Industry Insights & Trends

How Do I Land A Sustainability Internship?

Secure your future with a sustainability internship. Get essential tips on finding the right position to kickstart a career in environmental stewardship.
November 25, 2020
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Imagine it's 2007, and Steve Jobs is introducing the first iPhone. There’s a palpable buzz in the air, a sense that something big is about to happen—not just for technology, but for how we interact with the world. Fast forward to today, and we're on the cusp of another revolution, not in tech, but in how we engage with our planet. Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the iPhone moment for the environment.

Landing a job or internship in the sustainability field today is like being part of that iPhone launch—it’s the chance to contribute to the defining movement of our time. So, how do you get on board? Let’s dig into the steps to secure your spot in shaping a greener future.

What is a career in sustainability?

The sustainability sector is a mosaic of industries all aiming for a common goal: to pivot our world towards a greener, more enduring future. It’s more than just recycling bins and solar panels; it encompasses everything from renewable energy to sustainable agriculture, from eco-friendly fashion to green finance.

In this space, you’ve got corporate giants integrating sustainability into their business models, nonprofits advocating for policy changes, and startups innovating eco-friendly solutions. Governments worldwide are also setting sustainability initiatives and establishing regulations for a greener future.

Knowing where your interests lie within this diverse sector is key to building a fulfilling career in sustainability. Maybe you’re drawn to the energy of startups or prefer the structure of corporate sustainability departments. Perhaps the thought of working at a non-profit or contributing to public policy gets your gears turning. Each path offers unique opportunities to make an impact.

Understanding the type of work environment that speaks to you helps you identify where you can best apply your skills and passions. It’s the foundation upon which you can build a career that’s not just a job, but a legacy.

Building a relevant skill set for jobs in sustainability

So you're sold on diving into sustainability, but what will your toolkit look like? Sustainability is broad, so you'll need a versatile set of skills to compete in the field.

Specialize in key areas like zero-waste initiatives, carbon footprint analysis, or sustainable supply chain management. Each of these fields represent essential and growing aspects of sustainability, each addressing a key challenge in the journey towards a more sustainable future.

Pursue education on environmental science, emerging green technologies, policy impact assessments, or sustainable urban planning. If possible, translate classroom theory into practice with initiatives that matter. Lead a community solar power project, or intern with companies innovating environmental sustainability.

Whether it's formal classes, online courses, or hands-on workshops, acquire sustainability skills on key topics like renewable resources, conservation strategies, and sustainable business practices. The real changemakers are often armed with knowledge, holding certificates in sustainability that show their commitment and expertise.

A little tech-savvy goes a long way in today’s data-driven world. Upgrade your tech toolbox with proficiency in environmental data software like GIS for mapping or life-cycle assessment tools for product sustainability. These can be your secret weapons. 

Soft skills matter too. Communication, problem-solving, and creativity are critical to making an impact on the environment and your environmental sustainability career. Being able to sell an eco-friendly idea can be just as important as creating one.

And here’s a pro tip: Get dirty! Volunteer for a local clean-up or work with a green NGO. Real-world experience shows you're not just about talk; you’re about action.

Building this skillset is like assembling your own Iron Man suit for the sustainability recruitment It’s what will make you not just a contender, but a standout force to be reckoned with.

Networking and research

Once you have the passion, skills, and killer application, it's time to hit the ground running with some networking and research.

Networking isn't just schmoozing at conferences anymore. To network in sustainability outside of conferences, consider leveraging social media platforms like LinkedIn to connect with industry leaders, and participate in webinars or online workshops on sustainability topics. Additionally, joining local environmental groups or online sustainability forums can offer valuable opportunities to meet and learn from those in the field. Seek mentors who are trailblazers in green policy, renewable energy, or sustainable development.

Investigate niche areas within sustainability that are gaining momentum, like regenerative agriculture, green architecture, or sustainable investment firms.

Remember, it's not just about who you know, but what you know. When you can chat up the latest in sustainable practices, you're not just networking, you're making an impression.

Put yourself out there, ask questions, and soak up all the info you can. When opportunity knocks, you'll be ready to answer.

Acing the internship interview

When you land an interview, it's your moment to shine. Think of it as match day: you've trained and now it's time to show your skills.

Prepare to demonstrate your understanding of the company's sustainability impact, discuss industry certifications like LEED, or explain the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) most relevant to their work

Practice answers to common interview questions but keep your responses fresh and genuine. They'll want to see your authentic passion, not rehearsed lines.

Finally, ask questions. It shows you're serious about the role and already thinking about the value you can add.

Sustainability Career FAQs

Is there money in sustainability?

As global awareness and regulations around environmental issues intensify, the demand for sustainable practices and solutions has skyrocketed. This growth translates into lucrative career opportunities. For example, renewable energy jobs are projected to increase, with solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine technicians among the fastest-growing occupations. The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was around $73,230 in 2020, higher than the median for all occupations, according to the US Bureau of Labor.

How do you transition into a career in sustainability?

