There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the world in countless ways. Whether you have been directly or indirectly affected by what appears to be the plot of a twentieth-century dystopian novel, you certainly may be wondering how society will emerge changed from this experience. As a recent college graduate and soon-to-be graduate of a Master’s program in Environmental Conservation, these uncertainties are amplified by the fact that the United States is currently experiencing unemployment rates beyond the magnitude of the Great Depression – perfect timing as I embark upon my employment journey. You may be reading this as someone who finds themselves in a similar predicament, or perhaps you are part of a business that is unsure how COVID-19 will impact your industry in the long-term. Allow me to provide a unique perspective on the issue, and more importantly outline why specifically sustainability in business is necessary now more than ever before.
The reality of the situation is that business priorities have changed. What once may have been concerns over market share, developing creative advertising campaigns, or finding donors for an annual fundraising event has shifted to simply trying to keep the doors open and avoid downsizing virtually overnight. Reconsidering the logistics of how business is done and simultaneously reevaluating company values will certainly become a topic of discussion for businesses across all industries. Specifically, discussions about how to increase resiliency against major disruptions like COVID-19 for the future. This is where sustainability enters the conversation.
Sustainability in its purest form means the ability of a system to exist, be supported, and be upheld indefinitely. The view that sustainability is only for the few who value the environment for intrinsic purposes is an outdated perception. Sustainability is quickly progressing to become a respected (and required) component of any smart and profitable business model. From a business perspective, sustainability may be considered in terms of the Triple Bottom Line that includes economic, environmental, and social factors. Logically, it only makes sense that resiliency and preparedness should from this point forward be included under the umbrella of sustainability and incorporated into all three pillars of the Triple Bottom Line (dare I say, Quadruple Bottom Line?).
But enough business chatter. What does this mean for people like me who find themselves attempting to enter the job market during this catastrophic time, specifically in roles related to sustainability? Well, the unfortunate reality is that there are less job postings and more applicants per job. I reflect fondly on the days six months ago when I would casually peruse LinkedIn and other hiring sites and see no more than 10-15 applicants on any given post. Now, it’s a rare sight to see postings with less than 50-75 applicants – I even recall a few that had amassed over 700. Navigating the available options that are within my industry and positions that I am qualified for is certainly the largest challenge thus far.
Similarly, another challenge I have noticed is that more job postings are related to higher seniority levels as opposed to entry-level positions with 0-3 years of relevant experience. My assumption is that this is related to businesses preferring to spend their limited resources and time on hiring experienced professionals rather than training in new hires under stressful times. Which begs the question, how will young professionals gain the relevant experience required of them to attain these so-called ‘entry-level’ positions if there are few opportunities available to them to do so? Internships and certifications aside, the truth of the matter is that if companies want to find the experience and leadership they are looking for, they should make the effort to invest in young professionals for the long-term.
Nevertheless, there is hope. Businesses who have been completely reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic may come to the realization that swift, company-wide change once previously thought to be unattainable is in fact possible. Why can’t the same shift be done in terms of sustainability? Furthermore, there are positive takeaways from this situation that can be applied as an advantage. Notably, the notion that change is coming. As businesses consider how to prepare for long-term persistence, they will be looking for professionals to guide them toward their goals – ones that understand the impact of COVID-19 and how to apply key learned lessons such that the business may emerge from this experience bettered and renewed. The need to integrate sustainability in all business strategies is one key to ensuring a resilient, progressive, and smart business future. Although this future may look different and many things still remain uncertain, the outlook for sustainable business is positive and I look forward to being a part of this positive shift.