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Embrace sustainable careers at Rice and beyond

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Channing Wang/Thresher

By Steffi Halow , Kelsey Evans , Nafisa Istami and Amy Roush     11/19/19 10:04pm

Environmentalism is not a trend. It is not a movement that we can opt out of. If we understand the real meaning of sustainability — the active effort to sustain life on Earth — we must embrace sustainability as an inherent value and practice in our professional careers. 

Imagine how much change our community could make if we applied our success-driven minds to the cause of sustainability, either by directly applying for positions with “sustainability” in their title, or by taking environmental initiatives in any chosen career path. While Rice does offer opportunities for students to explore sustainable careers, university rhetoric does not emphasize the intrinsic necessity of evoking sustainability in all careers. We are more apt to pursue careers that guarantee financial success, and we risk abandoning our responsibility to the environment in the process. Too often we ask, “How can a career serve me?” instead of considering how we can use our career to shape our world’s future. If we prioritized sustainable careers, we would uphold our university’s doctrine of Responsibility, Integrity, Community and Excellence by continuing our role as environmentalists beyond the hedges. 

It is difficult to visualize career paths within the rapidly evolving field of sustainability. The Center for Career Development’s current resources are limited to Handshake’s infrequent postings of sustainability job offerings, and the ones that do currently exist are arbitrarily scattered across the website’s “career clusters.” Beyond this, environmental jobs follow no standard recruiting timeline, and there is a lack of visibility at career events. At the CCD’s Career Expo, there were few environmentalist booths, and the Expo’s sponsorship by companies that have previously brought harm to the environment, such as Shell, Chevron and BP, reveals where Rice’s values truly lie. The ambiguity surrounding “green” careers already discourages students from recognizing and pursuing green careers. Meanwhile, commonly pursued career paths provide stable, clear-cut opportunities. In following the enticements of mainstream industries, students should also consider environmental implications as a component of their career.



Rice must provide resources and opportunities for students to navigate the ambiguity of non-linear career paths such as those focused on the environment and sustainability. This is especially important for young professionals tackling big, global issues like climate change. As students, we can help drive this conversation. For example, our project team from professor Richard Johnson’s class, Environmental Issues: Rice Into the Future approached the CCD with resources to enlighten students on “green” careers. The resource package, now housed under the “Jobs & Internships” page on the Rice Sustainability website, offers a compiled list of external sources on job search and selection, guidance for “green” career timelines, nuanced stories and advice from alumni and suggestions for incorporating sustainability in any career path. But our efforts will not end with this class. In the future, we want to further bridge the gap between Rice Sustainability and the CCD. 

This goal of sustainability is not one we should take on alone. As a university and community, we must collectively rewrite “success” as a goal contingent on accepting responsibility for our future environment. Administration must set the precedent by honoring sustainability in our mission statement of Responsibility, Integrity, Community and Excellence. Our professors must further integrate environmental literacy into our curriculum, regardless of discipline. As an individual, take the time to explore your values and seek the necessary one-on-one guidance from Rice’s professional academic and career advisors. Set the example by pursuing your unconventional passions and spark discussion about what causes are important to you. Whatever professional narrative you choose, always mind your own ecological and moral footprint, and help others define sustainability for what it is: the ability to sustain our future livelihood, personally and environmentally. 



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