Job opportunities vast for sustainability field

Until recently, careers in sustainability were an ambiguous concept. Recent university graduates said they have realized that there are plenty of job opportunities in sustainable fields, granted those pursuing the opportunities have a clear vision of what they want to do.

For instance, Morgan Dezendorf, who graduated from the university in May 2009 with a master’s degree in environmental science, is the community garden volunteer coordinator at High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo. She said that before she pursuing a career in sustainability, she came to the realization that it is more than simply “the right thing to do.” She had to have a specific idea of what she wanted to do within sustainability.

She said the food bank plans to grow between 30,000 and 50,000 pounds of the 4.7 million pounds of food it distributes every year. High Plains Food Bank distributes to 29 rural counties across the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles in gardens on a plot of land it bought over the past few years. The gardens are 100 percent organic, thanks in part to the nitrogen and phosphates of “lasagna” compost beds, and the bank does not use any pesticides or synthetic substances in the growing process.

Like others working for nonprofit sustainability organizations, Dezendorf said she realizes that sustainability is more than just an environmental issue. She said describing sustainability can be difficult because it is a hands-on field.

“I’ve gotten to see firsthand how (sustainability) affects people and the good that it does do to a community,” she said. “I think it’s hard to convey that to people in words, but it’s a lot easier to bring people out for a good cause.”

Although Dezendorf called sustainability “a little bit of a fad,” she said small-scale efforts from nonprofit sustainability organizations around the world will catch on.

“There’s not a question in my mind that there needs to be a shift to more sustainable jobs, not only sustainable in a business sense, but sustainable in a service sense,” Dezendorf said. “I hope that it’s on a large scale and that more people higher up take notice of this and initiate it.”

Michael Slattery, director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the university and chair of the environmental science department, said sustainable business can become a large-scale industry. He called it one of the fastest growing fields in the workplace, but he said in order to continue that trend, businesses must define sustainability.

“Whether they’re energy companies or selling coffee on the street corner, (companies) are realizing that it’s not only important to report great financial results to the bottom line,” Slattery said. “They also have to do the right thing and put sustainability and issues relating to social justice right up there along with their business models.”

According to a 2008 study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the official nonpartisan organization representing cities with populations of 30,000 or more, the economy will generate 4.2 million green jobs by 2038. Green jobs are those devoted to reduction of fossil fuels, the increase of energy efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Currently there are about 750,000 green jobs in the U.S., less than 0.5 percent of the workforce, according to a Reuters article that cited Global Insight, the consulting firm that conducted the study.

Slattery said businesses have shifted their models to be more sustainable because consumers are showing more interest in environmental efforts than before.

“People who are buying products are kind of voting with their mouths, with their feet, with their dollars,” he said. “The way we’ve been doing business and consuming things cannot go on at the same pace. It’s a way of doing business that makes both economic and environmental sense.”

Tom Calvert-Rosenberger, a sophomore environmental science major, said he would like to work in sustainability or conservation in the future. He said sustainability is popular because it establishes trust with customers, but also noted that the future of sustainability is small-scale.

“There are more people out there who are genuinely concerned about the effect their business is having on the world,” he said. “I think we’ll see a lot more of what we’re seeing now (in the future): incorporating things into businesses that we already have.”

Marc Jansing, who also graduated from the university with a master’s degree in environmental science in May 2009, works with Dezendorf at High Plains as project manager for the garden. Much like Calvert-Rosenberger , Jansing said sustainability will add on to its current status.

Sustainable living, much like the lasagna compost bed in High Plains’ garden, has many layers, Jansing said.

“(Sustainability) really does hit a lot of points: economic and social. There’s an environmental aspect. There’s also a nutrition aspect,” he said. “It does affect everybody…It’s something that we all deal with on a regular basis.”


750,000

The number of green jobs that currently exist in the U.S.

4.2 mil.

The number of green jobs expected to be generated in the U.S. by 2038.

Source: 2008 study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors