Four Key Takeaways from EcoCareers Conference 2018

As students across the country seek opportunities to work in careers that protect the planet, center sustainability and equity, and preserve wildlife, wise guidance from leaders in the field can inspire and help direct young people’s passion. The second annual National Wildlife Federation EcoCareers Conference provided key career and leadership development advice from leaders in the sustainability movement, such as Rue Mapp, Lisa Yee-Litzenberg, Philippe Cousteau Jr., and Jigar Shah. Held on February 21-22, 2018 and streamed online across the country and globe, participants learned about the career paths of environmental heroes, valuable certification and employment opportunities, and much more!

Hundreds of individuals and groups registered for the conference, which was offered virtually. Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, delivered the opening keynote and indicated that “this is by far the greenest conference I’ve ever participated in.”

While there were two full days of knowledge and advice shared, we’d like to share four takeaways to illustrate some of the broader points that were made.


Photo credit: Philippe Cousteau Jr.

Today, employers across all sectors – whether traditionally focused on conservation and wildlife or not – note that and understanding of sustainability principles and practice has become a core requirement. According to a 2016 survey conducted by MIT Sloan, 90% of investors surveyed indicated that sustainability strategies had become central to staying competitive.

“Today, almost every job intersects with the environment in some way,” explained Philippe Cousteau Jr., TV host as well as Co-Founder and President of Earth Echo International. “I’m very excited to work with another organization that makes it their mission to provide resources and tools to help young people gain the experience, certifications and the knowledge to craft their own sustainable career pathways. Bringing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers to life is crucial for the future of wildlife.”


NWF’s Campus EcoLeader certification

The National Wildlife Federation is committed to supporting the young people that will become the future green workforce. One way is through the EcoLeaders program, available to college students and young professionals looking to step into the environmental field. Guided by a project-based leadership model participants earn certification for their demonstrated leadership skills while sharing and networking with participants around the country and world in the online community. Courtney Cochran, NWF’s Senior Coordinator & Community Manager for the EcoLeaders Program, led a participatory workshop explaining the certification process on the first day of the conference and interviewed a certified EcoLeader on the second day.

One student noted that this workshop “answered the questions I needed to know and also revealed one great way to make an eco-initiative easy to succeed at for anyone who participates.”


While one panel focused on the experiences and advice from entrepreneurs and start-up employees, the theme of entrepreneurship was woven throughout the conference. Jigar Shah, President and Co-Founder of Generate Capital recorded a round-table discussion at the NWF’s advocacy center in Washington DC to air during the second day of the conference. He noted that “the key to entrepreneurship in the clean infrastructure space is to be your own harshest critic while also being your biggest champion.”

Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability for the City of Orlando and founder and president of IDEAS For Us, introduced participants to the idea of “intrapreneurship.” He described an “intrapreneur” as “someone who has taken existing companies… and tried to create new business units, new avenues, tried to add value in their own way. That’s my role in city government; it’s bringing entrepreneurship into the city government and creating new business models, like a composting and food production program or trying to alter our transportation system around ride sharing and electric buses and rail. There’s opportunities in every single business and government to innovate.”

Chris Castro (bottom right) sharing his entrepreneurship insights with the EcoCareers Conference. David Corsar/NWF Staff Photo


Photo Credit: Lisa Yee-Litzenberg

In speaking about their own career paths, most of the panelists and presenters noted that the paths that they ended up taking did not end up as linear as they may have imagined while still in school. While there is not a consensus on the overall numbers of jobs and careers, numerous researchers have pointed out that millennials are more likely to switch jobs and even careers more frequently than in generations past. Some of these shifts are due to external shifts and pressures; however, employees also see more efficient and exciting career paths by taking what they have learned and experienced in one role into something different, perhaps in another sector completely.

As our closing keynote speaker, Lisa Yee-Litzenberg, Founder and President and CEO of Green Career Advisor, explained, “I like to think of your career as a boat and you are the captain. Make sure you are driving it. And don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself for a green career.”


NWF’s EcoCareers Conference will be back next February – mark your calendars today!

Dates: Feb. 27-28, 2019

Location: Online!


Thank you to APPA for sponsoring this year’s conference and to Kendeda Fund and Bank of America for your ongoing support. Thanks also to all the speakers and attendees for making this event an interactive, exciting, and dynamic experience for all.

See you next year!