Future Forward: A Journey in Sustainability by Anita Arjundas

As the world re-imagines its ways and moves towards a more sustainable future, how do career roles evolve in these new contexts? While sustainability no longer stands detached from any career role, young graduates are consciously exploring pathways to be sustainable leaders and champions, working towards a resilient global system in collaboration with corporates and bodies of governance.

The Communications Team reached out to Anita Arjundas, Member of the Executive Committee at Krea University and also Member, Board of Management, an entrepreneurial leader who is passionate about sustainable development, with a request to share her journey in the Sustainability space and her perspective on how the rapidly evolving world today unravels challenges and opportunities for young aspirants in building a career in sustainability outside of research institutions, policy think tanks and grassroot organisations. 

From environmental law and environmental analytics to climate change, tech and environmental communications, the pathways are many. 

“People often ask me how I got interested in sustainability a couple of decades ago, given that I was a corporate CEO then and working on the built environment to boot. It was precisely because of the very environment I operated in and a role that allowed me to drive change that got me engaged and committed to the need for sustainable development.   

Buildings account for close to 40% of energy consumed and greenhouse gases generated. Their share of freshwater consumption and waste generated is also high. With urbanisation levels in India expected to reach 40% in the next decade, a significant part of the built environment is yet to be created. And thus, a significant opportunity to re-examine approaches to creation – quantum and purpose, design and materials, resource type and use, supply chain and life cycle management. But also, to re-craft lifestyle demands and consumption aspirations – after all it’s the people who inhabit and use these buildings over their lifetime that account for much of these numbers!     

Questions such as these and many more face every industry operating in the world today. The world economy consumes over 100 billion tons of natural resources every year – minerals, metals, fossil fuels and biomass, with less than 9% of such resources being reused. While global warming and climate change have taken centre stage in recent times, focusing most of the discussion around decarbonisation strategies and green portfolios, issues around biodiversity and habitat loss, water security, environmental justice and income inequality are slowly gaining currency.

The corporate world of today and capitalism as we know it is being forced to re-examine its role from the perspective of multiple stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, investors, communities, and the planet. A significant shift from Milton Friedman’s definition of the role of business and its singular accountability to shareholders. Skeptics worry whether this perceived shift is just green washing and virtue signalling or at its best – too little, too late.

Given all of the forces at play, young people often want to know if there are adequate opportunities to build a career in sustainability outside of research institutions, policy think tanks and grassroot organisations. From environmental law and environmental analytics to climate change tech and environmental communication – the pathways are many. Specific to corporate careers, I would argue the urgent imperative to develop an understanding of the natural world and the direct and unintended consequences of human endeavour on the environment. If the way business is done has to change, at a scale that possibly only business can achieve, then transformative thinking about strategy, product design and delivery, marketing, risk management, and performance metrics is needed in every function and at every stage of a corporate career, not just for those seeking specialised roles in sustainability consulting or practise.

Business has always prided itself on being at the cutting edge of innovation, solving complex problems and disrupting existing paradigms through its ‘creations’. Maybe it’s also time to think about what it will not destroy in this journey of innovation. For in the end, as John C Sawhill, Former President, NYU and Former President, TNC said, ‘Our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy.’” 

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