Sustainability advocates and researchers are finding that the worldwide coronavirus pandemic has had positive effects on the environment. Stay-at-home orders necessary to slow the virus’s spread led to a 9.3% decrease in humanity’s global footprint in 2020, according to Global Footprint Network, compared to the same period last year. The research group attributes the decline to less wood harvesting and lower carbon dioxide emissions as offices shuttered their doors and more employees worked from home.
“Innovation comes out of challenges,” says Dr. Kyra Krakos, professor of biology at Maryville University and director of the sustainability program. “Coming out of this, we are going to have better tools and flexibility … that will help us have more sustainable lifestyles.”
While it is often associated with protecting the environment and our natural resources, sustainability comprises three pillars: the economy, society, and the environment, or informally, profit, people, and planet. Sustainability advocacy encourages people, politicians, and businesses to make choices that support future generations. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) advocacy can support sustainability through innovation and the use of modern tools to solve problems. If you want a greater understanding of how business, communities, and the environment coexist, consider a degree in sustainability.
What is a sustainability advocate?
A sustainability advocate works to ensure that humans live in harmony with nature. Maintaining the balance between growing societies and the environment, however, requires more than just a change in personal behavior. As Krakos says, “We are not going to tree-hug our way out of this mess with climate change.”
That’s where STEM comes in. STEM advocates promote the use of science and technology to solve problems and advance society in a host of areas, including sustainability and the environment. For example, a STEM advocate working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) looks for ways to substitute or recycle precious metals or reduce dependence on China for rare-earth elements, which are used in the development of hybrid vehicles, computers, cellphones, and other common items.
“Sustainability is cross-disciplinary,” says Krakos. “It’s about humans living on the planet. It takes people in business. It takes people in every aspect to build this better-balanced world. It’s not just a science problem.”
Sustainability in business
In the business world, companies benefit by being transparent. Stock markets tend to react positively to companies with strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures, according to Harvard Business Review. This can be seen across both developed countries and those with emerging markets such as India, China, Brazil, and South Africa.
Because corporations can be some of the biggest users of energy in offices, warehouses, and transportation, consumers are increasingly demanding that businesses act responsibly regarding sustainability and the environment. More companies are hiring chief sustainability officers to work alongside stakeholders in addressing sustainability issues. Green building certification, through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system, is another more environmentally friendly way companies can operate.
Sustainability in communities
Scientists and advocates work to share findings on climate change with communities to encourage them to enact policy changes. The process of banning ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, throughout the 1980s became an environmental success story that is backed by global policies.
Creating a world that’s sustainable for everyone is the goal of an advocate. Drinking water may be safe and clean on one side of town but not on the other, for instance. “There is a huge social justice component here,” Krakos says. “Just like with healthcare, those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds lose first.”
Sustainability also involves helping communities and organizations manage their net-zero programs involving water, waste, and energy strategies.
How to become a sustainability advocate
Those seeking positions in sustainability advocacy can find opportunities through a variety of popular career paths.
Candidates are better positioned for success as sustainability advocates by first developing a strong academic background. Undergraduate degrees that focus on complementary fields, including conservation, ecology, geography, urban planning, environmental science, business, or STEM, are transferable to positions in sustainability advocacy. Earning a bachelor’s degree in sustainability is a great way for candidates to stand out. A master’s degree in sustainability is not a typical education requirement but would be helpful in pursuing a competitive role such as chief sustainability officer.
Aspiring sustainability advocates should take advantage of internships, volunteer roles, and other opportunities to build real-world experience. Networking and establishing relationships are key advantages here as successful advocates engage with community members and must build rapport with supporters and policymakers.
Prospective sustainability advocates need certain skill sets to succeed:
- A sustainability advocate needs soft skills to be able to listen to others and relay ideas to those with different levels of understanding.
- The ability to evaluate the results of field tests and experiments is an important quality for sustainability advocates.
- Whether they are speaking publicly, writing a report, or relaying information to colleagues, advocates must be skilled at communicating with a variety of audiences.
- To ensure multiple projects remain on track, successful sustainability advocates need to be able to manage and oversee people and tasks.
Outlook for sustainability and STEM advocacy careers
For those interested in pursuing a rewarding career in sustainability and STEM advocacy, the outlook for job growth is positive and salaries are above average, although they may differ depending on an individual’s role, years of experience, and education level.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the following May 2020 salary information and 10-year job growth projections (2019-2029) for four fields, which are all projected to grow at a faster rate than the average for all occupations:
- Jobs in conservation science and forestry are projected to grow by 5%, especially those requiring experience in geographic information systems (GIS) technology. The median annual wage was $64,020 for conservation scientists and $63,980 for foresters.
- Employment of urban and regional planners is projected to grow 11%. The median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $75,950.
- The number of jobs for environmental science and protection technicians is projected to increase by 8%, as population growth and industrial activities such as fracking and construction continue to drive demand for environmental oversight. The number of jobs for environmental science and protection technicians is projected to increase by 8%, as population growth and industrial activities such as fracking and construction continue to drive demand for environmental oversight. The median annual wage for environmental science and protection technicians was $46,850.
- Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 8%. Population growth and public concern about environmental hazards are driving growth in the field. The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $73,230.
Explore new paths toward a more sustainable future
Individuals working as sustainability and STEM advocates focus on safeguarding, preserving, and nurturing our natural world. Because sustainability encompasses fields such as technology, energy, business, civil engineering, law, and ecology, those who serve in these roles come from a variety of backgrounds.
Learn more about Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sustainability program. Besides core classes on sustainability, the program offers several professional track courses covering environmental shttps://online.maryville.educience, business, and policy. Unique to online programs, students participate in experiential projects, as well as simulations, case studies, and field tests.