Written for Tristram Hooley, Career Guidance Social Justice


David Roe is a manager at CSW Group providing career guidance in the south-west of England. In this post he considers how young people might be making career choices based on their concern for the environment and how, as career guidance professionals, we can (and should!) support this decision making.

Concern about the impact of human activity on the environment has been an issue for as long as I can remember. However, in recent years it seems that a new sense of urgency has developed through the work of Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.

Covid 19 has also helped to highlight this issue. With people travelling less, producing less and consuming less there has been a dramatic decrease in levels of C02; once heavily polluted cities are experiencing what it is like to have clean air again and wildlife is beginning to be seen in places where they would normally never be found.

Many young people have been inspired by Greta Thunberg taking part in the Schools Strike for climate change and this generation, Gen Z (those born between 1995 and 2012) are, according to blogger Steve Robertson environmentally aware. They value the eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle much more than any previous generation.’

Will this have an impact on the career choices they make? Will young people be looking at jobs specifically related to protecting the environment? If their job is not directly related will they be increasingly concerned with the environmental impact of their chosen career path, their employer, and their own work practices?

Implications for careers professionals

So, what is the role of careers professionals within the context of increasing environmental concerns?

Within this context Western career theory is often criticised for being too individualistic. As Peter Plant argues in the Handbook of Career Development, ‘what these North American, mainly middleclass-based theories have in common is that they reflect a mainstream individualistic culture, a westernised culture’.

In the context of such criticisms, many would now argue that while there is nothing wrong with being concerned with what you seek as an individual, you should also take into account the impact on the environment.

Learning from other cultures

Peter Plant argues that Western careers theory could learn from other culture’s approaches to career development. In ancient India ‘life and career [were] intertwined and seen as playing out over four stages (ashramas), not all of them with an individual focus: Brahmacharya Ashrama (learning), Grahastha Ashrama (family, personal career, but practiced as an integral part of the community as a whole), Vanaprastha Ashrama (pursuing career development but not for personal gain), and Sanyasa Ashrama (serving humanity)’.

Serving humanity would certainly seem to fit with having a career that considers the impact on the environment, given that our lives and possibly very existence is affected by climate change.

Social justice and environmental justice

Despite criticisms of western career theory being too individualistic, there is a school of thought (which is well represented on this website) that contends that careers professionals should be promoting social justice and equality. I would argue that social justice and equity needs to include a consideration of the environment when making career decisions. Barrie Irving argues that to be ‘green’ is not simply about environmental sustainability, it also requires a commitment to justice, equity, and fairness for all.

Towards green guidance

Peter Plant, drawing on the work of Otto Scharmer set out principles for ‘green’ guidance to help us think about our practice within this context.

  • Guidance should take into account and create awareness of the environmental impact of vocational choices.
  • Guidance should play an active role in establishing training and education opportunities with a positive contribution in environmental terms.
  • Informational materials on career options should include environmental aspects.
  • Guidance should be measured, not only by an economic yardstick, but also by green accounting, (i.e., by relating environmental goals to guidance activities).
  • Guidance theories and practices should address common career development issues in addition to individualistic approaches – with a focus on the environmental impacts of career choices.
  • On a much smaller scale, guidance workers themselves should inspect their own practice: how green are my routines re recycling waste, cutting down on power consumption, etc? How is ICT used to cut down on travelling, for example?

The last thing to consider is your own personal viewpoint on this topic. How do your own views, values and beliefs influence how you feel about the environment? As careers professionals we are taught to suspend judgement and be impartial when supporting our clients, to be aware of our own prejudices etc and this would be important within this context as well.

What next?

Putting ‘green’ guidance into practice may be challenging for a number of reasons.

  • It may put us at odds with policy makers’ that view us as driving economic growth regardless of the environmental impact.
  • It may be challenging for advisers who are used to working in a client centred way. It could be argued that by pushing this issue we are being more directive than we are used to or believe we should be. But do we have a duty to do this?
  • It may also be challenging in an environment where advisers are seeing young people for appointments for less than 45 mins to focus on wider issues such as the environment unless the young person specifically mentions it.

However despite the challenges, the climate emergency is real and we must ‘think more deeply about whose interests we serve, what it is we should be seeking to achieve for the individual and society, and what contribution we can make in relation to a “green” justice future, and present.’