Shadley: The U Didn’t Prepare You for a Sustainable Career, but You Don’t Have to Accept That


Jack Gambassi

(Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Will Shadley, Opinion Writer


All too often, corporations and governments pass off climate action to the consumer. While there are actions each of us can take to shop and buy sustainably, the biggest ecological problem is those corporations and the political systems that allow them to extract and pollute.

And yet, corporations and political systems are just collections of people acting in the interest of the larger system they uphold. Those individuals are mainly college graduates, like many of us are about to be. While we may not, and should not, accept responsibility for the climate crisis as consumers, we do have a responsibility to ensure our careers oppose the existing system, which has doomed us.

The U Does a Poor Job of Preparing Students for a Career Aligned with Sustainability

The U currently requires students to complete one international and one diversity credit as part of their general education. One of the university’s stated goals for the diversity requirement is to have students “critically reflect on their own identities and relationships with institutions that maintain and/or challenge the status quo.”

However, if you’ve ever been in one of the classes that count for these requirements, you might question how successful they are at achieving that goal. Students may learn about diversity, but almost never within the context of their major or their potential career.

A finance student who takes a class on Pacific Islander Studies will, first, likely not take that class seriously as it does not count towards their major GPA. But even if they did, understanding how important concepts of diversity (or lack thereof ) can manifest themselves in the investment banking industry and how to mitigate the potentially negative effects is left entirely to the student. This oversight is a catastrophic failure.

Instead of providing university students with an intersectional education that allows them to think about concepts of diversity, international issues and sustainability within their chosen field of study, the U has set those students up to fail. Not only is this a huge disservice to those students, but it’s also a disservice to marginalized groups.

Instead of perpetuating this system of ignorance that leads to underrepresentation, the U should have departments dictate the diversity and international requirements. That way, students have classes focused on diversity and international topics that pertain to their chosen major. Students will benefit if non-exploratory general education requirements are determined by their department.

The Environmental and Sustainability Studies major is an excellent example of intersectional education, with a class on environmental justice satisfying the diversity requirement and a class on global sustainability satisfying the international requirement. The U must address these existing issues within their general education requirements, while also introducing an additional sustainability requirement for each major. This will allow students to consider how their major can create a sustainable world.

Opt to Subvert Systems of Exploitation

I’ve just told you how the U has screwed you out of an intersectional education, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still pursue a sustainability-minded career. Increasingly, new and existing companies of all varieties are opting to become B-Corporations, or corporations that are “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.”

To remain a B-Corp, companies must consider more than just profit in the decision-making process. They must actively avoid exploitative practices of both people and the planet. B-Corporations come in all shapes and sizes, ensuring that whatever your degree may be, you can put it to good use.

Maintaining Values Behind Enemy Lines

There’s merit to the argument that the best way to alter the dominant extractive culture within corporations is not to change which corporations have the most power over determining that culture, but to change the culture of the most powerful organizations. Let’s consider the example of Ecosia and Google. Founded on the idea that a search engine could also serve as an engine for ecological and social change, Ecosia plants a tree for every 45 searches on their website.

More than just planting trees, Ecosia gives its employees time off to protest climate inaction, becomes increasingly carbon-negative and even offers thought-provoking videos on important climate topics. As of right now, Ecosia has planted 134 million trees, meaning they’ve conducted roughly 6 billion searches in the past 12 years, or roughly as many searches as Google sees every 48 hours.

One lesson from this reality, which I’ve adopted myself, is that we can opt for a more sustainable search engine at no cost to us. A deeper, more important lesson is that major corporations like Google have been given jurisdiction over the future of our climate, a scary proposition.

Yet, in 2019, 2,000 Google employees went on strike, requiring the company to meet the goals of zero emissions by 2030 — no new contracts for fossil fuel companies, no funding for climate-denying lobbyists and politicians and no harm to climate refugees and frontline communities.

One year later, Google released a video announcing they’d be emission-free by 2030. 1,750 Amazon employees did the same thing. Regardless of where you work, withholding your labor when your employer doesn’t align with your climate values works. Be bold enough to do so. Others will join you.

The U may have done an inadequate job of preparing you for a sustainable career, but you can still avoid exploitation in your 9-5, Monday through Friday. As you graduate, consider how you can use your skills at a company, non-profit organization or political group that works to create a livable and sustainable future for us all.


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