Getting a job in the field of Sustainability

As a faculty member in a School of Sustainability (https://schoolofsustainability.asu.edu/), we spend a great deal of time preparing our students for life after college.  It’s a bit different than many other majors.  After all, everyone knows what an engineer or an accounting major can do.  But what does a sustainability graduate do?  What skills do they bring to the table?  I’ve written a great deal about the structure of our curriculum, the training our students receive, and how we prepare them for future employment in the past:

http://michaelschoon.com/2014/04/11/training-students-to-be-solutions-oriented/

http://michaelschoon.com/2014/01/08/a-new-application-of-problem-and-project-based-learning/

http://michaelschoon.com/2013/04/11/a-brief-comment-on-problem-and-project-based-learning-in-the-classroom/

In future posts, I’ll write a bit more on our learning objectives in the school and how we’ve structured curriculum along skill sets that we want our students to take away rather than the topical areas of many other lines of study (environmental or otherwise).  I’ll expand a bit on the New American University at that point as well (for now, see http://newamericanuniversity.asu.edu).

Instead, what I’d like to focus on is something of grave concern to our current students, their parents, and prospective students – job prospects upon graduation.  I’m very pleased to write that tracking all of our students from the first graduates until the past semester, we see the following:

  1. We have graduated 448 undergrad sustainability majors.
  2. Tracking most of those, 86% of them are employed with another 12% in graduate school.
  3. Of those employed, nearly 50% are in a sustainability position or a sustainability field.
  4. We have graduated 50 Master’s students and 13 PhDs.
  5. All of our grad students are employed.
  6. Of our Master’s students, 82% are employed in Sustainability.

So, if you are thinking about enrolling in Sustainability but are worried about finding a job, or if your friends and family are pushing you away from following your dreams toward a more “realistic” path, please take a look at the data first.  Great opportunities await.

For more information, see our Dean Chris Boone’s blog post (http://cgboone.personal.asu.edu/wordpress/) as well as the data on the School of Sustainability’s website, noted above.

International Journal of the Commons in the News

Great news from IJC!  First, we are delighted with our current issue, which is coming out in the next week.  In this, you will find 6 new research articles covering commons issues in a wide variety of localities using a range of methodological approaches from experimental economics to ethnography and several stops in between.  There are also two special features.  One is the initial forays of a new meta-analysis research program – the Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database – that attempts to operationalize the SES Framework of Elinor Ostrom.  This includes 5 case study analyses that utilize the database and framework, as well as a comparative piece across the variety of cases studied.  The other special feature, led by Tim Moss, is on the Spatialities of the Commons, and consists of 4 studies that explicitly address spatial research in the study of the commons, an under-researched area of the field.  We think that this issue is another strong example of the excellent work being done by scholars of the commons, which leads to my next point.

The journal has recently received its first impact factor (a measure reflecting the average number of citations to recent articles published in the journal) from ISI, calculated at 1.538.  We are elated with this score for a young journal that has only recently been recognized by ISI.  In the Environmental Studies category, we rank 38th out of 96.  Again, we see this as validation of the great work being done.  We hope that this recognition will help establish a virtuous cycle in which the journal continues to improve!!

With that in mind, a huge public thank you to all of our readers, authors, and reviewers!

Resilience Science and the Science-Policy Interface

Together with my brilliant co-authors, Manjana Milkoreit, Michele-Lee Moore, and Chanda Meek, we have a paper forthcoming with the journal Environmental Science and Policy entitled “Resilience Scientists as Change Makers – Growing the Middle Ground Between Science and Advocacy?”. It’s part of a Special Issue led by Andreas Thiel, Farhad Mukhtarov, and Dimitrios Zikos on “Crafting or designing? Science and politics for purposeful institutional change in Social- Ecological Systems”. The entire issue looks intriguing for anyone interested in institutional analysis and design and the governance of social-ecological systems.

