Is “Environmentalism” Key to an Environmental Career?
By Fiona Wren, EPt No question, careers in the environmental sector are on the upswing, especially as more stringent governmental regulations and a shift in mindset within the business community mean more corporations are paying attention to their environmental impact. But does that mean everyone who works in a environmental job is an environmentalist? Quite simply, the answer is no. For many environmental employers, the term “environmentalism” carries with it negative connotations. The dictionary defines an environmentalist as first “an expert on environmental problems” and secondly as “any person who advocates to protect air, animals, water, plants, and other natural resources from pollution or its effects.” However, popular media has many of us picturing more ardent activism, not always rooted in scientific reason. The fact
is, few environmental students become activists. Most go on to work in the industry, in jobs that may help improve sustainability or, at the least, measure and/or track environmental conditions from within business or governmental organizations. According to research conducted by ECO Canada, most people practitioners and employers in the environmental industry view themselves as “sustainability experts,” or “scientists,” rather than “environmentalists.” Successful environmental professionals possess a wide range of skills, including soft competencies such as critical thinking, good communication skills and leadership. They’re also passionate about the science behind their work, or innovation in their field, or giving their clients the best service possible.
Most of us find the most satisfaction in our work when we work for an employer whose values align with our own. So those passionate about the environment are likely to be happiest — and most successful — working for organizations that feel the same way. For many of us out there, those values manifest in different ways, and rarely as activism. Instead, we work to find ways to protect, manage and sustain our environment in different sub-sectors, including energy, agriculture, manufacturing, travel and tourism, or through non-profit and government work. So while passion for the environment can drive a career — and for many, makes the career worthwhile — it’s not the only, or even most important, factor. Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? What does the word mean to you? Let us know!