While sustainability has become a marketable term in the corporate world the question remains about how far businesses are willing to go to embrace environmental responsibility when it is represented by a quantifiable cost. Thus far the most successful attempt at instituting an important sustainable practice has been the cap and trade market – a forum where environmental responsibility has been translated into dollars and cents. Convincing corporate executives who hide behind “the shareholders” that environmental costs deserve valuation too, is going to require a generation’s worth of educational processes inspired by regulatory mandates which may or may not ever occur.
Wharton School of Business offers a degree that captures the quandary found in the seemingly perpetual conflict between profitability and responsibility. The acknowledgement of environmentally responsible enterprise at Wharton is the MBA in Environmental and Risk Management. That sounds like a name-your-poison approach to sustainability. There are some employment opportunities in environmental economics that are part of the business niche which has sprung up as there has been increasing regulatory involvement in environmental issues.
- Environmental consulting has become a lucrative field and today some of the larger firms are hiring environmental economists. In some cases the role of the economist is to make the business case for development features that have an adverse environmental impact, but despite the expectations from management that doesn’t mean that an env/econ professional can’t have an impact on the planning outcome and on project mitigation.
- Project Management opportunities arise for environmental economists with some of the massive bureaucracies that have been built up by the World Bank and its subsidiaries. Working with one of the teams in the field could be an interesting opportunity for someone with a degree in the field who is willing to travel. For example the team managing the $4 billion budget for project development work in Vietnam over the next four years is in need of an environmental economist to make sure the projects meet Bank sustainability standards since there are few on the books in Hanoi.
- Resources Policy Advocacy opportunities develop in far off corners of the non-profit world occasionally. Once again it’s a matter of running them down. Many of these positions are bases on environmental science, but the battles involved are economic in nature. A prime example of this sort of position exists with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which is a conservation organization currently seeking to change regulations that are allowing invasive species into the lake. The issue is resources management, but the underlying opposition is economic in nature. They’re looking for an in-house professional to lead the fight, and it’s a role more suited to an economist than a scientist.
- Agricultural Economics is one area where there’s been a fair amount of activity in the U.S. regarding sustainable practices. Finding common ground with agribusiness and the USDA over sustainability standards seems to be an ongoing battle but one in which economists can play an important role if sustainable agricultural practices become legislative issues. USDA research on the cost of food safety continues to play a role in the debate over food production, crop fertilization and water rights.
- Resources Management can be an important regulatory function at the state level in places like California where water rights has been an issue for one hundred thirty years or more. Agencies that manage water rights in the West have been faced with legislative and legal actions over the perennial battle between economic and environmental concerns. Some of those agencies have sophisticated staff structures that employ environmental economists along with the usual battery of lobbyists, planners, and accountants.
Bob Hartzell writes on education topics for several websites including Masters Degree Online. He is a regular contributor to blogs dedicated to higher education and personal finance as it relates to making education affordable. He also writes on the fluctuating job market and the changing educational requirements for careers in the new economy.