Opinion guest column

Bringing sustainability to the 2020 fall career fair

Hearing your voice, informing your choice

You have the ability to ensure that your values align with a company’s sustainability practices this fall career fair. In a collaboration headed by the Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), the new Career Fair Sustainability Initiative is sharing information with students about registered companies’ greenhouse gas emissions and their environmental commitments. By emphasizing the importance of climate-oriented corporate responsibility, ESI hopes employers’ sustainability commitments will appeal to more students, whether they're passionate about climate change or not.

We urge students to use the website created by the initiative to understand their potential employer's environmental impact before they attend a virtual fair. It will also be linked to the right hand side of each virtual booth on Brazen, the career fair platform, during the fair. Going forward, researching and inquiring about this kind of information should be common practice when deciding what company you want to work at or invest in!

Evaluating Corporate Sustainability

ESI collaborated with Oxford University to develop four questions to ask companies registering for the fair about their commitment to sustainability:

  1. Does your company recognize the climate crisis and agree with the science? (Only 60% say yes!)

  2. Does your company/organization have a specific plan to achieve Net-Zero by 2050 or earlier while remaining profitable? (Only eight percent do!)

  3. If you answered yes to the previous question, is this plan publicly available? (Only 56% are publicly available!)

  4. Does your company have any other relevant credentials in the area of sustainability of which you’d like to ensure students are aware?

ESI is also working with the Sloan School of Management to provide historical analyses of companies’ greenhouse gas emissions since 2011. Sloan Professor Roberto Rigobon PhD ’97 expressed that “we had to go through many mechanisms to obtain the data.” Emissions were taken from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports. The team then used an “emissions intensity” metric to evaluate the companies’ sustainability. This is a ratio of a company’s total emissions relative to its activity (i.e. costs of operation, maintenance, production, and R&D), sourced from the company’s financial statements. One takeaway from this study is that there needs to be increased transparency about corporational sustainability. Rigobon expressed that financial statements are easily accessible, but emissions were very opaque.

How to Ask Recruiters About Sustainability

“You, MIT student, are the asset that companies want. Do not fear asking questions,” says Education Program Manager for ESI Sarah Meyers MBA ’12. Just as with company culture and compensation, you also deserve to understand and align with company values.

Some easy questions to ask are: 

  1. Does your company or organization have any job openings available where I could bring a sustainability approach to the work?

  2. Does your company have sustainability-related goals and/or targets?

  3. How is your company working to improve its carbon footprint?

  4. Does your company incentivize for investment or R&D in carbon-reduction innovations?

  5. Does your company publicly support policies that are focused on driving rapid decarbonization in line with the Paris Agreement?

  6. How does your firm practice ethical investing?

For more questions, check out the career fair’s student guide here! 

David Kovacs, Assistant Director for Career Exploration Events and Fairs at CAPD, explains that “companies are very willing to talk about these things and they want to present a positive image. There’s a knowledge that [sustainability] is something that students generally care about.” Kovacs recommends doing some research ahead of time to tailor questions and to schedule a meeting with a CAPD career counselor through Handshake for further advice.

Beyond the Career Fair

Of the six sessions, two even include “sustainability” in their names: the “Chemical, Manufacturing, Materials, Supply Chain, and Sustainability” session on Oct. 21 and the “Aerospace, Defense, Energy, Sustainability, Transportation” session on Oct. 22. And on top of that, the virtual nature of the FCF eliminates the excessive waste and travel emissions typically attributed to the in-person event. This virtual event sets a precedent that makes us ask: are all the plastic merchandise, pamphlets, and travel really necessary?

By staying true to your values, you are paving the way for companies to follow suit. It is vital for students and employees to use their voices to advocate for corporate sustainability. To promote this idea even further, sign this pledge from non-profit ClimateVoice to commit to prioritize working for a company that supports strong climate MIT alumni Tessa Weiss ’20, who works at ClimateVoice, stresses that it is essential that a company is “not just cleaning up its internal operations through various net-zero commitments or sustainable sourcing goals, but is vocally supporting climate policy as well.” She follows that “students have a bigger voice than they might initially think, and speaking up at career fairs is an excellent place to use it.”

The MIT Career Fair Sustainability Initiative is just a starting step to creating a culture of transparency between students and companies. Students should take advantage of their access to sustainability data and normalize asking questions to recruiters to assess if a job aligns with their values. Going forward, students may feel motivated to seek out and advocate for companies that are actively combating the climate crisis, driving companies to take accountability for their sustainability practices.

The writers of this article are members of the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative Rapid Response Group.
Jessica Horowitz ’22 is an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering.
Melissa Stok ’23 is an undergraduate in Materials Science and Engineering.
Diane Li ’22 is an undergraduate in Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering.
Naomi Lutz ’22 is an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering.