Back to School: Students Guide the Way as Environmental Liaisons

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 |

By Deborah Morrison, Ph.D.
University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication

We see it often: 22-year-olds walking into first jobs and quickly showing their stripes as environmental liaisons. Many of them are asked to "think green" on projects, as they lead clients, brands, stakeholders and audiences to understand the realities of environmental change. Companies are on the lookout for expertise to guide them through how to make the business case for sustainability to increase market share, reduce risk, enhance brand, motivate the workforce and innovate. And just as new hires in these interesting times often know and use technology more intuitively than some of the old guard, so too is "green knowledge" often the bailiwick of the younger crowd. It's a millennial thing.

That poses an interesting question: If 2009 grads are often being viewed as quick "experts" if they've worked on green or climate-related issues, how will those freshmen entering college right now fare in the green job market when they graduate in four years? We see three key indicators that suggest green-friendly grads of 2013 will enter an exciting job arena.

First, consider simple economics. Federal stimulus funding will be delivering billions of dollars for green building and renovation practices in the next few years, and those who understand how to discuss, persuade and package these practices will own an important expertise. In fact, as our national priorities change from status quo thinking to an emphasis on sustainable thinking, what we're really witnessing is a social system shift. And where systems evolve at such a quick pace, the need for honest leaders and green brand advocates will be notable.

Second, the emergence of social media as a vital part of the media landscape lives parallel to the sustainability movement. Brand communication, issue clarification, even environmental activism, is often fueled by digital media that connects people and ideas quickly, and the next few years will show a marked increase in interdisciplinary approaches to the field (think green chemistry meets urban planning, as example).

Forward-thinking university programs are finding ways to connect sustainability and technology as key business management areas, and, as a result, course offerings in these areas are found in schools dotting the country, such as at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.

Third, discussions concerning environmental justice grow more important in a today’s political climate. During the next few years of the Obama administration, policymakers will tackle a host of environmental issues, connecting those issues to health, the economy and social justice. Doing the right thing for the environment — no matter your expertise or profession — will continue to flourish as part of our culture. A recent global survey conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that 88 percent of the millennial generation expects their employer to align with their corporate social responsibility (CSR) values. Not only will environmental issues impact the national landscape, they will also be embedded within the ideologies of future graduates.

Students looking for vibrant careers that have a measurable positive effect on the world would do well to carve an expertise in this area, shaping skills as they do work worth believing in. Students who pledge to power down their computers show support for climate action. Climate Savers Computing Initiative will make its second foray into the world of higher education with Power Down for the Planet II. The goal of this project is to engage colleges and universities from around the world regarding IT power management. Recruitment begins in October, so stay tuned for updates or visit for information about last year’s challenges.

Deborah Morrison is a Chambers Distinguished Professor of Advertising in the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon.

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