Whether you’re an industry vet or a newcomer looking to impress an interviewer, keeping up with the latest news, policies, and trends in sustainability is vital to a successful career. But if you don’t have access to employer-sponsored professional development programs, doing so may seem expensive or inaccessible.
Au contraire! As a professional in the field, I’m here to tell you that many content-rich forums where sustainability leaders gather are not exclusive hideaways, but are more often little-publicized events hiding in plain view.
No matter who you are or where you live, here are a few great ways you can gain green knowledge and join in the conversation—completely free of charge.
1. Public Forums
We often forget that we have completely free access to studies, findings, and procedures through our federal, state, and local governments. This is the most abundant source of free learning opportunities I’ve found in sustainability, particularly for the energy sector—and participating in one could be a great way to demonstrate subject knowledge to a potential employer.
You can access these resources in a number of ways, the most convenient of which are webcasts. In place of the old-school town hall meeting, many government forums are now held via live webinar to increase the amount of public participation and dialogue. For example, California has been implementing its carbon cap and trade rules since 2006 and continues to hold public webinars on offsets, fuel standards, carbon market and trading rules, and even reviews of other cap and trade schemes. The good news is, these webcasts are still happening as new rules go into effect next year. For instance, check out California Air Resources Board’s webinar on a Low Carbon Fuel Standard on March 11.
To get some networking in with your learning, check out live sustainability events—the U.S. Department of Energy, for example, runs several programs on future energy technology, renewables, and energy efficiency. Last year, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the Green Button Developer Day, an open energy data event co-hosted by Silicon Valley Leadership Group, The White House Council on Environmental Quality, Siemens, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The half-day conference was completely free, open to the public, and included participants from Facebook, Solar City, and other energy startups.
Be sure to keep other upcoming events like DOE’s Solar Decathalon and Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy’s (ARPA-e) workshops on your radar for future opportunities.
Universities are an obvious hotbed of free learning opportunities and a rich source of cutting-edge knowledge—but you don’t necessarily have to be a student to participate! Follow environmental departments of local universities for access to free events close to you, such as the talk on liquid metal batteries for energy storage at MIT on April 2 or the one on pollinators and diversified farming systems at UC Berkeley on March 10. (Make sure to read the event description and look for words like “symposium” or “open to the campus or surrounding community” to make sure you’ll be welcomed even if you’re not a student.)
Many top-tier institutions also offer free online lecture series. Check Coursera, iTunes U, or your favorite educational institution for options such as Penn’s Sustainability in Practice or University of Cambridge’s four-part Adaptation to Climate Change series.
3. Industry Conference Live-Casts
Attending conferences is a great way to learn, but events can be pricey and far away. If you’re simply looking to learn something new, look into sustainability conferences that offer live streams at their events, like last month’s GreenBiz Forum held in Phoenix, Arizona, which offered free access to the conference online. Watch for the group’s next conference on the intersection of sustainability and technology, VERGE, in October, or get on its email list to get a reminder to sign up for live online access. Many high-profile conferences, such as Climate Week NYC, post footage and side-interviews after their events which can provide access, even if you miss it live.
4. Professional Groups and Events
There are plenty of local and online organizations dedicated to bringing together sustainability professionals to learn and discuss. Energyfolks is a great first stop: The platform hosts a critical mass of groups meeting to discuss the future of clean power systems. Through the Association of Women in Water, Energy, and the Environment, I was able to take a free tour of the infamous Solyndra plant and meet leaders in renewable energy. This California-wide organization has upcoming events on cloud seeding, fracking, and the energy-water nexus. Local Net Impact chapters also host a steady stream of events for grad students and professionals on corporate responsibility in most metro areas.
If you’re not sure what’s in your area, Eventbrite is a ripe source for free in-person learning opportunities. Select your geography and limit your search to free events. Two that I’d love to attend? The GW Sustainable Urban Planning Research Symposium on April 18 in Washington, DC or the Cleantech Intern Talent Fair in the Boston area on March 6.
5. The Interwebs
This one may seem obvious, but aside from Googling your desired topic, I’ve found other specific ways to find high-quality, free resources on the web.
SlideShare can be a direct line to sustainability knowledge if you’re willing to search and sift—for example, check out a helpful overview of the Cradle to Cradle certified products program or an information-packed presentation on urban design and sustainability from East Carolina University. (Just be aware that many companies are now using SlideShare to market products or post non-verified information, so make sure you’re clicking on something from a non-biased, well-reputed group.)
If you like to learn by reading, there are also blogs, sustainability news sites, and Twitter feeds galore. My off-the-beaten path favorites are Gigaom’s Katie Fehrenbacher, who covers energy tech, FastCoExist, and The Atlantic Cities.
Because of the public benefits of sustainable development, the possibilities for free professional enrichment are endless. So, use it to your advantage! Take your knowledge to the next level, and fill up your schedule with some no-cost, high-impact events. It might just be the smartest thing you’ve done for your career.
Photo of green education courtesy of Shutterstock.
TopicsTools & Skills , Professional Development , Career Paths , Exploring Career Paths , Syndication , 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