mixed greens

Getting past the sprinkles

Posted 6/12/24

The growth in renewable energy jobs in the U.S. and around the world has been tracked and reported annually by industry organizations such as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEI), the …

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mixed greens

Getting past the sprinkles


The growth in renewable energy jobs in the U.S. and around the world has been tracked and reported annually by industry organizations such as the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEI), the Interstate Energy Council (IREC) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). 

Jobs in solar or wind installation, systems design and maintenance are probably the opportunities that come to mind most readily when we think of employment opportunities in the field of sustainability. But the range and rich variety of sustainability jobs has burgeoned far beyond the renewable energy professions, and sustainability knowledge and practice is integral to an array of job titles and management functions.

One example of that trend is the growth in job recruitment for employees to serve in public and private sector jobs with titles such as Chief Sustainability Officer, Sustainability Manager, Chief Green Officer, Director of Sustainability, Energy Manager and similar variations. These individuals help their organizations conserve resources, research and evaluate new technologies and practices, ensure environmental compliance, collect and analyze energy data to improve efficiency, and anticipate potential climate-related threats to facilities and operations. They might oversee energy improvement projects, write grant proposals and develop staff training to help employees incorporate sustainability principles such as waste reduction across all areas of operation. 

According to the career guide at the job search platform indeed.com, these jobs call for a combination of educational background and skills, including environmental science, building science, energy management, communication skills, creative thinking and the ability to interpret environmental regulations and craft policies and operational directives to achieve compliance and build resiliency for their organizations and communities.

To prepare a new generation to excel in these jobs, colleges and universities have developed multidisciplinary degree programs that combine business administration or public administration with environmental science, engineering, forestry, ecology, urban planning, regional planning, food systems, sustainable architecture, environmental management and the social sciences. As I explored these degree programs at educational institutions around our area—including Bucknell, Penn State, Cornell, SUNY, NYU, Bard College, Columbia University, Pratt Institute, City College of New York, The New School, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rochester Institute of Technology—I found an inspiring connecting concept: a systems approach that requires a multifaceted understanding of our environmental challenges through multiple lenses and disciplines. Those include ecology, climate science, technology, the economy, social systems and institutions, and human psychology. 

Medical schools are also working to incorporate climate science curricula in order to prepare future doctors to recognize and effectively treat climate-related health impacts. These range from the more obvious, such as heat stress and emergency response, to vector- and insect-borne illnesses like malaria and an increased incidence of allergies and asthma. 

These new competency frameworks also include awareness of how climate conditions combine with environmental factors—air pollution, toxic materials, wildfire smoke, urban heat islands and underlying socio-economic factors such as poverty, food scarcity and the lack of access to green spaces—to worsen health vulnerabilities. 

At the urging of a group of students, Harvard Medical School has implemented one of the first cohesive climate change curriculums tailored for medical students. Similar efforts are advancing at Stanford, the University of Colorado and UC California. 

In a survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), published in 2022, the deans of nine medical schools and the CEOs of six teaching hospitals or health systems shared their observations that “students, residents and younger health professionals working within and being recruited to their institutions care deeply about climate change and seek to be associated with institutions that share those values.” The AAMC survey showed that 55 percent of U.S. medical schools self-reported that the impact of climate change on health was a required topic in 2022, more than double the 27 percent of medical schools that reported such a requirement only two years prior.

When I first began my rather seat-of-the-pants work in climate response more than a decade ago, it was not unusual to be approached towards the end of the design phase of a project and asked to add some sustainability elements. Just a few “sprinkles,” please, as if it were merely a matter of rhetorical flourish. It’s heartening to see the principle of sustainability and health in all policies finally taking root across so many realms. 


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