Scott Lemoine on the Usefulness of Studying Sustainability

Master’s Student Scott Lemoine discusses the usefulness of studying sustainability for his career

From local government policies to international development, from non-government organisations to social corporate responsibility, from food and water to public health, studying sustainability can equip you with the skills to further your career. The Master of Sustainability Program at the University of Sydney could be the thing for you. You’ll learn about energy technologies, population health, food security, sustainability policy, and sustainability analysis tools.

It’s a multidisciplinary degree with six faculties across the University delivering core content, and nine faculties teaching into the program’s electives. This breadth provides a thorough foundation in sustainability. It also allows graduates to appreciate the complexity of sustainability and understand the effects of change in various sectors.

The program:

  • Comprises three qualifications: the Graduate Certificate in Sustainability, Graduate Diploma in Sustainability and Master of Sustainability.
  • Provides a foundation in sustainability, including core aspects of energy and resources, health, food and water security, policy, analysis, society and change.
  • Is multidisciplinary, with core and elective units currently being delivered by ten faculties across the University.
  • Offers some flexibility in the choice of elective units and, for Master of Sustainability students, the design of the capstone research project.

Scott Lemoine (pictured above) has recently finished his capstone project, completing his candidature in the Master of Sustainability Program at The University of Sydney. He shared his experience in the program, his capstone project, and future plans with Lucy Taylor.

Why did you do the Master of Sustainability?
The reason I chose the program over others in NSW was because the Master of Sustainability takes a broad approach. You get exposure to many different fields: food and water, policy and so on. In addition to the core classes, you have the option to do your electives. For my electives, I did a project management unit with the Business School, and environmental design unit with the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning. The environmental design unit was really hands-on and I was one of the few non-architects in that class, so I had to really work on it. Once I got up to speed, it was great. So the Sustainability program gives you the freedom to choose your own path. Working in the environmental space is broad, and this lets you choose what you want to do.

What did you do for your capstone project?
I worked with Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), which is a non-profit organisation that runs an eco-labelling program. I went by the offices and talked to them. I wanted to focus on something in the built environment and they had a project on PVC and steel. The exciting part involved asking questions. The thing about science is the more questions you ask, the deeper you dive. They had a project and I had certain expectations, and we came to a middle ground. As a result I’ve learned so much about the scientific method. I was looking at integrating PVC into their pre-existing Flooring and Carpet standards. GECA does a substantial amount of research about how these materials compare to other materials. I wrote a 30-page research report including a literature review and industry publication review. I followed my research questions to determine whether this was something GECA should certify.

How did the Sustainability program influence your project with GECA?
The sustainable design elective that I took through the architecture faculty helped. We mainly focused on design principles but not the materials, which can have a big an impact. Materials are integral to the design. I was able to take one material and go in-depth about it. The Introduction to Sustainability (SUST5001) core unit was useful for using “systems thinking,” drawing boundaries and overall problem solving strategies.

The capstone project is really effective in understanding the practical applications of sustainability. Obviously what you learn in the classroom is so different to how things work in the real world. Sustainability is only as strong as how you can apply it. The capstone is helpful in transitioning you into the workplace. There are lots of stakeholders and so many moving pieces – not like in a classroom where things are black and white. The capstone gives you the exposure to that.

What aspects of the degree did you find most useful in seeking/gaining employment or your current job?
I’ve been working with the City of Sydney in the Sustainability Programs Team working on the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP). We work with the big institutional property owners who own roughly 51% of buildings in the city and bring them in a room to talk about their successful sustainability strategies with their buildings. We formally bring competitors together to collaborate and share best practice, such as best practice in operational management, energy efficiency, and so on. I’ve been working with the City of Sydney since the beginning of my candidature in the Sustainability program, and I’ve been able to apply things both ways: from work to study and vice versa.

Overall, I think the Sustainability program helped in the sense that no matter what workplace you want to go into, I know that I have a solid background in different sustainability areas. I have bits of knowledge that I can apply in any field. Overall, the program further reinforced my knowledge from my environmental science background. The Business: Sustainability and Leadership unit (SUST5006) gave me skills I can apply in a business and consulting role. If I ever find myself in a water-related role, the information that I learned from the Food and Water Security unit (SUST5002) could be applied. So the degree has provided me with a well-rounded background.

What work (paid or otherwise) are you doing now or what are your plans?
Realistically I would go back to the United States. I’m from California and there’s a huge job market out there in sustainability related fields. Ideally I’d like to do what I’m doing here with the BBP and apply that back home. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but it’s exciting.

Applications for the Master of Sustainability are open until 31 January 2016. For more information email sustainability.program@sydney.edu.au