I did all the sustainability MOOCs, so you don’t have to

3 things you need to know to become an expert

Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

As a self-thought sustainability expert (when I was a student there was no such thing as “sustainable” business courses at my business school), I have followed many MOOCs, online courses and trainings. Spoiler alert: it was a huge waste of time.

Since you clicked on this article, let’s assume you are well aware of the urgency to combat climate change. The last thing I want you to do is waste your precious time watching and reading the wrong things about sustainability and ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) issues.

The online courses will tell you why we should care about the environment: companies need to comply with environmental laws, want to attract new customers, etcetera. This seems very obvious. Don’t you want to know how to work on sustainability? If yes, let me summarise for you the 3 key things you should know to become an expert too:

Instead of some stuffy professor on Coursera telling you that non-compliance with ESG regulations is costly (tell us something we don’t know), you need to get to the source of things. If you want people to take you seriously and want to make a real impact, you need to start with some climate science (a treasure of information!).

If it’s good enough for all country leaders of the world, then it should be your starting point too: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). There are two reports you can start with reading right now: one on climate change mitigation (= trying to stop and reverse climate change) and one on adaptation (= preparing for effects of climate change).

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

2. Beware of greenwashing

Now that you better understand the real climate science, you will become a sustainability lie detector. Many companies and politicians, even an opinionated neighbour or family member, will try to “greenwash”. Greenwashing means exaggerating or lying about the environmental impact of a product or practice, often to make it seem better or less harmful than it actually is.

The key is therefore to question every sustainability claim you hear. Let your inner child at play and do not stop asking: why, why, why. Only when you can find some real evidence of positive impact, or lack of evidence of a negative impact, should you start considering a product or practice sustainable.

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

3. Master the Scopes

Lastly, if you have minimal time but want maximum results: master the “Scopes”. To save the planet, humanity needs to do something about greenhouse gases (GHG). These are gases are released into the air that make climate change worse, we also call them “emissions”. Any trustworthy sustainability expert will know what the three Scopes of GHG emissions are, and so should you.

The three Scopes are defined on a company-level. Scope 1 are the direct emissions, meaning the GHG that are released into the air when a company drives its own cars or other vehicles, plus the emissions related to its buildings and facilities (like offices or factories).

Scope 2 includes many things and can be summarised as the emissions of energy. It is all the electricity, steam, heating and cooling that a company purchases. You could calculate this by looking at the energy bill.

The last is Scope 3, which is a tricky one, but for this introduction let’s describe it as all the emissions that are outside of the direct control of the company, but that are related to the company’s product. For example, a car manufacturer will make a car and sell it. Even thought the manufacturer doesn’t drive the car, the gases emitted by the driver will be included in the Scope 3 emissions of the company, as they can be counted as “downstream” emissions (after all, without the car manufacturer there couldn’t have been an extra car on the road that emits GHG).

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Sustainability isn’t a complicated field, you just have to know where to start. And now you do.



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the ESG girl

Making environment, social and governance (ESG) issues and opportunities easy to understand for everyone.