It is the beginning of summer here in Belgium and that means the academic year is over. After an undoubtedly excruciating exam period, students have left the library and are now to be found on festival grounds or on the Mediterranean beaches in Southern Europe. For most of them, July is the beginning of a long holiday, for others, it is also the start of their career. A small army of young graduates is lined up to enter the work force anytime soon. Are they ready to take it by storm?
They should be. As the IPCC pointed out in its much-cited report in fall 2018, we have a time window of (by now) 11 years to curb the stubborn upward trend of global emissions to a steep downward one. It’s not that the world is going to end in 2030 if we don’t, but chances to limit global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels become very slim. And that would, without a doubt, change the face of the planet completely.
Turning the world’s economy upside down in one decade is a daunting task. To change everything, we need everyone. We need more climate scientists expanding our understanding of the world’s ecosystems. We need innovative entrepreneurs and engineers building clean technologies to replace the legacy infrastructure founded on fossil fuels. We need artists with fresh ideas to be the mirror for our extraction-based culture. We need photographers and directors to make us fall in love again with the wonders of this world. We need doctors and nurses ready to help in the droughts, storms, and pandemics fuelled by a changing climate. We need open minded lawyers to rewrite our human rights acts to address climate refugees. We need architects to build our houses of the future, resilient and self-sustaining structures in the cities of tomorrow. We need farmers to grow seasonal, local, and rotational crops. And we need ambitious politicians, to orchestrate all of this and make sure no-one is left behind. To change everything, we really need everyone.
And it just happens to be that (nearly) everyone spends most of their productive time… at work. That’s where we apply our knowledge, talents and skills, that’s where we use our creative brainpower. It is where each and one of us is a producer of economic value. People are always talking about becoming conscious consumers, but shouldn’t we first, and foremost, become conscious producers?
Especially highly educated and ambitious professionals have the power, and in my opinion the moral obligation, to resist to the inviting calls of corporates built on the back of wrecking the climate, fossil fuels, corruption, cheap labour in the developing world, or all of them combined. Just like the fossil fuel divestment movement is redirecting money from companies that contribute to the climate crisis to ones that are solving it, we need to move talent to where it has a meaningful impact. The work force has an incredible power to change the economy from within. Companies are nothing more than the sum of their employees. A brain drain for the climate, that’s what we need right now. I truly hope all the young graduates choose for a job with positive impact.
In the end, companies run on two types of capital: financial, and human. If we divest both of them, a company like BP might be sitting on as much oil or gas reserves as they want, they won’t be able to get it out of the ground. Employees and investors that do decide to stay, should put pressure on the management to make sustainability part of the company’s DNA.
Most challenging of all is to make sure we leave no one behind in this transition. Not the man without diploma working in a steel factory, not the single mother packing boxes in a warehouse of a webshop. These people didn’t decide to work for a company because it offered a nice company car, the best salary package, or sounds the most prestigious on cocktail parties. Therefore, we need a new generation of entrepreneurs with the sustainable development goals at the heart of their business plan, creating jobs for everyone in society.
I don’t want to make this sound simple, even for people that have a good diploma. Being picky during a job hunt is a luxury. And even if a job position lives up to your sustainability standards, is it really the job for you? Is it a job that is not only in line with your values, but also one that allows you to grow and for which you are motivated to get out of bed every morning?
If you are a job hunter or a green entrepreneur looking for talent to scale your business, I can highly recommend checking out Impact Hub. They are a worldwide community that supports talent working on the SDGs. TBD* has a similar mission, offering a digital platform that connects job seekers and employers, and shows the way to funding opportunities, training opportunities, and partnerships (note that they are strongly Germany-centred). I am sure other initiatives like this exist. In several cities, there are also Facebook groups where green job posts are shared. And of course, you can always contact local NGOs and environmental groups to see if they are looking for talent.
Tuning your career path to the climate crisis is going to be rocky at times. But, hey, how many generations can say they had to chance to save the world when entering the work force?