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Careers of the Future: Sustainability, the Merging of Science and Business


Careers of the Future: Sustainability, the Merging of Science and Business

In this fourth installment of our seven-week Careers of the Future series, Rick Oches, chair of the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences, explores how combining a business education with study of the arts and sciences prepares millennials to flourish in a variety of eco-friendly careers.

The sustainability jobs of the future are being created and filled today, because both companies and students are motivated to solve the planet’s pressing green problems. 

For their part, executives in many organizations now view sustainability as an opportunity to increase profits, reduce costs and lower resource consumption. In the past, they saw sustainability as a brand management issue; but things have deepened and broadened in recent years, so that sustainability is now a major part of finances.

A 2013 study by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group, for example, showed that nearly 40 percent of surveyed corporate respondents were profiting from sustainability. More significantly, perhaps, almost 50 percent of the companies surveyed said they have changed their business models as a result of sustainability opportunities.

This pattern can be seen in a wide range of industries — from resource-intensive businesses, to those in consumer products and software. Reinsurers are especially interesting, because they are adding sustainability risks to their actuarial computations. 

Millennial students are just as interested in sustainability as businesses.

According to the college-graduate-focused job resource MonsterTRAK, 80 percent of young professionals would like to work in a green job.

From my perspective as an educator, getting students ready for a sustainability career requires two main things — an understanding of the science, and an understanding of the business. Sustainability problems are intricate, and they require this complementary knowledge.

That’s what we emphasize at Bentley University. At the moment, this approach is pretty distinct, because most environmental science programs at the university level focus primarily on the policy aspect, or the science and business disciplines don’t talk to each other.

Fusion is our mission at Bentley, a business university. That means we’re teaching science to business students, so we have to make the test-tube stuff very relevant. But that doesn’t mean we dumb things down. Our sustainability students understand that they need to know chemistry, biology and physics in order to be able to make future resource and business-planning decisions — or product development, supply-chain, risk-management, innovation or siting decisions.

As students prepare for a sustainable future, they’re coming to realize that the range of green jobs is expanding well beyond “solar designer” or “wind-generator installer.”

Indeed, sustainability jobs can lead students down many valuable and valued professional pathways. Some of these include energy efficiency and renewable energy products financier, manufacturer, distributor or retailer; greenhouse-gas analyst/broker; environmental economist; brownfields real-estate developer; or climate change risk assessor and mitigation expert.

Millennials also can get connected and close to the sustainability careers of the future through organizations like the Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Program, which posts green opportunities from companies in need of young talent. Since its inception in 2011, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Program has placed hundreds of students and recent graduates at clean-energy companies across Massachusetts; and many of these interns have ultimately received full-time job offers at their host companies.

Sustainability jobs will keep increasing at the corporate level because more and more companies are accepting and embracing climate-change science. Companies also understand the environmental risks to their customers and communities, and they are determined to manage and offset these potential dangers as best as they can.

Renewable fuels are a great case in point here. This area is huge, and it’s only going to get bigger. The Europeans are ahead of us in this business, but there is a concerted effort among U.S. businesses to catch up.

Looking at sustainability in general, we understand just how determined businesses in our country really are. Last spring, at a National Academy of Science panel on climate change for future business leaders, we heard from a host of global executives that they are eagerly recruiting and hiring undergraduate and graduate-level students who are literate in both energy science and business.

When the corporate sector is as clear about its current and future human capital needs as these companies were, it’s incumbent upon us in higher education to step up and help put our students in a position to take advantage of these career possibilities.

That’s one of the real reasons why we teach.

Careers of the Future Series

Read other installments in our Careers of the Future Series:

Our 21st Century Mission: Preparing Students for Careers of the Future
Blending Theory and Practice with Big Data

Human-Centered Design Is Putting Innovative Insights Into Action
Economics Has Many Career Options, From Rock Singer to President of the United States
Accounting Helps Students Get Beyond the Numbers
Will You Be Able to Recognize the Next Big Thing?


Learn more about Bentley’s PreparedU Project, which examines challenges facing millennial workers, the companies that employ them and the colleges and universities that prepare them.

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August 4, 2015

Bentley University is named one of the country’s best institutions for undergraduate education in the just-published 2016 edition of The Princeton Review Annual college guide, “The Best 380 Colleges,” (Random House/Princeton Review).