This week, while Maine is under siege from 80+ inches of snow, I’m in Hawaii (hate me, go for it, whatever). In addition to checking out First Wind’s (now Sun Edison’s) gorgeous Kawailoa Wind Farm on the North Shore of Oahu, (FYI- NIMBYism is alive and kicking in Hawaii) I had a chance to talk to two sustainability graduate classes at Hawaii Pacific University. One of the classes was an Industrial Ecology course and the other Sustainability Metrics. Both provided me the opportunity to take the pulse of the emerging sustainability thought-leaders and do-ers.
Here are four take-aways:
They are lucky.
Access to these classes at a school like Hawaii Pacific University is a new phenomenon. Sure, Presideo and others have been playing in this space for some time, but for a smallish mainstream college known for it’ great sports program to offer a graduate degree in Global Leadership and Sustainable Development this is notable. It’s a ticket to the mainstream.
Had this kind of program been available when I was in graduate school, I would have been in heaven. That I ended up with a degree in Cultural Studies didn’t hurt my career obviously, but I tried to shoe-horn that degree into “eco” by writing papers like “Environmental Activism as a (non)metaphor to teach Technical Writing.” One of the professors described their love of this program because, unlike many more traditional MBA programs, the Global Leadership and Sustainable Development “attracts students with a tremendous passion.”
They are girls.
Across both classes, 90% were female. There are a million pitfalls available to me if I decided to deconstruct this one data point. Is Sustainability a kind of Capitalism with a Human Face, as Zizek called it? Does that humanitarian-side attract more women? Are men simply too myopic when it comes to academics where as women are smart enough to see holistically? I think there is something in this, but want to save it for a deep dive later.
They are dubious.
They understand that their degree is not necessarily an Arts degree – it is a Business degree, nevertheless they are dubious of Capitalism as a driver for change. I find this supremely hopefully for our future business leaders. If Sustainability – for all its cultural foibles and shortcomings – becomes a feeder concept for economic and social reform from within the system, we will win the war.
They are nervous.
After class and in emails, I was asked if a degree in sustainability (a master’s no less) was worth it. “Will it really help me get a job?” That was a hard question. Not knowing the job market in Hawaii, specifically Oahu, I had to default my answer to the conceptual job market.
My answer: “In and of itself, No.”
I feel likewise about any degree as prep for a first job. My own master’s is from a third rate university. I don’t hold higher education in the highest regard. It might just be another box that needs to be checked. That said, I offered some hope. A master’s degree in Sustainability will not hurt you. It will be beneficial as a “and” degree, or as a “specialist” degree. So if you have an undergraduate degree in accounting, you get to be the applicant that understands accounting and sustainability. If you have a degree in marketing, you get to be the marketing guy who knows sustainability. In the current job market that is going to make you very attractive to the right company – and by that I mean a company who has pressure or will to give a shit about sustainability.