Sustainable Talent: How a Non-Profit Bridges The Gap For Businesses and Students

Breaking into the workforce can be a challenge for many recent graduates around the world. It can be even harder for those who want to bring their purpose and passion into the workforce. This was the problem for about 12 founders including Markus and Simon (who are still working at Sustainergies) about 10 years ago when they were students at Swedish Universities. They studied sustainability and wanted to work in the field but found the search process hard. Sustainability was a term on the fringe of the business world. The only roles were in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and even then they were a rarity.

To solve this problem, Markus and Simon realised they needed to do two things:

  1. Bring all the roles into the one place.
  2. Build the market for sustainability roles.

They did both of these by creating Sustainergies, a Not For Profit organisation that matches students with roles in the sustainability field. They actively invest in talented students through programs and coaching as well as build the market for more sustainability jobs.

Sustainergies Today

Fast forward to today and Sustainergies has placed over 3500 students and has worked with over 250 businesses to get a talented and passionate students into the job of their dreams.

These placements include summer internships as well as full time positions. They include sustainability auditing, ecosystem services, communications, trends analysis, event management, CSR reporting and strategy development. The most popular roles are the summer internships and the roles vary. Some include events, communications and ecosystem services.

Making Change ASAP

Sustainergies build lasting connections between students and businesses through a range of innovative activities. One in particular is called A Sustainability Acceleration Project (ASAP) which is Sweden’s only student focused accelerator for sustainability. Students who are accepted into the four week program work on a real project from a business that align with one of the Sustainable Development Goals. The course has a range of benefits for students including:

  • Ability to apply their skills in a real world setting
  • Build confidence in driving change in a business environment (in fact, 87% of students who went through the course feel they are more confident to drive change in the future).
  • Unique experience for students to discuss at job interviews.

The businesses also receive benefits of having the freshest talent solve some of their sustainability issues and also create a pipeline for future employment.

Meeting Ida

I heard about Sustainergies from quite a few students and it just so happened that Ida Berg was presenting a lecture about how to get a job in sustainability. I went along and found Ida’s insights inspiring. There were about 40 students in the room, all very excited about the prospect of getting a job in sustainability. There was a massive line at the end of students who wanted to chat with Ida and I was lucky enough to sit down with her the following day to discuss Sustainergies and her role in general.

Ida’s passion for her job was infectious. We spoke about topics ranging from sustainable Agriculture, how to find your dream job, the Swedish sustainability market and of course, the  Sustainable Development Goals.
Currently, her role is a Program Manager and she actively places students within the most suitable businesses. The best part of her job is working with an awesome team and coaching students in such an important phase of their careers.

Students and the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs are often referenced but it can be hard to translate them into reality. This is where the expertise of students can be a competitive advantage as they are actively studying them and looking for solutions to solve them on the regular. Many Swedish businesses have sustainability and the SDGs on their radar but many are stuck translating the issues into action. This is an area where students are at the cutting edge of understanding, measuring and applying the knowledge in the classroom. Sustainergies help translate those skills into the office through their coaching and programs.

‘The Sustainable Development Goals are really the world’s ‘to do’ list for the greatest issues facing our generation. We all have a role to play from students to Government to Charities to Business.’

Ida Berg

The Power Of Listening

The most important skill Ida has learnt is the power of listening. When coaching students she has found that listening to their problems and asking open ended questions helps them to figure out issues on their own. This is far more empowering for the student and gives them confidence in the workplace.

A common challenge she sees with students in a business environment is the language. Business people speak their own language and it is important for students to learn quickly how to communicate with impact and also understand how decisions get made. It is also important for managers to be aware of this when working with a recent graduate or student. Spending a bit of extra time up front explaining decision making, business language and expectations in the team can reduce future friction and dramatically increase efficiency.

Building Your Career At Any Age

She shared 6 steps to getting a job in sustainability. However, these insights can be applicable across sectors and at any level.

1. Create Your Vision:

It is important to have a rough idea of where you want to go with your career. Ida said that we often focus too much on the role title and not enough on the life we want in the future. She spoke about the importance of thinking about:

  • How you want to feel (example- proud, inspired daily, empowered by a great boss)
  • What your daily routine could be like (example- flexible hours, structured work environment, place-based or virtual work)
  • Which values drive you (example- sustainable living, family, eating out with friends regularly)
  • Activities that give you energy (example- being around people, researching, writing,

The vision can change over time, but the above creates a framework for how to assess jobs and stick true to your values.

2. Build Some Skills:

Take the time to invest in yourself and your education. That may not mean going back to University but it may be carving out an hour a week to work on the skill you want to build. Also listening to podcasts and reading books in the area of interest can help to build these skills.

3. Meet New People:

Networking can be a challenge, but it is important in order to create new opportunities and to also learn about the latest trends. Check out Meetup or Facebook events in your local region and give yourself a target. Commit to one event a month and bring a friend if you need some company. Another good way is to ask a friend who works in an area you’re interested in to introduce you to a colleague of theirs for a coffee or lunch meeting. Find something specific you want to talk about and ask your friend to make an introduction. Then shout your friend lunch as a thank you!

4. Write an Engaging CV:

Having a clear CV where each bullet point answers the following questions:

  • What did you do? (Make sure the action directly shows the skills or characteristic you want to showcase)
  • What were the results? (Try to make it as quantifiable as possible)
  • What did you learn? (Bring your insights into the CV where you can)

5. Nail The Interview:

Remember that the interview is both about the business getting to know you and you getting to know them and the position. At the end, it is super important to ask a question when they offer. Make sure you have researched the company and thought of relevant questions to show that you are interested in the position!
Here are some good thought starters for questions by the team at Big Interview.
Also, know yourself. Know what your strongest skill is, and also you weakest. A great way to learn is to ask close, honest friends and family as often they way we perceive ourselves is not how others perceive us.

6. What about after the interview?:

The best ways to follow up are if you have a question (that is not just ‘Did I get the job sir/madam?!) or if you have a value add from the conversation including an article link or insight. If you do not get the job, make sure you ask for feedback and areas for improvement next time.
But most importantly, don’t see it as a setback, see it as a learning experience. Make sure you keep moving forward and use it as a way to learn so that you will nail it when the perfect job comes up next!


It is important we all invest in our own careers as well as pave the way for young employees through active listening and investing in building their understanding of how a business runs. Sustainergies are solving an important market issue with an innovative Non-Profit approach. I cannot wait to see what happens in the next 10 years!
Check out Sustainergies website and ASAP website here to see more of their awesome programs and initiatives.
Hot tip: If you use Google Chrome you can press a little translate button in the right of the browser bar if it doesn’t pop up automatically!

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