Ask Eartha Steward: Working for the good of the cause
February 27, 2013
Dear Eartha,I am graduating from high school in a few months and exploring education & career opportunities in sustainability. Any tips for someone like me who is just starting down this path?- Emily, SilverthorneGreat question, Emily. Sounds like you may be heading off to college next year, where there are more sustainability degree options than we could possibly mention here. A long, long time ago when I was in college, there was no such thing as a sustainability degree. Regardless of whether you choose an environmental or sustainability degree, the key is getting involved in a business or community organization that does the type of work you are interested in. Think of it as test driving some career options. You’ll need to figure out which causes have the most appeal to you, then find organizations in your area that are working on that issue. Sustainability is a growing field, and as you probably know, sustainability encompasses not just environmental protection, but also economic viability and social equity. When all three Es (environment, economics and equity) are incorporated, the array of potential sustainability careers is staggering. Several types of organizations offer sustainability career opportunities; including community nonprofits, national non-governmental organizations, corporations and government agencies.Community nonprofits like HC3 work on a variety of issues. Our areas of focus include waste diversion, clean energy and sustainable food production. Other local nonprofits are focused on water conservation, forest stewardship, land preservation and improving cultural and social equity. On a national or international level, non-government organizations (NGOs) are nonprofit organizations that tackle large-scale issues. The World Wildlife Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are just two sustainability-focused groups. NGOs typically work with multiple stakeholders like businesses, legislators and concerned citizens to influence major change. For instance, NRDC and partners campaigned successfully to increase U.S. vehicle fuel economy standards in 2012.The business world also offers more sustainability-oriented careers than ever before. Locally, Vail Resorts and Arapahoe Basin both have environmental management positions. In addition, a number of local businesses, including Breckenridge Grand Vacations, have embraced sustainability and offer opportunities for staff to participate on green teams and develop sustainability programs. Many medium and large companies now have chief sustainability officer or similar positions.Finally, all levels of government offer sustainability-related positions. Summit County government has recycling jobs, an open space and trails department, environmental health positions and planners that work partly on sustainable development. The Dillon Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service employs a number of land management specialists and scientists. Across the state, the Department of Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management and many more agencies are working on environmental issues. Now that you know how many options are out there, the real trick may be narrowing down your choices. The best way to learn more about jobs is to volunteer or apply for an internship or summer job. Most nonprofits, including HC3, love to work with motivated high school or college students. We partner with CMC (which by the way has an amazing sustainability studies program) students regularly on special projects and volunteer opportunities. I certainly can’t speak for all organizations, but when HC3 is hiring, we look closely at work and volunteer experience. Often experience is more important than the type of degree applicants have earned. And volunteering shows a real commitment to working for the good of the cause! For anyone who has significant work experience in an unrelated field, I also recommend reading the environmental classics as well as some current sustainability books. Our favorite read is Auden Schendler’s “Getting Green Done,” because it offers very practical guidance on how to be successful in implementing green programs. By gaining some basic sustainability knowledge through reading, you’ll be able to have an educated discussion with a hiring manager.Please contact us at HC3 if you’re looking for more guidance or volunteer opportunities. And don’t forget to join us March 7 to celebrate Summit County’s original environmental activist. The 24th annual Tim McClure Benefit at the Maggie in Breckenridge features live music with The Big Onions, a southwest dinner and a chance to connect with like0minded friends. For details, visit highcountryconservation.org.Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.