Working for the Environment

Sophia Binz

My interest in environmental protection was essentially born out of my love for animals. When I was 16, I watched a YouTube video called ‘If slaughterhouses had glass walls’ and I decided then and there that I would never eat animals again. I made exceptions for fish every now and then for reasons of juvenile inconsequence, but my initial resolution has stuck with me until now. The resolution that I made was that I would no longer be a part of a massive system that oppresses and tortures animals. Only a few years later I learned that my vegetarianism, which was grounded on compassion, also does a good deed for the environment. When I found out about the massive impact that animal husbandry has on the earth’s environment and consequently on the climate, my drive to continue working for its protection was sparked. So now, I find myself with a half-finished Masters degree in Sustainable Development and a vast range of opportunities at my hands. I need to decide which direction I want my career to go, ideally before handing in my thesis. Sustainability is a broad topic, and even with a specialization in energy and climate politics, the different pathways are myriad. But make no mistake, this does not mean that there is an abundance of jobs. As with all social sciences, actual job opportunities are scarce, and competition is fierce, which is why I have been filling my CV with volunteer and internship experiences and extracurricular activities since high school. But existential fears and anxiety aside, the potential career choices remain a looming factor over my student life. 

The first option would be to remain in academia. To continue my Masters with a PhD and opt for a career at the university or, alternatively, at a research institute, creating new knowledge about topics that I am passionate about. The downside is that job offers at universities are hard to get. On top of that, I am uncertain whether another three to five years of research will fulfill me at this point in my life. Financial considerations are not to be dismissed either, as PhD contracts are not known to be very lucrative, depending on the country. 

Another pathway would be to go into politics. A disadvantage is that I would need to affiliate myself with one particular party, which I have been struggling with. Advantages are, for one, the proximity to actual decision-making processes. One of the most frustrating things about engaging in environmental protection is that the impact that is being made is very hard to measure in the short term. Being involved in the passing of laws and regulations to save the climate would offer a certain feeling of accomplishment. Then again, it is no secret that political progress as such is very slow and often bogged down with bureaucracy. 

A very different path would be to go into environmental consultancy. This job is one of the few options that takes place in the free market. Environmental consultancy firms are in high demand right now because firms start to realize that ‘this climate change thing’ does not seem to go away and that corporate social (and environmental) responsibility is becoming more and more relevant for every actor in our economy. This has as a result, that companies are willing to invest in their image with regard to the environment and the climate. As a consequence, this kind of job would bring some financial advantages that are unique to working places in the free market. The question is, however, how much of the environmental consultancy work that is done has an actual impact on, say, a company’s emissions and how much is just marketing more than anything else.  

A similar possibility would be to join the sustainability department of a company; especially large firms that have gained the focus of the media in terms of their sustainability performance. Large investors or banks are among the companies that often establish a complete department that is in charge of sustainability checks. For me, this kind of work comes with the same advantages and disadvantages as environmental consultancy. 

Finally, one more option that I am looking into more profoundly is working for a Non-Governmental-Organization (NGO) or a Not-for-Profit organization. The perks of working in these kinds of organizations are that you often have a very close relationship with projects and their results. What can be challenging is the issue of constantly searching for funds and donations to sustain the position in the first place and ensure that you will be able to work the job in the next year as well. Working for an NGO takes a lot of dedication for the cause but in my experience can be equally as rewarding due to the high relevance of tasks and the direct impact of projects. 

Looking at the choices that I have regarding my future, I see a clear trade-off in a job, between financial rewards and satisfying tasks, with a direct impact on the cause. In the end, I think it all boils down to the question of what kind of work will make you happy and what you are willing to do or give up in order to do that work.