In our paper, we analyze the role of scientists as they move from purveyors of knowledge and truth (!) into roles of advocacy and politics. In particular, we study how various members of the Resilience Alliance, a group of highly talented, experienced, successful senior scientists interact either directly or indirectly through their research with policy and decisionmakers. We highlight the challenges facing scientists at the science-policy frontier as well as a set of approaches in response to these challenges, including a hybrid approach between a “truth-seeker” and a “change-maker”. We see this as a particularly valuable identification exercise for resilience scientists and other likeminded scholars (conservation biologists, sustainability scientists, climate researchers, etc.) in that they draw on theoretical frameworks that are infused with clear value-sets. In the case of resilience science, these often include ecosystem and species protection, inclusiveness and participatory governance, and adaptation and change.

Some of these ideas are likely controversial. We are not attempting to pigeonhole any specific scientists into clearly delineated roles. However, we do hope that this sparks dialogue and introspection amongst ourselves and our peers to think about their role as scientists, change agents, and people inspired to action in ways that can change the world!

Ozone under a Social-Ecological Systems Lens

With my colleagues Graham Epstein, Chanda Meek, and Irene Perez-Ibarra, we have a manuscript coming out in the International Journal of the Commons this month, “Governing the Invisible Commons: Ozone Regulation and the Montreal Protocol”.  We are very excited to see this in print for a number of reasons.

We wanted to highlight both how the SES framework and, as an extension, the SES Meta-Analysis Database could be used for pollution cases, and we wanted to show the insights gained by such an analysis in general.  This goes against some commonly held beliefs on the generalizability of case studies.  We believe that the manuscript makes important independent contributions related to the relevance of CPR theory and the SES framework to large-scale pollution cases.  As the analysis shows several factors associated with CPR theory such as proportionality, political participation, and nested governance are associated with substantial reductions in ODS emissions.   This suggests that common-pool resources and scale may not act as a boundary for CPR theory which may apply to a wider range of goods and environmental problems.  Second, the SESMAD approach draws attention to the complexity of social-ecological systems which is often lost in narrow theoretical accounts.  Many past studies apply a  a single theoretical lens to analyze the Montreal Protocol, and focus on one or a few variables.  Given well-known problems with applying singular models to cases, we believe that our approach which draws attention to some of the real-world complexity of the case is, at a minimum, a useful complement to other studies and at best draws attention to the multiplicity of factors whose interactions led to its success.  Given the general failure of a Montreal Protocol type approach to resolve problems associated with climate change, it would seem that such considerations possess both theoretical and policy-relevant value.

We think that the greatest strength of the case study utilizing the framework is its development of a systematic approach to perform within-case analysis using snapshots over time.  This allowed us to identify important changes that may have contributed to the general success of the Montreal Protocol.  However, we acknowledge weaknesses in reducing the level of measurement associated with some variables, the loss of dimensionality of others, and the averaging over heterogeneity in some as well.

(Thanks to my co-authors for their brilliant insights.)

Ozone Layer from 1979-2008 from NASA

Ozone Layer from 1979-2008 from NASA

Social-Ecological-Technical Systems

In the next month, I will kick off a new required course designed for ASU’s School of Sustainability’s incoming graduate students.  The course is called “Social-Ecological-Technical Systems”.   This literature based seminar course will guide students in developing an integrated approach/framework for thinking about complex adaptive systems in a sustainability context. While overviews of content, theories and methods from each of the SETS domains (Social, Ecological and Technical Systems) will be presented, the primary focus will be on how to bring these domains together. The goal is to enable students to explore the SETS interfaces (intersections) from an integrated perspective and to equip students to make those linkages in their research and in subsequent elective courses.

