In the months before I graduated from college, my conversations were dominated by the job search – how people were doing, what they were applying for, and where they were going to move, even if they didn’t have a definite possibility lined up. Looking into an unfriendly job market, people’s idealism was still surprisingly high, and among my social justice-oriented friends, many were resigned to working at an unpaid internship for a few months or a year before landing a “big kid” job.
It seems that this optimism – and the desire to serve the wider community – was not limited to my friends. In a New York Times article, Austin Considine writes about Rachael Kleinberger, a 25-year-old who was just one of the many people who left a promising job (hers in media) to work for a group dealing with “environmental sustainability.” Her new job allowed her to combine arts and creativity with sustainability ventures, like organizing concerts off the grid
Jobs like these are becoming “hip,” as Amelia Byers, the operations manager of the jobs website Idealist.org, points out. ”A lot of new graduates are coming out of a world where volunteerism and service has been something that has helped define their generation,” she said. “Finding a job with meaning is an important value to them.”
But it’s important, too, or at least it was for Kleinberger, that these “values driven” jobs not involve “browbeating.” And this is where I – and many of my friends – start to get a little skeptical. Even though there are more and more jobs which are listed as part of the “environmental sustainability” movement, these positions become increasingly nebulous. While it may seem fun to Kleinberger to fuse her media background with a sustainability focus, it may also not be as effective as staying with her TV production company and using her desire for an environmental impact to transform a more mainstream work environment. The worry, for me, is that “sustainability” will become so ubiquitous that it means nothing at all, another way for people to feel as though they’re doing something altruistic without much of an actual impact.
This is not to say that it isn’t wonderful that more and more college graduates want to go into social justice fields. And Kleinberger is right, to a certain extent, to make her work more about integrating sustainability into people’s lives, rather than telling them that they need to make dramatic changes. What we need to focus on is making sure that “sustainability” keeps having real social meaning, and doesn’t just become another hip buzzword.
Photo from Aunt Owwee’s Flickr photostream.