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If you are reading this is because you are interested in learning more about sustainability while living in Australia. This is a tremendous first step and I hope I can inspire you to pursue it further; pitfalls included.

How did my interest in sustainability come to be.

I have been living in Australia for a bit longer than 4 years. I have seen bushfires, floods and other environmental disasters that have affected lots of people, families and entire communities. I have also worked in many farms realizing all the work that goes behind growing a tomato to put on our plates. I have seen all the food that doesn’t come out of the farms and ends up being wasted. This not only happens in Australia, but all around the world and I wanted to understand the causes behind these events. 

During COVID, I began reading and informing myself, and I came to realize that we are probably not leading sustainable lifestyles, or that as a society, we need to make some adjustments. In line with this train of thought, climate change is probably the number one challenge we face as humanity. And related to it there are many questions we should be asking towards its consequences and how it affects the most vulnerable. In short, today’s challenges as humanity are intrinsically connected with sustainability, so it makes sense for me to study and learn more about it. 

Having spent most of my life in Argentina, I've come to observe significant differences in agenda priorities compared to countries like Australia. In fact our political agenda is quite different: focused on tackling poverty, for example, before even discussing the existence of a carbon tax. In that sense, is it possible (or even fair) to expect sustainable policies to be a priority in nations like Argentina? Or if we don't find a way to put it on the agenda, will it never be a priority? Is there a way to solve this tension? Despite the existing variations in sustainability practices and regulations, it's evident, irrespective of geographical boundaries, that discussing sustainability is crucial, particularly because climate change directly impacts those in vulnerable circumstances. Personally, now that I have started studying I even asked myself why haven’t I started before, or, shouldn’t everyone be studying it? I guess this happens in various disciplines. 

The question why I am studying sustainability at the University of Sydney can be answered in three parts: why, where and for what.

Why study sustainability and what is it anyway?

Sustainability is a very broad topic, which makes it fascinating because there is a slice for everyone. It can be related to so many areas of study and interdisciplinary approaches such as architecture, politics, economy, etc. At the same time, with so much information available, the question arises: what should we pay attention to in order to understand which actions truly have an impact?

What is Sustainability? | AgNext | Colorado State University
A representation of how sustainability covers a wide range of topics

In this sense, I wanted to learn from people who have long been working in this field. Nowadays, the word “sustainability” is frequently heard. However, twenty years ago, it was much less common. The professors at formal institutions have lived through those years, witnessing the transition and the achievements made.

The other day, while reading an old article by Bill McKibben about the divestment movement in US universities, I came across something I found extremely interesting:

“Universities… are where we first found out about climate change. It was in physics labs and on university supercomputers that the realization we were in trouble first dawned a generation ago”. So what a better place to study about it than an academic institution? 

Where to find sustainability courses in Australia.

I have done my research on the different programs available in the country. There are some with an agronomy approach, others more scientific, others more centered in ecology, or emission and cycle analysis, and so on. As I have said, sustainability is a very broad topic so I believe it really depends on what the person is looking for. 

I have chosen the University of Sydney because I believe it has a competency-based approach, trying to put theory into practice through the Capstone Unit. Also, it has a quite broad approach to sustainability, where with the elective courses I am able to narrow my path. But again, I truly believe that the decision up to where to study sustainability or which courses to take, depends on one’s interests and the outcome you are looking for. 

Moreover, I have chosen USYD because of its reputation as an institution, especially on the sustainability spectrum. The University is ranked by the QS Sustainability Ranking as the Nº1 institution in Australia, and Nº7 in the world. While I don’t consider these rankings as the absolute truth, I do believe they tell us a part of the story where USYD must be doing something right. 

Lucky for you - depending on how you see it - there are now more options to choose from when it comes to finding your learning path or course in sustainability. These new options offer different price points, learning environments, and outcomes. A few good examples are:

  • Online cohort-based learning - Terra.do, Work for climate
  • On-demand learning - NetNada Business Sustainability Academy, Linkedin Learning
  • Short hybrid electives - UTS and University of Sydney short courses

Of course, these options do not offer government back titles but can be the stepping stone between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. If not, they can serve as your way to dip your toes in the world of sustainability.

I’ve learned more than I could imagine, what’s next?

One of the main drivers for me to enrol in a master's in sustainability was, as I said, the fact that the more I started looking around the more I realized I wanted to make a shift and excel my career path. 

My background is in International Affairs. I have worked in different industries and started my own small business in Byron Bay with a zero-waste approach. The truth is, the more I got into the topic, the more I realised that to make a significant impact, I needed an academic background to see the bigger picture and advocate for change. Always keeping Herbert Spencer’s famous phrase in mind:

the great aim of education is not knowledge but action”. - Herbert Spencer’s

Absolutely, I don’t claim to possess all the answers, and I never will. Nor do I know what my dream job is,  pinning it down feels like trying to catch a moving target. The more I learn, the more my perspective shifts. I’m still in the midst of an internal dialogue about where my future lies - perhaps in the food industry, or maybe the energy sector. I ponder where in the cycle of stuff I’d thrive best, questioning if my path involves analyzing and reporting on the environmental and social impacts of businesses and organizations while at the same time seeking avenues for improvement. Furthermore, upon observing the disparity between Argentina and countries like Australia in this regard, I find myself drawn to the idea of returning to my homeland to apply the knowledge, skills, and tools I've acquired, aiming to address these disparities head-on, while understanding the context.

Besides all this uncertainty, I find joy in the journey. I am like a sponge, absorbing knowledge and experiences along the way. The opportunity to engage with people from diverse backgrounds, fields, and experiences, and at the same time all sharing common interests, is invaluable to me. I trust that in due time, I’ll connect the dots - drawing from my background, experiences, and studies - to make a positive impact on the world.

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