Interview: Pathway to a Career in Sustainability

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Renata Costa is a Post-Doc Researcher at the Centro de Investigação em Química da Universidade do Porto in Portugal. She is an absolvent of the Spotlight Professional Education Course of Climate KIC.

Question: Why did you decide to take a Professional Education Course in the area of sustainability and climate change?

Answer: I am a Post-Doc researcher in Chemistry at the Sciences Faculty of Oporto University and the possibility of participating in a Professional Education Course in the area of sustainability allowed me to reinforce my skills in this field.

The first time I became aware of the Climate-KIC courses was last year. I applied for a course that was closely related to my scientific research activity and I was privileged to have been selected for the course entitled Leadership Innovation for Accelerated Energy Transition held in Wroclaw 24-25 November 2016. The experience could not have been better, ranging from the enormous quality of the group selected to the coaches who were absolutely fantastic in how they interacted with each of the participants and how they promoted the “internal interaction” of the group.

Q: In your opinion, why is there such an increased trend among young people to work in the area of sustainability?

A: In my opinion, the increased interest of youth population to work in areas of sustainability may result from the Education for Sustainability awareness that has been promoted in education in the late 2000’s. It was from this moment that colleges and universities began to extend their sustainability education offerings. As a result, an important percentage of young people have the desire to work for organizations with a positive impact on the world (e.g. sustainable development—social, environmental and financial).

Q: What was the trigger for you to choose the career path in the field of sustainability?

A: Since I started my graduation in Chemistry the word sustainability was part of my life. This became even more important during my PhD since my experimental work is focused on the study of innovative materials for advanced energy conversion and storage devices from renewable sources, on so called climate-friendly technologies. Sustainability is an important and crucial challenge that has to be imposed to professionals in order to investigate for new ideas to find technically thorough and financially viable new energy sources.

Q: You are active in a working environment focused on, or even based on the notion of sustainability. Are the tasks in your job comparable to “normal” working places?

A: In parallel with the research activity, I am also a scientific project developer. So, I consider that my working environment is more based on the notion of sustainability, that I need to have always present in my mind. Sometimes the work that is developed in Academia is considered by some to be something abstracted from reality, although all our efforts are made to meet closely the “real world” environment requirements. Perhaps for this reason, my job is not comparable to “normal” working places.

Q: In your opinion, are there indispensable skills for a professional in the field of sustainability?

A: I consider indispensable skills being: A diverse background, knowledge of environmental legislation and policies, creative thinking and problem-solving skills, think outside the box, project management skills, good communication and be entrepreneurial.

Q: Are there many possibilities of choosing a career in the area of sustainability or is it still difficult to find a job?

A: In my opinion, there is a huge demand for a small number of sustainability jobs. However, it is predictable that the capacity and demand for this field will continue to grow in the coming years.

Q: In your opinion, what type of jobs do we need for a sustainable future? Also, what kind of education is needed to get enough qualified people for the development of green cities?

A: The pursuit of a sustainability based career is a transdisciplinary field blending social, economic and environmental impacts of development. Sustainability is a cross-disciplinary concept which major requirement is a good balance between business and science skills. In my opinion, anyone graduated in science, engineering or economics can find a job opportunity in sustainability and consequently, also able to engage in the development of green cities.