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Matching Your Eco Interests with the Right Sustainability Career

Tags:  Career advice, College major, Life after college

Even if you are not planning to work in the field of sustainability, you may find that your college education includes at least one course that focuses on the environment, especially if you are planning on completing your degree in business at a graduate level. In fact, according to Beyond Grey Pinstripes from the Aspen Institute Center for Business Education the number of graduate schools that are now requiring students to take at least one course dedicated to business and society issues increased from 34 percent in 2001 to 63 percent 2007. This means that in a few short years, sustainability and world-wide cultural issues have gone from being something that's just politically correct to becoming something essential to graduation.

As the corporate world rushes to come up with ideas to support sustainability, business schools worldwide have been incorporating appropriate classes into their curriculum. The number of courses dedicated to society and environmental issues has increase 20 percent since 2005. Now you have to determine where you might want to get your green education.

Where to Get a Green Education

There is a very long list of educational institutions which offer a variety of classes which blend business and societal responsibility -- the Aspen Institute's 2008 review includes the top 100. It's just a matter of selecting the right program for your interest and career goals.

According to Aspen's list, the number one MBA program in the U.S. is at Stanford University in Northern California; and no wonder, much of the campus runs on a green program.

The school's cafeteria is almost entirely sustainable using biodegradable forks and featuring an extensive composting system. But Stanford hasn't stopped there. They are in the process of completing a brand new Graduate School of Business Campus (GSB) called the Knight Management Center named after alum Philip H. Knight (MBA class of '62) who donated $100 million to the project. Not only will the new campus offer green classes but the project itself is expected to meet LEED® Platinum standards – the highest level offered by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) is an internationally recognized standard used for environmentally sustainable construction.

While MBA students at Stanford take at least one Public Management Program (PMP) elective course, about 20 percent earn a PMP Certificate which also offers them the option to specialize in government, nonprofit management, or socially responsible business.

Or maybe you'd prefer Boulder, Colorado, where you can attend the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. This university partners with Cleantech Ventures to showcase emerging opportunities and ideas by promoting growth in the renewable energy and clean technology field. The goal is to incorporate sustainable practices into mainstream subjects such as supply chain management, logistics, marketing and finance, something Bainbridge Graduate Institute on Brainbridge Island, Washington has done for years.

In fact BGI maintains they are one of the first fully integrated sustainable MBA programs, infusing environmental and social responsibility into every course. They've won awards for their work including being named by Business Week as one of the top innovative schools in the world.

But these are just a few of the many universities that incorporate sustainability education into their curriculum. From coast to coast – University of California, Santa Barbara and Berkeley to Vanderbilt, NYU, and Boston University – you can locate a college, large or small, that meets your educational needs and future sustainability career goals.

The Business of Being Green

The next step is to determine how and where you will put your education into practice. And don't think that means that you're limited to working in science and research. You may be surprised about the number of corporations that are adding green jobs to their list.

Bank of America and the Scripps Institute are just two large organizations that have embraced the greening of America (and the rest of the world) by joining forces with universities that offer green education. While B of A has a program with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which analyzes the organizations ecological impact, Scripps works closely with the University of San Diego to offer a joint MBA-PhD program.

If you enjoy accounting and finance and want to incorporate fiscal responsibility with environmental responsibility, then consider a position as a green loan officer. Banks have found that with the greening of corporate America they need individuals who can review the loans of companies who are either looking to start or what to enhance their existing sustainable business practices resulting in a whole new outlook for the loan business.

Or if architecture and construction is more in line with your area of interest, become a green builder. This is probably one of the fastest growing eco areas as organizations seek individuals with backgrounds in architectural engineering, mechanical design, facilities and construction. And organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Clinton Foundation are just two of the many that offer jobs in this field.

But don't let your degree stump you. You can probably find a green job no matter what your field of study. In fact, there are companies right now such as Reusuablebags.com, Waste Savings, Inc., Society for Ecological Restoration, and EcoSecurities Consulting looking for people to work in environmental law, fundraising, management and other positions; because if your education is not specifically eco-focused the company you work for just may be.

Know that no matter what your educational background, if you have an interest – and you should – in the greening of America, there is an opportunity out there waiting for you. It's just like with any career opportunity, it's a matter of defining what you want to do and then discovering an organization where you fit in.

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