Translated into everyday language, we hope to get students thinking in a more holistic manner across a wider range of knowledge domains.  Most of the sustainability problems confronting humanity are not pure social, political, or economic in nature.  Nor are they environmental problems apart from human contribution and influence.  Likewise, the causes of and solutions to these problems are also not exclusively technical.  Rather, they are a conflagration of these three knowledge domains.  While we cannot expect anyone to be a master of all, we do hope to provide a baseline standard and recognition of how various fields inform our study of phenomena of interest and contribute to our understanding of them.  As such, the course will require reading seminal literature on a wide range of topics – biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, environmental and natural resource economics, industrial ecology, and resilience/robustness and many others.  If you have suggestions for topics that we should be covering or readings that we should do, please let me know.  We have a planned syllabus, but this has great scope and potential as a grand experiment.

Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State

This fall, I have the privilege to work with Leah Gerber and others in the newly established Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at ASU.  The formal launch of the Center will happen November 13th and 14th with Georgina Mace delivering a public lecture.

The mission of the Center is to enable the discoveries and solutions needed to conserve and sustainably manage the Earth’s biodiversity in a time of rapid biophysical, institutional, and cultural change.

The recently built website for the center can be found at: http://biodiversity.asu.edu/

 

 

Business and Resilience

It seems that everyday a new article – popular or academic – comes out about Business and Sustainability.  All about supply-chain efficiencies, corporate social responsibility, the corporate role in sustainable development.  Of course, there is at least as much coming out about the problems, deficiencies, contradictions between capitalism and development and the prevailing neoliberal order.  I’ve recently read Dauvergne and Lister’s “Eco-Business: A Big Brand Takeover of Sustainability”, which does a nice job at introducing the arguing sides to each other – the language, the pros/cons of each position, and what seems to be working.  This post isn’t about this.  Rather my intent is to comment on a recent workshop at IBM-Montpellier as part of the Resilience 2014 conference.  Margot Hill Clarvis and Gail Whiteman coordinated an off-site session on Business and Resilience.  Following presentations from IBM on their corporate view of and response to Resilience and from speakers from the Resilience Alliance (Brian Walker) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), we split into parallel sessions.

Margot and I hosted a session titled “Investing in Resilience: Challenges and Opportunities” with a number of industry speakers, including:

  • Dr. David N. Bresch, Director Global Head Sustainability, Swiss Re
  • Dan Dowling, Assistant Director, Sustainability and Climate Change, PwC
  • Linda Freiner, Flood Resilience Program Manager, Group Corporate Responsibility, Zürich Insurance
  • John Fullerton, Founder & President, Capital Institute
  • Prof. Sander van der Leeuw, Arizona State University

From the abstract:  Our concern was that business, and the finance institutions that lend to, invest in, and insure them, are at the heart of many of the drivers and solutions to ecological degradation, resource depletion and social vulnerability. Resilience principles should be at the heart of practical steps to both alleviate these pressures and frame opportunities for more sustainable financing models and investment practices. So far, the majority of dialogue on resilience and investment has focused on a limited set of issues primarily relating to disaster risk resilience. However, there has been very little investigation into these issues within the academic discourses on resilience, and even less dialogue with this practitioner community than other communities (e.g. park rangers, water managers etc). At the same time, the business and investment community are scaling up efforts to transform accounting and valuation practices and strategic priorities in order to facilitate more sustainable investment.

The session aimed to present novel perspectives from a range of practitioners involved in finance (i.e. insurance, accounting, investment) or financing ‘resilience’-based activities in order to provide insights into the challenges and opportunities for integrating resilience into the practical mechanics of enterprise risk and investment evaluation. Panelists gave an overview of how their practical work/research intersects with resilience issues and science, the challenges in the operational application of these frameworks, the expected opportunities and benefits to doing so (focusing on the novel insights it provides) and how best to drive further progress.

As compared with the standard corporate perspective, the financial organizations, particularly the insurance industry seems to value a resilience approach as a means to assess and design preventative approaches (adaptation) rather than ex post responses to disasters or sustainability shortcomings (mitigation).  Unlike many politicians, they see global change and are cognizant about the various potential futures unfolding. This is less about liberal/conservative philosophies and more about preparing and responding to reality in a rapidly changing environment.

Stay tuned for more on business and resilience.

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