Why You Didn't Know About Sustainability in the First Place

career advice education sustainable business Nov 17, 2022

As we go through our course with our students, many of them get to the halfway point saying “why didn’t I know about this before??” Well, we’ve been there too, asking ourselves the same question! 

Being in a sustainability role or pursuing a career in sustainability comes with a lot of challenges, but one of the most exciting challenges is learning more about all the topics relevant to the space; and trust us, there’s a lot. And just when you think you’ve become the expert and you know everything sustainability-related, a new subject or argument rises to the surface.

One thing I think we’ve all experienced is that eye-widening moment when everything starts to connect. Hence, “Why didn’t I know about this before?!” 

In Derek’s video, he explores why sustainability has traditionally been left out of the conversation and what we can do to change that. We’re going to break it all down for you here, but we also recommend heading to our YouTube channel to watch the video

The Downside of Specialization

The first reason we don’t normally learn about sustainability is that we become specialized in our career paths. 

Raise your hand if you remember graduating from college and were stoked to land your first job, regardless of what the position/pay was. It happens to a lot of us! We get our first job and then maybe a few years down the line, we get promoted and land in a great department with a great team, but sustainability takes a back seat…

The true calamity is that most businesses haven’t integrated Triple Bottom Line methods, or sustainability-thinking into their business culture. Triple Bottom Line is an evolved form of business that no longer focuses solely on profits, budgets, and margins (that’s the outdated Bottom Line approach - no thanks.) and instead centers around finding a healthy balance between people, planet, and profit

There are thousands of stakeholders in any one business, so shouldn’t we take them into consideration when conducting business? That’s why we believe sustainability needs to be a part of everyone’s role!

If you follow us on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen this image:


 For too long, sustainability knowledge and access has be reserved for the few people in sustainability roles. We believe that no matter what role you’re in, you play a role - shouldn’t you have a say in how the company can move forward in a sustainable way?

If you want sustainability training that you can apply to your role, check out our courses. Consider bringing it up at your next meeting too, you might get corporate to cover the cost ;)

We Need Better Access

The second reason why we might not have known about sustainability is that it probably wasn’t presented to us.

What we mean is that through our traditional school systems, sustainability is normally not part of the curriculum. Here in the United States, K-12 public schools have classes that cover basic biology, chemistry, and maybe some form of environmental sciences, but we’ve typically missed the opportunity to discuss how chemistry can affect biodiversity and ecosystems can affect economics. It’s all connected.

In college, you may be able to take a sustainable fashion course, resource management, or any other related topic, but it’s hard to find degrees in sustainability. Stanford, Arizona State, and UC Irvine are all universities that offer a degree ranging in sustainability topics, but they’re not always connected to the business department. We need to rapidly expand the areas of study available to students.

Considering not everyone can afford a college degree, we still need better mechanisms to educate people on sustainability and climate change matters. That’s part of what we’re out to do here at The Underswell, but we’d love to have more partners in the space to help reach people we may not be able to connect with. 

Moving the needle on sustainability takes collaboration and effort and we’re hopeful sustainability education will be a big step forward in driving effective change.

Not As Easy As It Looks

Our third reason why you may not have known about sustainability is that it isn’t convenient. Remember that Bottom Line, outdated method of doing business? It’s rearing its ugly head yet again.

The Bottom Line approach makes business so much easier because all you have to worry about is profit (and often, that’s hard enough!), but it also neglects the social and environmental impacts that business can have. We call these neglected impacts “externalities” and they are all the unpleasant things that businesses would rather ignore.

Think effluent (aka wastewater), emissions, deforestation, pollution, forced labor, and many more issues associated with our supply network. For a business to be sustainable, at least in our eyes, these externalities need to be recognized, or “internalized.” It’s time for us to adopt a true cost model - one where we account for all of our social and environmental impacts and take on the financial fallout. 

Profit margins may be smaller, but maybe that will encourage companies to shift their business practices to a more sustainable and ethical system. Just a thought…

The Business Value or the Values of Business? 

The fourth and final reason why sustainability isn’t widely understood is that it hasn’t been engrained into the culture of the business. 

Every company has a culture and a set of values they claim to align with, but this doesn’t often include sustainability. Moreover, your company’s values may not align with your values.

This can be really tricky, but one thing we encourage is that you bring your values into your role. If you’re a strong believer in sustainability and its value, then you can definitely voice your support throughout your job. It may be an uphill battle, but stick to your guns - someone will hear you eventually.

To sweeten the deal, you may even become the go-to sustainability person in your company. This could lead to you getting VP of Sustainability, Chief Sustainability Officer, or another management position where you can lead real change at your company. 

Like we say, sustainability takes resiliency, but all that resiliency can really pay off.

If you’d like to learn more about sustainability training, check out our membership platform. We’re creating the one place for people of all industries to come together and solve our most pressing issues. We’d love to have you join the Movement

Questions about today’s topic? Want to get to know us? Send us an email at [email protected] - we can’t wait to connect!

See you next week!


#keeplearning #sustainability #sustainabilityeducation #college #careeradvice

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