It’s summer, and that means internship season for many students and recent graduates around the world. If you’re in the field of sustainability, it can be easy to feel like your options are limited due to the recent economic downturn or worry that you might spend your summer on low-level tasks, but luckily, your options are more varied than you think. The field of sustainability is actually a great place to get your feet wet in the professional world and make an impact—all while spending time at the biggest and coolest companies around.
Take Michael Rinaldi, a master’s of environmental management candidate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Rinaldi decided to take his knowledge of environmental modeling and put it to good use for big businesses, and he ended up getting a job at one of the coolest companies around: Zappos. I got to chat with him to hear about his internship experience as part of the online retailer’s sustainability team—and get some insider tips for others looking for exciting opportunities in the field.
What have you been up to this summer at Zappos?
This summer, I’ve been able to work on projects across many areas of sustainability. For example, I was tasked with improving campus recycling and waste management. To do so, I calculated the company’s recycling rate and engaged employees to improve that rate.
For another project, I calculated Zappos’ first carbon footprint and classified emissions as Scope 1, 2, or 3 as defined by the GHG Protocol. This allowed Zappos to understand where its carbon impact can most effectively be reduced and to focus on projects in those areas.
What are some of your longer-term career goals, and how did you summer internship fit into those?
Like many, I believe that that the greatest environmental impacts can be made through working with businesses. It’s my goal to use my skills such as economic and environmental modeling on projects that are good for business and the environment.
This summer was my first opportunity to work within a larger company and navigate the waters of corporate sustainability. Long term, I’d like to either work as a sustainability manager for one company, or as a consultant interacting with many companies.
How did you find your internship, and what advice do you have for others looking for an internship in sustainability?
It isn’t easy finding an internship in sustainability, but with persistence it can be done. I started my job search with companies that I had personal connections with and later expanded my search to apply to online postings. I discovered my sustainability internship at Zappos when my career services center posted a link to the company’s career website. In the end I had put out more than 25 applications before I accepted my offer from Zappos.
My advice would be keep your head up and to be yourself throughout the entire process to make sure that you and the company are a good fit. Knowing how Zappos values its culture, I think it was particularly important to be a fit.
Where else are your classmates interning this summer?
My classmates at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment are doing a mixture of super cool internships this summer. I’m proud to say that I have friends researching ecosystem services for The Nature Conservancy, working on materials and toxicology at REI, supporting sustainability at JetBlue, enabling big cat conservation in Africa, and industrial practice at the Rocky Mountain Institute, to name a few.
What was unexpected about your internship experience?
I was surprised at the trust that was put in me as an intern. I never thought that I would be given the opportunity and responsibility to be the one pitching a huge project to the company. But I was given the chance to put a presentation together and pitch it through a series of people until I got in front of the final decision makers.
Though I can’t say what the final project is yet, I was able to get a sustainable “WOW”—that’s Zappos speak for a job well done—into the budget for 2015.
Zappos is known for its wacky and awesome corporate culture. What was the coolest thing you experienced at your summer internship?
Every day at Zappos is an adventure; you never know what surprise is waiting for you when you set foot on campus. Just to name a few examples, I’ve come to work to find a petting zoo, the sound of bagpipes at a firefighter graduation, giant chalk murals in the plaza, musicians promoting shows downtown, a celebration of National Piña Colada Day, and a celebrity chef making an appearance in the Bistro.
Of all, the craziest thing I have experienced was competing in a hot dog eating contest in celebration of the 4th of July. I didn’t see that one coming.
Get a Peek Inside Zappos' Office!
Inspired by Michael’s internship experience? Even though summer is almost over, there are usually internship opportunities to be had year round if you hit the timing right. Stay tuned for the latest opportunities on The Muse’s job page or follow @EmilyMChan for real-time insights on the green job landscape.
TopicsGoing Green , Company Profiles , Q&A Interviews , Job Search , Internships , Syndication , Finding a Job , The Real Green by Emily Chan
Emily Chan is a sustainability strategist based in San Francisco with ten years of experience in non-profit management, corporate strategy, and consulting. She advises executives at Fortune 500s in the tech, utility, and consumer products sectors on sustainability and is an Advisory Board member at SXSWEco.More from this Author