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Guiding Investigation 24 April Apr 2019 0756 24 April 2019

How to become a specialist in sustainability

University courses and masters are increasing. The objective: to train transversal specialists able to bring added value to private and public companies

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Sustainability manager, sustainability ambassador, community engager, communication specialist, and research advisor: these are the most sought after specialists both in multinationals and in the Public Administration, but also in many SMEs, small-medium enterprises. Jobs that share a common word: sustainability.

So what are we talking about? "It’s a process in which every possible aspect is evaluated, including the effects on the environment, on society and on the economy", Marco Orlandi, professor of the Bicocca University of Milan and delegate of the University for Sustainability, explains. But how and where do you learn to promote sustainable action at an academic level?

Specialized courses, masters, doctorates: there are many pathways to cross the theme of sustainability. You just have to take a look on a search engine to see the wide educational offer of Italian universities first hand. The latter, since 2015, can count on a network that is making good practices a system: it’s the RUS, Rete delle Università per lo sviluppo sostenibile (the Network of Universities for sustainable development). Founded by a group led by economist and former Minister of Labor Enrico Giovannini, the RUS now includes 61 universities who constantly dialogue through dedicated theme-based groups, devoted to climate change, food, education, energy, mobility and waste.

Sustainability is a process in which every possible aspect is evaluated, including the effects on the environment, on society and on the economy

Marco Orlandi, sustainability delegate of the Bicocca University of Milan

"It is unthinkable to graduate today without knowing the 2030 Agenda", i.e. the United Nations Global Agenda for Sustainable Development approved in 2015 and promoted in Italy especially by ASviS, Alleanza italiana per lo siviluppo sostenibile (a network of at least 200 university and civic personalities). Giovannini himself says: " In the universities we were able to include basic lessons for all students on each of the 17 SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, the objectives of the Agenda 2030. At the same time, all of the teachers of each school level can follow information modules on the topic on the platform: in 2017-2018 we counted 33 thousand, this year there are already 28 thousand ". Any teacher can follow twenty lessons of 3 hours each and then use them in their own classes.

At a university level, for the most part, there are cross-curricular courses on sustainability, “with increasingly interdisciplinary insights between various faculties such as economics and engineering, where the respective students come together to learn the basic concepts of sustainable development”, adds Giovannini. This is happening, among others, in Rome Tor Vergata, Milan Bicocca and Pavia. "The effectiveness of courses like these is recognized by the fact that the business world is incorporating many sustainability experts: there is a very strong demand for professionalism, especially since from 2018 every company has the obligation of non-financial reporting and therefore must draw up a Sustainability Report”. Even in Public Administration it is becoming an increasingly pressing matter to adopt experts in sustainable development: almost every call for tenders shows elements linked to sustainability, where, for example, compliance with sustainable mobility, waste recycling and clean energy is required.

The effectiveness of courses like these is recognized by the fact that the business world is bringing in many sustainability experts

Enrico Giovannini, spokesman for the Alliance for sustainable development

Among the various first and second level master's programs which, for various reasons, deal with the subject and whose number is growing steadily in recent years, one which could soon become a model: has recently been launched the first Master in sustainability professions, promoted in Milan by the University of Milan-Bicocca and by the Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Foundation, in collaboration with the Politecnico di Milano, the University of Milan and the University of Pavia and with the participation of RUS and ASviS. It is an interdisciplinary course in English language with lectures, laboratory activities and workshops with institutional and corporate backing - including The Adecco Group, Banca Prossima, ASviS itself and the Eni Enrico Mattei Foundation- through an intensive part-time course aimed at second level graduates and an update plan for professionals in the private sector, public administration, government agencies and international agencies. The sign up window closes on March 18 2019 and the master lasts from May 2019 to April 2020

It is unthinkable to graduate today without knowing the 2030 Agenda

Enrico Giovannini, spokesman for the Alliance for Sustainable Development

"The important thing in any training offer is to evaluate sustainability as a whole," Orlandi continues. "Take for example electric cars: they are an important goal, but for their use to be sustainable, we need to make sure that every connected area is virtuous, from the production of electricity to how we recycle or dispose of batteries". This is also why the specialists that come from masters are not clear-cut: “for example, the sustainability managers, -in the public sector in particular-, sustainability ambassadors, typical of the private sector, going on to community engagers and communication specialists who reach the targets of the local communities that promoters of sustainable development must interact with ”, Bianca Dendena, responsible for the Feltrinelli Foundation of the aforementioned second-level Master's degree in Sustainable Development Jobs, intervenes.

Creating cross-sectional profiles today is of fundamental importance, to have more opportunities for placement, ”adds Dendena. But let us not forget the importance of the international nature of education: "jobs linked to sustainability are of course linked to an international field of work, also for the exchange of good practices". In a world where different nations are going through difficult times with regards to environmental choices, the major issues and crises related to sustainability are some of the main global challenges. At the same time, the flip side of the coin is that these problems open up new thinking paradigms and therefore new job opportunities.

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