Sustainability should be something businesses work on every day in their normal strategy, not a separate project, and soon, one in every three careers will be in sustainability, according to alumni with careers in sustainability. So what should business and management students do when they are planning their first career steps and want to become agents of positive change? Answers came during the Careers Driving Sustainable Development Panel at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), straight from the first-hand experience of RSM alumni already established in careers focusing on sustainable business.

The audience of MSc and MBA students and alumni packed the room for the careers panel event hosted by Sustainable RSM, RSM alumni and the RSM Career Centre on 9 May. Panellists were asked how to start a career in sustainable development, and which challenges are most urgent; students in the audience learned of potential career paths and how to create opportunities for themselves.

Panellists were:

  • Rafael Comenge (MBA 2002) managing director of consulting group B&S Europe
  • Katie Hans (MBA 2016) from Circle Economy, a co-operative  with a mission to communicate the benefits of a circular economy
  • Aditya Mohan (MBA 2015) Senior investment officer at Triodos Investment Management
  • Emma Verhagen (MSc BIM 2012) from Unilever and founder of FlinderFly
  • Ednah Zvinavashe (MBA 2016), country programme manager at the World Sustainability Fund.

The next steps

For students wanting to make a career in sustainability, Katie Hans advised ‘knowing your strengths’. Aditya Mohan told them to find the context in which they want to be active, and Emma Verhagen told the audience to not be afraid to apply for a job.

Rafael Comenge asked students in the audience to consider their life’s goal and imagine what they would like people to remember about them at their funeral. “Then put all your energy into that.”

Ednah Zvinavashe said: “Don’t take sustainability as a career but take it as something you do every day.” RSM’s Dorothy Grandia from the Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations advised students to decide which of the 17 SDGs they find appealing.

The challenges

Communicating sustainability – and specifically the circular economy – so that companies become interested and start applying it is difficult. Katie Hans suggested using the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a starting point. Ednah Zvinavashe observed that there’s a gap between what is discussed and what is actually implemented in business and politics. She said the SDGs are a great try to foster more action, but that if we don’t take care to not just talk about them but also start implementing, then we’ll not reach the SDGs. Rafael Comenge added that everyone needs to be involved in order to make the change, and later said that soon one in every three jobs will be in sustainability.

Students asked

A member of the audience asked how transformation will happen, and will it be early enough? Rafael Comenge said companies will be forced from two sides, from governments and regulations, and by the younger generation’s demand that companies change if they want to recruit the best talents. But change will not come fast enough, he said. It will be linked to an immigration problem as the population of the African continent is growing significantly.

Dorothy Grandia responded that organisations need cultural change but that it’s difficult. She highlighted that even if a company is highly engaged in understanding diversity issues and building programmes for clients to do so, changing their own culture remains a difficult challenge.

Katie Hans said it’s about opening up, collaborating with other companies and institutions, working with crowdsourcing to be more creative and being able to address those big challenges. Emma Verhagen said she also sees this in her venture, but it’s difficult to bring parties together even for a ‘win-win-win’ situation, particularly because NGOs must avoid becoming commercial.

How do you convince companies to take action now? asked a student. Rafael Comenge said companies will be forced to take action ‘even if they don’t want to’ by political will and pressure from younger generations.

Show them how it’s done

Dorothy Grandia commented that competition would influence some organisations to take action; if their competitors are already making a move towards sustainability. Katie Hans said it would be down to the scarcity of resources. She recommended to shows companies the resources they depend on today that they’ll miss in the future to help them realise. And show them start-ups which already show how it is done, she advised.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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