A 4-Step Guide to Starting a Career in Sustainability for Undergraduates

Dec 3, 2020 10:35 AM ET
A college graduate excited to start his career in sustainability

A 4-Step Guide to Starting a Career in Sustainability for Undergraduates

By now you’ve probably noticed that there aren’t too many jobs out there with the words “entry level” and “sustainability” in the title, huh?  Don’t get too mad at COVID, it’s not the pandemic’s fault (although it certainly isn’t helping).  The truth is, there never have been that many entry level “sustainability” positions out there. 

That’s most likely because a lot of titled sustainability roles tend to start around mid-career level and require things like:

  • The ability to drive change in large, complex organizations
  • Knowledge of a particular industry or sector
  • Functional expertise
  • In-depth understanding of a specific topic such as energy, water, or waste

And those are the kinds of things that are typically best learned through real-life work experience (or as my old mentor called it “time in the saddle.”)  Some of today’s better undergraduate programs are getting closer with offerings like experiential learning and consulting practicums, but it’s just really hard to learn things like how to navigate internal corporate politics or how to get something big through the budget cycle as a student. 

So, what’s a recent or soon-to-be college grad with a passion for sustainability to do?  Try this four-step plan for finding entry level jobs and experiences that get you started on a sustainability career, even if the actual word isn’t in the title:

1. Figure out what you want to do in 3-5 years
2. Start (or clean up) your online presence
3. Network, network, and then network some more
4. Start building experience

The diversity of roles that fall under the sustainability umbrella is pretty incredible.  That’s good in that there are endless possibilities for how you can bring your unique talents to the space.  That’s bad because it can make pinpointing how you fit in really daunting.  The most important task you have right now is to do some serious research, networking, and soul searching to figure out roughly what you want to be doing in 3-5 years. 

Continue reading for links to over 20 companies and organizations that hire undergrads and details for each step.