It can seem daunting to continue your education after breaking into the job market, starting a family and settling into a "forever" home. But students like Mike Herod, a recent graduate of the Executive Master's in Sustainability & Leadership (EMSL) program at ASU, prove it's never too late to go back.
TriplePundit talked with the returning veteran to find out more about his decision to pursue a sustainability education and how it impacted his career.
TriplePundit: Let's start by talking about your experience at ASU. What was your focus of study, and when did you graduate?
Mike Herod: I am a bit of an oddity with ASU and our industry. I started my education late in life. I had a career and family. After returning from Iraq, ASU was presenting about some new degree program they were starting in sustainability. At the time (2006), I didn’t know anything about sustainability. In fact, I was only invited because I had built a few LEED-certified projects and my director thought I would like the presentation, so he sent me.
That presentation began my journey into sustainability full-time. I enrolled that very semester for a BS in sustainability. I think I was the second group of students at the time. I completed in the winter of 2011.
Fast forward three years, and ASU reached out for another new program, the EMSL (Executive Master’s in Sustainability Leadership). It was a no-brainer for me. I enrolled at once. So, now I hold both a BS in sustainability (2011) and an EMSL (2015).
3p: What made you decide to pursue a sustainability degree?
MH: At first, I had a pocket full of Uncle Sam’s money and thought: Why not? I didn’t like what I saw in Iraq and felt something had to change about the current system we found ourselves in. Joining the EMSL program was not an option for me. I knew what my BS in sustainability was doing and knew this could only build upon that.
Now that I have completed it, ‘build upon' is not good enough. That degree and the four-thread leads gave me more tools and techniques than I could ever ask for.
3p: What are you up to now? Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities and how long you've been on the job.
MH: I have been a sustainability consultant since the summer of 2012 when I was recruited by Xpedx (an IP business) to help its clients with increased sustainability.
I was recruited again for my current position as the Sustainability SME for Border Patrol where I serve as their advisor for the sustainable improvements of their portfolio, which includes thousands of structures. I've been serving them for just over a year now.
I am also slowing building my own consultant company to help small- to medium-sized organizations in the Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. areas. I have found for every brand-name company, there are thousands of smaller firms that support them, and each of them needs guidance for improved sustainability. I like working with the federal government, but my passion is helping smaller firms to see the benefits of sustainable decisions.
3p: Have you found that your sustainability education was a benefit in the field?
MH: Without a doubt! I was recruited for the last two positions, and my salary has nearly tripled. My BS was great and opened doors, but the EMSL gave me the leadership tools to really turn the tide with those I work with.
People are intimidated by the term 'sustainability' and oftentimes don’t know where or how to start. Both these degrees gave me the tools and confidence to help people see a better and brighter future. I've had the great privilege to work with national brands, federal departments, nonprofits, local schools and colleges, entrepreneurs, and small firms.
The degree fills the voids where your passion stops and the implementation begins. Your passion will get you to the table and will carry your drive. But you need the systems understanding, global context awareness and communication strategy to make lasting changes and improvements.
3p: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about a sustainability degree?
MH: Yes: Find out what you are passionate about, and I guarantee sustainability will improve it. Try to find a degree that fits your passion but also is based with sustainable principles.
My goal, and I may not see it in my lifetime, is to see the term and degrees disappear because the notion of viewing every choice and decision as a sustainability challenge becomes second nature to us. But for now, I am so very thankful the degrees are there to give us the tools to spread the word and have the credentials behind us.
3p: What's your biggest sustainability pet peeve and why? Disposable grocery bags? Trash in the compost? Cars double-parked in the bike lane? Share your thoughts!
MH: That’s easy: greenwashing. Consumers already don’t trust most major brands, and when you add the labels of ‘natural’ or ‘eco’ with no claims or verification to the notion, that just creates more distrust.
I feel sustainability will succeed where the environmental movement has stalled. Sustainability moves past environmental and into the money and the people. That is why it is becoming mainstream. We can be a very proud country; we have pride in ourselves and what we produced. Don’t tarnish that by claiming something as good but realistically makes no improvements. As our grandmothers used to say, “if you can’t say anything nice or true, don’t say anything at all.”