The UN World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as “that which meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” For the EPA, pursuing sustainability means creating and maintaining the conditions “under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony.” Even the USDA has a definition of sustainable architecture. It is “an “intricate system of plant and animal production practices.” Among other goals, this system will enhance environmental quality, use renewables efficiently, and improve the lives of farmers and society.
It is clear from these definitions that sustainability is more than just a buzzword. That is, it is a commitment and a set of practices. It is a better way forward that balances the environment, human health, equity, and the economy.
Sustainable practices are based on the principle that resources are finite. That is, we should use resources mindfully and conservatively to preserve them for future generations. Sustainability is about fast-forwarding into the future. It is about putting aside some of our own needs, changing our habits, and building a better world.
Moving Towards Net Zero
One of the main goals of sustainable development is achieving net zero. In a net-zero state, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted is balanced by their removal. In fact, net zero is the main method for maintaining the 1.5C global temperature increase. The point is mitigating global warming in the second half of the 21st century.
In the race against climate change, several corporations have made significant sustainability pledges. That is, even the financial community understands that green business is good business. Pre-pandemic 2019, a record year for green finance, saw investors recognizing the value of businesses that promote equity while limiting risks to both humans and the environment.
Making Pledges for the Environment
“Tackling climate change can’t wait and neither can we.”
Here are just a few corporations who have made significant sustainability pledges.
- AECOM, an infrastructure consulting firm, wants to achieve a net-zero value chain by 2030. To do so, it is developing “1.5C-aligned science-based targets” across its organization.
- Amazon has committed to using 100% renewables by 2030 and net zero carbon emissions by 2040. One part of its plan: putting 100,000 electric vans on the road by 2030.
- Apple has pledged to make its manufacturing entirely carbon neutral by 2030. Transitioning to renewable energy in their plants is one strategy.
- Bank of America has made a long-term 1.5 trillion dollar commitment to sustainable finance. This commitment includes investing in wind and solar projects, infrastructure for electric vehicles, and new carbon-capture technologies.
- Ford’s sustainability goals include “becoming carbon neutral globally by 2050, using 100 percent locally-sourced renewable energy for all manufacturing plants globally by 2035, and eliminating single-use plastics from its operations by 2030.”
Rather than conducting business as usual or offering mere virtual signaling, these organizations have concrete, long-term plans for sustainability.
The Need for Sustainability Professionals
However, ulfilling these net-zero pledges will mean transitioning away from climate-unfriendly ways. It will mean designing and building sustainable solutions. These corporations and many others will need the talents of designers, business administrators, engineers, and mathematicians. They will also require statisticians, communication specialists, and policy experts to help them enact their sustainability plans.
Businesses who take sustainability seriously will require employees who can understand, study, question, and analyze problems involving energy, the environment, resources, and people. In particular, they’ll need talented critical thinkers with expertise in environmental literacy, public policy, and environmental policy. They’ll need those who understand the circular economy, environmental life cycle assessment (LCA), and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Here is just one demonstration of the pressing need for sustainability professionals. A quick survey of Amazon’s LinkedIn page turns up 1,100 results containing “sustainability.” These results include careers in business intelligence, communication, manufacturing, public policy, program development, recommerce, senior product management, and senior sustainability engineering. Overall, there are 224,582 results for “sustainability” on LinkedIn.
Educating for a Better Tomorrow
Michigan Tech has a long history of engaging in research on sustainability. For instance, most recently, David Shonnard (Chemical Engineering) and Dr. Steve Techtmann (Biological Sciences) have led multidisciplinary teams to attack the problem of plastic waste. They focused on reusing plastics and converting them to protein powder.
Michigan Tech’s Programs Tackle Sustainability Issues
Tech is also home to several programs that prepare students to meet sustainability challenges. For instance, The Department of Civil Engineering educates students to be at the forefront of designing sustainable and resilient solutions, whether they are bridges, buildings, water resources, and infrastructure.
Michigan Tech also offers an online certificate that prepares engineers to balance the environment, the economy, and human health: the Online Certificate in Engineering Sustainability and Resilience. First, students take two required courses: one that introduces sustainable development, resilience, and global grand challenges; another that offers in-depth coverage of systems analysis. Then, they choose a one-credit elective, in anything from Wind Power, Sustainable Energy, to Market Failure and the Environment.
The Online Engineering Sustainability and Resilience Certificate pairs well with the Online Public Policy Certificate. This latter certificate provides core skills in the Policy Process, Public Management, and Policy Analysis. In short, these three courses provide rigorous methods, fundamental skills, and tools in evaluating decisions, stakeholders, and policies involved with sustainability.
These are just a few examples of Michigan Tech’s continuing commitment to molding innovative, thoughtful professionals who are prepared to tackle today’s problems to create a better, more sustainable tomorrow.