remember sustainability? Often used as an empty buzzword, it also refers to quite substantial and action-guiding claims. To establish good living conditions for all humans on the planet without exhausting the resources of our finite world so that our common descendants can enjoy a healthy world – doesn't that task call for some professional Superhero(in)es?
By Irene Müller
(Master program “Society, Sustainability and the Environment“)
Although I am sometimes critical of using „sustainable“ as a buzzword to hype everything and anything, I do think we need people who work professionally towards a more just and environmentally friendly world. I had the chance recently to organize a career orientation workshop for my fellow students. In the following text, I want to present my personal insights on finding a sustainability-related profession:
1. Be inspired!
One basic thing I discovered: Wanting to work in the field of sustainability needs a desire to change the world. You need a positive vision of the future. Doing something we believe in motivates us. So use your own inspiration or allow yourself to be inspired by others who stood up for their ideas to make the world a better place! It’s becoming easier to find inspiring websites providing information about green trends, societal change projects and grassroots activism. If you want to become self-employed, social entrepreneurship hubs are good places to meet other likeminded and inspiring people.
2. Find your area!
A Superhero(ine) of doing what? What are your particular areas of interest and expertise? A categorization of the “sustainability job market“ by WILA Bonn may help you to define that more precisely. “WILA Bonn” is a science shop that bridges science and society. It previously published an analysis of 15 different areas of sustainability jobs, like Sustainability in tourism, finance, construction or education. What is your specific area of interest? Once you know it, start to find out what the sustainability barriers, facilitators and trends are in this field of work. Furthermore, WILA Bonn asked whether sustainability is a job motor, generating new opportunities for graduates. It does seem to be one, but as there is no clear definition of a “sustainability job”, specific and meaningful statistics are hard to find. Overall, it is an important qualification to be familiar with sustainability. However, be aware that this does usually not replace other discipline-specific skills.
3. Check relevant job platforms and company networks!
Are there superhero companies you could work for? Maybe! At least some pretend to be. But definitely, there are specialized job platforms for green and ethically minded job-seekers. The above mentioned WILA Bonn for example analyses job offers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to publish a weekly journal with around 300 up-to-date job offers for academics in natural and social sciences. Some websites even try to directly match job offers and job seekers. Even though we enter the controversial field of corporate social responsibility on one hand and greenwashing on the other, it is worthwhile to check out networks of enterprises with a substantial commitment to corporate social responsibility. Generally, it’s a good strategy to start early with your job orientation, even whilst you’re not (yet) looking for a job. You could collect job offers from email lists and other sources in a specific folder. This way, you develop a feeling for the job market and specific requirements and you have some valuable information to start with later on.
4. Know your strengths!
People are rarely employed just for being experts of sustainability. So what are your superpowers? What are you particularly good at, also in terms of your specific study background? Most of the participants of my career orientation workshop, enrolled in a sustainability study program. They identified the following abilities that may distinguish them from other students:
- to work in inter- and transdisciplinary teams
- to build on a broad knowledge base from different disciplines
- to kick-start, develop and professionally run projects
- to solve problems with an eye on the big picture of things
Superhero(in)es in movies often work alone, but in real life that’s rather not advisable. To find a job, it helps to know many people. And by the way, it’s a lot easier to change the world together anyway. Therefore, go out and get to know people. Network yourself and use existing networks. Almost all of the job seekers apply for official job offers, even though only one third of the job offers are announced officially. This is what is called the hidden job market. Some enterprises receive enough unsolicited applications or simply prefer to employ people they already know. So go to events in your particular field of interest, start little projects, volunteer, become part of the professional community, and discuss your interests and activities with your peers. Once you tell people what you are looking for you get a better chance of receiving valuable network information yourself!
6. Find your niche!
Sustainability jobs are still likely to emerge in niches. Watch out for structural changes in your vocational sector and for upcoming innovations. Maybe you could also combine your hobbies or interests with working for a more sustainable world? Thus, cineasts may have better chances to get employed at a film festival to make it carbon neutral. Or somebody with a background in finance might analyze the risks of climate change for investors at an NGO. Do you see the point?
7. Stay calm but get involved!
Superhero(in)es are not nervously biting their nails. Finding a good job takes time. Don’t worry too much! Statistically it takes half a year until most graduates find a job. If you are relaxed, you will have more fun. Even people with lots of internships under their belt sometimes need several months to find a job that suits them well. So while you are applying for jobs, you could be an activist within your particular fields of interest and stay informed and involved. This way, you don’t just keep yourself active and motivated, you also network and gather valuable experiences at the same time.
Once invited to a job interview, you should have made up your mind about your desired salary and know a bit about wage bargaining. What is the usual wage level in your field and what do you think your work is worth? What are desirable working conditions for you? Do you want to work from home? How about flexible working hours? A superhero or -heroine doesn’t sell his or her work at less than fair value!
Besides: Should a Sustainability Superhero(ine) work fulltime?
When working 40 hours or more a week, you may have little time left for other things in life. Degrowth theory would say: we, in the western world, need to slow down! There’s more to life than work. We need time for our private relationships and a green and ethically minded lifestyle. So maybe a fulltime superhero only works part-time?
So what now? Well, go out and start making a change for a better world, just like a superheroine or superhero would do! May the force be with you!