Why I’m Grateful to Be a Sustainabilista

Sustainability professionals have a lot to deal with. We must delicately deal with bone-headed decision makers. We are always working with limited resources. We have an overload of responsibility and no authority. We fret about attendance at our events and global warming. But as Dave Newport pointed out in his blog, we are no good to anybody if we are not happy ourselves. And gratitude is the easiest and most powerful thing we can do to increase our happiness. So as we approach Thanksgiving, let’s remind ourselves that we have much to be thankful for when it comes to our chosen profession.

1. Sustainability saves green. We tell it to administrators, facilities managers, and our friends and family. Because it’s true and we’ve benefited from it! Years of adjusting thermostats, changing out light bulbs, taking shorter showers, reducing waste, and using less gas pay off in lower energy bills and fewer trips to the pump. Perhaps you have also made choices like having fewer children, living in smaller spaces close to work, or avoiding the consumerism trap that is mainstream America. Whatever knowledge that empowered you to make these intelligent decisions have resulted in profound savings, for your sanity as well as bank account. Let’s be grateful for that.

2. The environmentally conscious lifestyle is a healthier, more joyful one. Let’s not forget that organic food tastes better; that walking and biking is good for health; that reducing climate change also reduces air pollution. Imagine how much harder our work would be if these things were not so true. By practicing and promoting what we do, we promote the health and wellbeing of our communities. What’s not to be grateful for?

3. Doing good while making a living. The majority of people fall into three categories: those that make a living but don’t like their work, those that like their work but don’t make a living (artists, for example), and those that put up with a job they hate AND it doesn’t make a living (the great majority of people in this country). But by the great fortune of your background, education, and opportunities, you are able to make a decent living doing something that is aligned with your passions and values. Admit it, we are a very privileged lot. And we wonder why there is not more socio-economic diversity in this field?

4. Work with wonderful colleagues. It is no exaggeration to say that we work with the best colleagues in the world. Our field is full of brilliant, passionate, and compassionate individuals who care deeply about others and are extremely talented at what they do. Not only these things but sustainabilistas are an incredibly joyful and fun loving bunch. They love to hike and be outdoors; they love to cook and eat great food; they love to learn and try new things; their enthusiasm is infectious. Even though they deal with bad news every day, they approach life with optimism and humor. Plus, you never have to worry about impressing them. They’ll admire you more for taking the bus than driving a Mercedes. How many people get to say that about the people they work with?

5. Work that is fun, varied, and challenging. Some people spend all their time in front of a screen in a cubicle. Some people do the same rote tasks every day, or have the same conversations day after day. We are in the office and outside. We are presenting to executive committees and dumpster diving for recyclables. We are communication experts and data analysts. We are technical advisors and politicians. We work with people and build relationships to accomplish something meaningful. It is extremely rewarding to be able to take a project from start to finish, and to bring people together for a common good. That gets me excited about going to work.

6. Work in a multidisciplinary and very relevant field. When people used to asked me what I do, I used to say that I study English literature. Unless the other person also has an interest in this subject, there was little that we could talk about. To be polite, he or she might ask who was my favorite author or what I was reading lately. Or if they were not so polite, he or she might say what did I intend to do with my degree, teach? Then I switched to Environmental Studies, and at dinner parties, people’s eyes lit up. “Oh well, could you advise me about composting?” or “What is the big deal about fracking?” Everyone found something they could relate to me about. It was interesting and it was relevant. While I didn’t chose this field in order to be a better conversationalist, I have always loved the fact that it was multidisciplinary and real. It was at the intersection of science, politics, history, spirituality, and it touches on how we live, what our world looks like, and our prospects for the future. I feel like I’m learning what is important to know and feel more connected to the world. Everything is changing so quickly and there is so much more to know, from subjects as diverse as food production to why evangelical Christians should care about climate change. You can never become bored with it.

7. Making an impact for people and the planet. Sometimes it feels like what we do has no impact. We tend to focus on those things that are not done rather than the things that have been accomplished. Change is never happening fast enough or strong enough. But in fact we do a lot. A skimming of the weekly AASHE Bulletin shows that wonderful things are happening everywhere, setting the groundwork for even better things to come. When I became involved in campus sustainability in 2005, it wasn’t even a field. Look how far we have come in that brief time. It’s okay to pat yourself on the back and celebrate successes once in a while. Share appreciation with those who have helped you.

For me, one of the most satisfying things is making an impact in the life of a student. When someone learns about an issue, and it totally changes their understanding of it and changes their behavior; or when a good internship experience turns into a job or a career; or when someone who doesn’t know where to start is empowered to make a big difference; we may not see the difference on a utility bill but we shouldn’t forget what a impact that makes.

8. The courage to follow a moral imperative. I think that most of us are in this not because of the benefits listed above, but because we can’t not do it. It is painful to know that we are losing so much of what is beautiful and precious. It is difficult to live alone in a world of wounds. It is also frustrating to want change so much but not be able to effect it (not all the time, anyway). And we knew that we couldn’t go on without doing all that we can for what we care so much about, for our children, the less fortunate, and the beautiful planet we call home. The courage to follow that moral imperative, to live so that we will not have regrets, is perhaps the greatest gift of all.

What are you grateful for when it comes to your work?

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3 thoughts on “Why I’m Grateful to Be a Sustainabilista

  1. I want to get into a career as a sustainability professional, but I am not sure how to get started. I have a B.S. in Biology, but whenever I apply to a “sustainable”position I am not qualified. How Do I reach this career path? Any suggestions?

    • Hi Leah, this depends on where you are in your career. If you are still in college or a new graduate, you can start by interning or volunteering for your university’s office of sustainability. If your school does not have one, you can contact the sustainability committee or environmental studies program to see if they have any opportunities. If you have finished school, you can try to intern or volunteer in your city’s sustainability office, even helping with their recycling effort if they don’t have a dedicated sustainability office. For me, going to graduate school was pivotal, and there are many programs these days that focus on sustainability. If you are not ready for graduate school, getting a certificate helps too, such as LEED or one focused on sustainability will give you an edge. Email me via the contact form if you would like to discuss this more.

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