Instant careers in sustainability

Now a days, this is a season of holding conferences on subjects like climate, circular economy and of course ESG. Given the heat wave across the country, these conferences get well attended as the sessions are held at 5 star hotels where room temperatures are at the best. Organizers call these conferences by different names, like the summit, workshop, symposium, roundtable etc. However all these titles mean the same as the basic idea is to get people together who foolishly pay for the food and fancy conference bags and exchange visiting cards to make business connections. After attending these conferences, you see a post on LinkedIn with a photo declaring their presence at the conference.

At the end of the technical sessions, generally, there is a gala or networking dinner where you get an opportunity to mingle with the speakers, fellow delegates, administrators/regulators and sometimes even with the politicians.  Most of the times, me and my Professor friend avoid attending the so called technical sessions and directly join the networking dinners. Attending these dinners has always been some fun as you meet the new generation of sustainability experts.

“Welcome Professor”, one of the chief organizers spotted us entering the Regal room at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. “So nice of you to spare your valuable time for us, Sir”.

After exchanging few pleasantries, I asked the organizer “Madam, how were the technical sessions today? Any major outcomes of the discussions?”.

The organizer pulled down her gold rimmed glasses and said “Oh, Dr Modak, the take aways have been simply extraordinary. The list of recommendations has been so comprehensive that if implemented, it will greatly benefit the 1.4 billion people of India”.

I liked that NaMo touch.

“Any examples Ms?” Professor asked

“Actually, there are so many – but just to give you an example, all of us resolved that circular economy should be the priority for India’s commitment to its economic development and poverty reduction”.

Since the organizer did not see Professor very impressed, she added saying that some of the recommendations were very much down to earth and practical like “we strongly recommend that households must segregate waste at the source to promote waste recycling”.

I was later told that the chief organizer had a qualification in history and a diploma in cultural affairs. But she was very passionate about sustainability and leader in her own right.

We decided to move on and connect with the delegates and have a conversation. The bar was just open. We picked up glasses of sparkling white wine from the tray and unsalted peanuts to go along. It didn’t take much to time for the delegates to notice the presence of Professor and me tagging along as his sidekick.

“How are you Professor? Long time no see” A tall man in a steel grey suit shook Professors hand. I knew him but I bet Professor did not recognize him. “I just moved to KDP&E last month Sir heading ESG rating services”.  I remembered he was a commerce graduate with a 6 month diploma on data analytics. He, in his younger days, had mastered Microsoft Excel and was a kind of champ in data crunching with blogs posted on the Magic of Excel. I thought that this was perhaps the expertise that must have helped him to make a career in ESG rating.  If you are smart and know the tools, you don’t  need to actually understand what exactly do the alphabets E, S and G mean.

There were several more we met during the dinner, that convinced me that you don’t have to be seriously qualified if you want to make a professional career in sustainability. You can always top up your basic qualifications by taking a 2 month course on sustainable finance at some institution in Europe or by registering for a one year online course on carbon management. And there is nothing wrong.

There was a woman with basics in zoology who was heading a “cleantech fund” and there was a bunch of people with basic qualifications in chemistry who were developing decarbonization strategies.  I am sure all of them must have taken additional courses or certifications on related subjects to establish and communicate their competencies. A good “top up” course in sustainability and allied topics does seem to work. You can then secure a highly paid job – especially when you are recruited to tick the check box and keep an ESG driven investor happy.

I was really impressed about the sheer generosity of the sustainability field. Thank God that the industry was not hiring a veterinary doctor for operating a waste recycling plant just because the doctor was passionate about waste recycling.

After mingling with more such participants or the new generation of sustainability experts, we decided to savour a pineapple pudding topped with not so a sweet ferani. We took a place little away from the crowd so as to do some reflections.

I asked Professor whether serious qualifications matter in making a professional career in sustainability.

Firstly, Professor pointed out the amorphous nature of the subject itself and increasing blurring of the “boundaries”. When I was young, he said we were taught topics such as wastewater engineering, energy conservation or air pollution control engineering that needed 36 solid lectures to understand the theory and practice. We needed basics in civil, mechanical and chemical engineering then. Certainly those lectures could be difficult to a student of biology for instance.  Today unfortunately, much of this knowledge is not used in practice as environmental engineering is now a vendor driven subject. The careers of hard core environmental engineers are compromised with lead taken by marketing professionals (as instant environmental engineers) who don’t need to have the basics. He sighed.

We now teach a course on sustainability of 36 lectures that has a blend of policy, economics, science and engineering and so the subject can be interesting to people with multiple disciplines. Truly, the basic qualifications do not matter here, and what matters is the ability to understand the nexus, the context and importance of involving stakeholders. This subject is best taught through case studies involving group work to appreciate different perspectives in arriving at the potential solutions or understanding the challenges. Learning about sustainability is like a marinating of a pickle that takes some time.

The sad part is that such sustainability courses are not readily available at the universities and even in continuing education. (I thought that the challenge was also about the dearth of faculty who can introduce the subject of sustainability in 360 degrees to the students). There is also not much patience with those making careers in sustainability to look for such courses, do some serious reading, participate in quality discussions and get mentored. Like an instant coffee, we see instant sustainability specialists who can speak for hours on any subject, passionately so, including on frontier subjects like ESG, circularity and climate change.  Unfortunately passion alone is not enough as we need basic understanding of the principles and the practice experience.  Today, these subjects have kind of para trouped in the sustainability careers of young professionals.  And the sustainability balloons of the paratroopers should not prematurely burst!

We passed through the revolving doors to exit Regal room and to reach the lobby. The security guard ushered us to our car. While opening the door, he softly spoke to Professor “Sir, a very thoughtful choice of electric vehicle” and after a pause he said “India must make every effort to achieve its NetZero target of 2070. Good night, Sir”

I realized that he must have picked up this sustainability lingo by simply listening to the conversations of the participants while waiting for their cars. This was amazing. “One day, Dr Modak, this man will make a career in the space of sustainability”. Professor whispered. Clearly,  the chief organizer of the conference was right. This conference and similar such events were surely going to impact the 1.4 billion population of India –  some day.

Ekonnect, my not for profit organization, will soon commence a series of courses for interested sustainability professionals. While the course announcements will follow, do write to me at  and make suggestions in the design and conduct of such courses.   I will be the chief mentor of the course series and will be joined by several of my friends across the world for old time sake.

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This blog is NOT written using chatGPT




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