8 Lessons from an Emerging Sustainability Professional

Just 6 months after joining the Masters of Science in Sustainability Management program at U of T, I began to see a whole new world of opportunity about what it means to be a “leader in sustainability”. As part of my program, this summer I will work at Cennatek, a bioenergy start-up in London, Ontario, as the Business Development & Marketing intern. I’m excited to take the classroom lessons and use them to make an impact in this budding, but growing industry. For those who are in a similar stage in their careers, here are some lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

We’re All In This Together

The one word that best describes my experience in the Masters of Science in Sustainability Management program at U of T is support. We come from different backgrounds, some with extensive work experience and others fresh out of University. Our paths have been different and we have different goals for how we can bring about a more sustainable world but there remains one constant – we all want each other to succeed. Some of us want to become consultants, some want to use our marketing skills to promote the use of renewable and still others want to go to developing nations to change how they source energy right at home.

…we’re not competing against each other like MBA students – we all want each other to succeed.

Our interests are unique, diverse and varied, which is why every day we are not competing amongst each other like MBA students. We are a family – we help and support each other as we embark on similar battles in different fields, we need to have that boost to know that we are not alone in this fight.

All Perspectives Are Welcome

Some of us believe in travelling abroad and learning from people with different backgrounds and some of us believe in putting our new skills to work at home. Both viewpoints are valid and both sides have learned to appreciate the other. All perspectives are welcome and we’ve come to realize that nothing about sustainability is set in stone – we’re building the bridge as we walk on it. At the end of the day it is up to us to decide where our skills, passion and personality are best suited to help.

We’re All Leaders

Back in the fall, while searching for an intern position, I only looked for placements that included the keyword, “sustainability”. But soon enough, I realized that sustainability can be applied to any job. The triple bottom line of sustainability applies to every part of each action we take in our daily lives, but why do we not assume it does the same in our work lives? Even as a Financial Analyst, one can embed sustainability into their 9 to 5 jobs or initiate a sustainable work environment every day from their own desk, lunch box or cafeteria. At the end of the day, it’s how you choose to live your life and all the decisions that you make. Some people work in the mainstream of sustainability, such as CSR reporters and sustainability consultants, but anyone can be a sustainability leader in their field and that is how drops of water combine to form the ocean.

Different Approaches Can Achieve The Same Outcome

From the coffee cup recycler to the travel mug fan, from vegan eaters to cruelty-free meat consumers, from conservation enthusiasts to CSR advocates, I have them all in my classroom. They’ve pushed me to question what I view as sustainability. While I argue the need to increase awareness about humanitarian issues abroad, many of my classmates believe in working locally to change consumer behaviour that will ultimately impact global supply chains such as the sourcing of fair trade goods. Both perspectives have merit and indirectly achieve the same goal – after all everything is connected. Through our group projects and heated discussion our ideas have now become interconnected in ways that we never imagined. I’m sure that every day my level of intellect increases ever so slightly with this amazing group of colleagues.

The Learning Never Ends

readingThe sustainability leaders that have come to talk to us have ranged in age from late 20s to mid-70s and all of them had one thing in common – they continue to read, learn and keep updated about the latest sustainability trends, and while I have a fixed curriculum to follow in class, it has always been great to look beyond our reading lists, walk through the library’s recent journal section and browse through Harvard Business Review magazine or the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS) website to learn more about the latest sustainability trends in business. Not only has it helped build conversations in networking events and job interviews, but it has also kept me intellectually stimulated. It is an evolving industry and we have to prepare ourselves to evolve with it as time progresses.

Build On The Hard Skills, But Don’t Neglect The Soft Stuff

While some are good with calculating GHG emissions and carbon tax data, they also need to be good at communicating this information effectively to all audiences. Back in November, Emily Partington from Loop Initiatives came to talk to us and she mentioned the phenomenon of the “elevator pitch” and how if you’re able to communicate to someone in the elevator about what you do, you’re good to go. Sustainability is a hard concept to grasp for those of us in the dirt of the field. Imagine how difficult it is for someone outside to handle it. Hence, we need to know how to welcome others to this new concept that will not only improve their lives, but also of their community and their environment.

Look Up To Others But Don’t Forget The Value Of Being YOU

While each of us has a sustainability hero whom we look up to, it is easy to forget the value of “you”. You bring a unique set of experiences, within sustainability and without, and that will always set you apart from everyone else. As soon as you learn to identify these specific characteristics and unique experiences, you are able to market these and brand yourself as a sustainability leader.

Always Find The Silver Lining – It’s There


Fatima Fasih

While we act as super heroes ready to save the world from corrupt corporations polluting our air, water and land, we need to realize that if we keep looking at the bad and sink ourselves into the negativity we see on television or on the newspaper on the subway, we won’t get anywhere. It is important to realize that people are doing good things, like Frances Edmonds from Hewlett-Packard or Abdus Sattar Edhi in Pakistan (my favorite) or Brad Zarnett at the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS). Just last week, I almost broke down in tears seeing images of killed black otters, while writing a report on oil spills but was quick to realize that we as a society have come far enough to recognize the concept of accountability in such risky businesses and soon enough, by my actions and yours, these things will not be tolerated…and that was my silver lining.

To learn more about the U of T Sustainability Management Program as either a student or an industry partner – click here.
Fatimah Fasih is a Graduate Student in the University of Toronto’s new Master of Science in Sustainability Management Program.  As a passionate sustainability professional, Fatima uses her artistic skills to spread the word about women and children, mostly voiceless, through her painting initiative Fatima Fasih Watercolours.