Transitioning into a career in sustainability involves aligning your skills and interests with the needs of the green economy. Start by identifying your passion within sustainability—be it renewable energy, conservation, or sustainable fashion. Educate yourself through relevant courses, certifications, or workshops. Hands-on experience, such as volunteering for environmental projects or internships, is invaluable. Networking plays a crucial role; connect with professionals in the field through events, social media, or sustainability groups. Transitioning may also mean bringing sustainable practices into your current role, showcasing your initiative and commitment to prospective employers in the sustainability sector.

Do I need a degree to work in sustainability?

While a degree can open many doors in the sustainability field, it's not always a necessity. What matters most is a combination of relevant skills, experience, and passion for environmental issues. For certain technical roles, such as environmental engineering or science, a degree is often required. However, many paths into sustainability—like advocacy, community organizing, or sustainability consulting—value practical experience, soft skills, and specialized knowledge equally, if not more. Certifications in sustainability, short courses, and workshops can also bolster your credentials. Ultimately, your ability to make a positive impact and your commitment to sustainability principles are key.

Corporate sustainability internships

Your resume is the first step toward your internship and ultimately, green job. Be sure to include any green experience you've had. Helped at a farmer's market? Check. Wrote a paper on climate policy? Add it. Every bit counts. 

In your cover letter, weave a narrative of personal transformation through sustainability—how did a documentary, a book, or an event catalyze your drive for change?

Don’t forget that customization is key. A generic application won't cut it. Align your skills and experiences with what the internship is all about.  For instance, if the internship emphasizes reducing carbon emissions, highlight that time you conducted a community carbon footprint analysis. A project like this would involve assessing the greenhouse gas emissions from local households or businesses, and then developing and implementing strategies to reduce these emissions. Such an experience directly showcases your hands-on involvement and understanding of carbon reduction initiatives.

It's about connecting the dots for them, showing you're the piece they're missing in their sustainability puzzle.

Sustainable development internships

Sustainable development internships offer a unique blend of learning and contributing to environmental and social goals. These internships are your gateway to understanding the complex challenges and solutions in creating a sustainable future. They're found across various sectors—nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, and startups—all united by the goal of sustainable development. By interning in this field, you gain hands-on experience in projects like renewable energy initiatives, sustainable agriculture, or community development programs. It's not just about adding a prestigious name to your resume; it's about making a tangible difference. Plus, these internships often serve as a stepping stone to full-time positions, providing critical networking opportunities and a deeper understanding of sustainability practices.

Remember that every step from understanding the sector to nailing your interview is a learning curve. Stay curious, stay motivated, and let that drive for a sustainable future fuel your journey. The path to landing a sustainability internship is as much about the impact you want to make as it is about the role you’re aiming for. Keep pushing, keep growing, and the right doors will open.

Resources and tools

For sustainability internships, it's crucial to have a mix of environmental awareness and practical skills. Various tools and resources are designed to boost the competencies of sustainability interns, preparing them for a career in this dynamic field. Here are some key ones to consider:

8 Sustainability tools to master and list on your resume 

Enhance your sustainability-focused resume with a curated list of eight essential tools that every aspiring sustainability professional should highlight in their CV

  1. GIS software (e.g., ArcGIS): Essential for understanding and mapping environmental data.
  2. Life cycle assessment tools (e.g., SimaPro): For analyzing the environmental impact of products or processes.
  3. Carbon footprint calculators: Useful for assessing the carbon footprint of various activities.
  4. Sustainable design software (e.g., Autodesk Sustainability Workshop): For learning sustainable building and product design.
  5. Energy simulation tools (e.g., EnergyPlus): To model and analyze building energy consumption.
  6. Water Footprint Assessment Tools: For understanding and managing water usage.
  7. Renewable energy simulation software (e.g., PVsyst for solar energy): For designing and simulating renewable energy solutions.
  8. Environmental compliance and management systems (e.g., ISO 14001 guidelines): To understand regulatory frameworks and sustainable business practices.

Alternative sustainability resources 

The following websites offer a range of resources, from educational materials and sustainability goals to insights on green business practices and environmental news, making them invaluable for students interested in sustainability internships.

Relevant articles: Knowledge is power

The articles below provide a range of perspectives and information on sustainability internships, from lists of opportunities to strategies for success and personal experiences in the field.

  1. A Major Talent Hunt Is Underway As The “Green Collar” Job Market Explodes
  2. Sustainability Internships: 8 Things to Know
  3. 14+ World-Class Sustainability Internships
  4. 21 Sustainability Internships for College Graduates to Stand Out
  5. My Sustainability Internship Quest: Marketing with EcoLab

Sustainability career influencers on TikTok

The TikTok influencers below cover various aspects of sustainability and can provide valuable insights and inspiration for students interested in sustainability careers.

  1. ReLauren: @relauren - Profile Link​​.
  2. Mvvvc: @mvvvc - Profile Link​​.
  3. Gabriella | water girl: @ggerbasi - Profile Link​​.
  4. Bolanle N: @manlikenino_b - Profile Link​​.
  5. MVP Dairy: @mvpdairy - Profile Link​​.
  6. Delilah: @delilah_isabel - Profile Link​​.

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