June 3, 2023

Can you find a rewarding career in climate? Yes absolutely. How do we know? You told us.

Two weeks ago, we asked you to talk about your career in the field. I’m not surprised that almost everyone who wrote to us said they enjoy what they do. (I also do that.)

Many of you have changed jobs. Why? Because you cared, you needed meaning, you felt compelled to do something. For some, it meant going back to school to learn new skills. Online communities posting jobs and giving tips have also helped.

We heard from people working in investment, climate technology, education, outreach, consulting, engineering, research and more. You said your work is exciting and makes you feel more involved.

Now the cons: Many of you said you took a pay cut to make the career switch. Not everyone can. But you mostly said the tradeoff was worth it.

And you said it can be overwhelming and scary to think about the climate crisis all day at work. But some of you said you were more optimistic now that you are doing something about it.

We read all your comments and learned a lot. Here are a few, edited for length and clarity.

Rogier Groeneveld, energy advisor sustainable living, The Hague:

I like to help people with their house, especially now with the energy/gas crisis. It is wonderful to have home visits and to feel what the owners are best helped with. There are many options to choose from, both technically and financially. It is very nice to hear that people like to have a real conversation about their possibilities. The “downside” is that it is a struggle to actually DO something with impact. Not to lose confidence, since the steps are very small and the challenge huge.

Ana Yoerg, Venture Capital, Media, Pa.:

I am head of marketing at a venture capital firm that invests in climate technology start-ups. It was a mid-career shift from working for a big personal brand, doing content and editing, to following my passion of helping deep tech startups with marketing and communications.

They were incredibly compassionate and deeply thoughtful people. I felt like I hit the jackpot. VCs with a heart. And a mission to save the planet. Through technology, yes, but also pure capitalism. They only invest in startups with better unit economics than the existing solution. Because they are practical and understand that a green premium will never catalyze a change in purchasing behaviour.

The biggest pro right now I’d say is reputation on the street. That is, the interest of others. Other marketing people in VC are like, wow, climate? That is cool. Must be a good story. Vaccines for honey bees, biodegradable Styrofoam, drones planting trees at 120/minute? Yes please. My 9 and 11 year old sons also think it’s really cool what I do. However, they have not yet invited me to speak in front of their class. So maybe I’m overestimating the hip factor. Dinner conversations are fun though.

Mary Goldman, Financial Reporting, Cambridge, England:

I like being in a position where I can challenge the C-suite to think more about climate change and how it will affect their business, and start conversations about how they need to adjust their strategy to respond to climate risks. The downsides include internal politics and the feeling of always shouting into a void. Sometimes I have to take clients on a long journey to even acknowledge that climate change is real.

Scott Hackel, Nonprofit Research, Madison, Wisconsin:

We conduct applied research into new approaches, both technical and human factors, to equitably mitigate climate change. It’s great fun to always be working on new, innovative approaches. It is always evolving. And the applied nature of the work means interacting with all of the people who are using these new approaches as well as those who are working to bring them to market. Observing the community’s interaction with innovation is both satisfying and fascinating. The downside is that applied research takes much more time than regular implementation, is full of all kinds of practical barriers and ultimately means a lot of failure.

Alexander Flake, Patent Law, Boulder, Colo.:

As a legal services provider, I had a hard time finding purpose in my previous positions. It seemed that no patent office existed with this focus on climate, so I created one myself. Since then I have found my work much more satisfying. Even though I do a very similar job, it feels like I’m part of something bigger than myself rather than being primarily motivated by profit. The downside is that I make much less money than at the established company I worked for before. As the space expands as a whole, I’m confident I’ll be able to bring in more business and improve the company’s profitability without sacrificing values.

And here’s a final thought: Don’t feel like switching careers? Any job can be a climate job, as some readers pointed out. You can be the person who pushes your employer to reduce the company’s emissions, start recycling, adapt to the increasing flood risks. Thanks to everyone who took the time to write!

Don’t mention ESG: Concerned about accusations of greenwashing and “awakened capitalism”, some business advisers are urging clients not to talk about climate initiatives at all.

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Common Sense Composting Tips: Don’t fixate on details. Just do it, and focus on the big picture.

Land of free parking: In “Paved Paradise,” Henry Grabar explores how America’s obsession with parking has transformed streets and cities, not for the better.

Jigar Shah heads a federal program that suddenly has a deluge of money to lend for the next election. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, Congress increased its agency’s authority to regulate loans for clean energy companies tenfold to more than $400 billion. The job comes with huge expectations – and the stakes are high.

Claire O’Neill, Chris Plourde and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward