Sustainability Careers Networking at the Net Impact Conference
When I started my graduate program this August I knew that I wanted to be as involved as possible on campus. American University provides a number of ways to do this, one of which is through clubs like Net Impact. Net Impact is a non-profit group dedicated to helping business professionals make a positive social or environmental impact in their careers. Each year they host a conference in a different city and bring together groups of professionals, jobs seekers, and students.
This year the conference was held in San Jose, California, a.k.a. Silicon Valley. This was the first time attending a professional conference for me, as such I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The conference turned out to be very educational and a lot of fun. We heard from a diverse group of keynote speakers, from CEOs of large multinational corporations such as the Campbell’s Soup Company, former Governors- Bill Ritter of Colorado, and entrepreneurs like the founder of Tom’s Shoes, Blake Mycoskie. American University sent a fairly large delegation to California this October, helped along by a strong system of support from the school.
Over the course of the weekend, there were four keynote sessions. The most unexpected keynote was a discussion between Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Ken Cohen, VP of Public and Government Affairs at Exxon Mobile. While I personally dislike oil companies and their ethics, I must tip my hat to Mr. Cohen for speaking at an event which he knew would be unfriendly turf. With that said, I think that Mr. Brune did a good job of grilling Mr. Cohen, and of course Mr. Cohen did what he is paid to do and parried as much of Mr. Brune’s criticisms as possible. It certainly made for an interesting start to Saturday’s conference.
There were many really interesting speakers at the conference but a handful really stuck out. Among them were entrepreneur Brent Schulkin, founder of Carrotmob and The Spring, groups that harness the power of consumers to encourage companies to do good works. Mr. Schulkin described his first project, Carrotmob, as a way of getting businesses to do good using a carrot, rather than a stick. By organizing groups of consumers and saying to business owners, if you do this thing to make your company more successful, we will spend this much money with you.
The Spring is his Mr. Schulkin’s project. The Spring supports community works projects by partnering with consumers and businesses to donate a small portion of transactions made with credit cards linked through the web site. Right now the company is focused on the San Francisco bay area, but if you sign up and you can help them move into your community.
As someone who is changing career fields, I spent a lot of time at the career development panels and workshops. I’m currently pursuing a Master of Science in Sustainability Management at Kogod. I attended workshops featuring More Than Money Careers, Ellen Weinreb of the Weinreb Group (a sustainability jobs recruiter), and Shannon Houde of Walk of Life Consulting. These panels provided a lot of insight into the way that recruiters and hiring managers look at resumes and potential candidates. They also provided some very handy tools for evaluating my current job skills and background to make a successful career transition.
More than Money Careers made what I thought was a very important, but not as obvious as you might think, point about career searching and building: Don’t get good at something you don’t like to do. While that seems like a no brainer, I know I have found my self considering acquiring skills that might get me a job in the right industry, but aren’t really what I want to do in that industry. This is a bad idea – you’ll be miserable even if you work in the right industry! MTM has a concept called the Triple Fit to help you find your ideal sector. They encourage you to start with an overall plan, but to start with an approach which takes into account your plans for the next 25 months, the average time a young person spends in a position these days.
In the panel with Mrs. Weinreb, she presented us with an interesting statistic, which is that 19% of sustainability jobs are in San Francisco, which led the pack by quite a lot. Another 4% of those jobs are here in Washington, DC. While that might make you want to pack your bags and head west, all those opportunities in San Francisco come a lot of competition, while here in DC there is a bit less.
Finally, there was also an expo at the conference with booths of start-ups, graduate schools, consulting firms, and fellowship/internship programs. There were a few programs I knew I wanted to check out and a few I learned more about that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.
All in all, the conference got me thinking about new things, like how large companies can cooperate to create shared value, how consumers can unite to use a carrot to move companies towards more sustainable business models, and where my place in sustainable business might be. I also got to meet a lot of very intelligent young people from across the country and build my professional network in a way that wouldn’t have been available otherwise. I know that I am looking forward to attending #NI14 in Minneapolis, MN next year.