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Sustainability Careers: A Path for ESL Students

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Elena Olmedo, who is interviewed for our Work Voices series, has some great advice to share.

She was raised in a bilingual home, her parents having emigrated from El Salvador. Elena explains how she came to be working at an energy efficiency firm in Berkeley, having decided that she was really interested in sustainability and slowly navigated her way through the range of career options that this huge, emerging and confusing field offered her.

For ESL students who want to work in some aspect of sustainability, this interview is helpful. Elena is encouraging, “There is tremendous opportunity for anyone in this field whether you are doing solar panel installation or LEED certification, energy efficiency to policy and planning, this industry is going to grow immensely.”

She makes it clear that it is a confusing field.  “… the first challenge that I encountered was trying to narrow down the focus to what I really wanted to do and finding what I was passionate about. The second challenge is that there is no designed or pre-constructed path for this job. People from all backgrounds can get in – you might have a background in economics or an in policy, and you still may be qualified for this position.”


Sustainability is about sustaining the environment for future generations through forward thinking strategies to solve environmental challenges.  It involves energy conservation, clean and green energy, technology that protects the environment, green building, and socially responsible organizations and employers.

How did Elena decide? She talks about the Green and Sustainable Course  she took at City College of San Francisco, and how it gave her an understanding of environmental issues relevant to business and industry. Elena also talks about research – how she took full advantage of all the resources available to her to explore possible career paths. For example, she interned at two different companies to gain experience of green marketing practices and environmental policy issues, and attended conferences and lectures and read papers and journals to learn all she could about sustainability issues.

Elena is inspiring and upbeat about her work. She cares about the environment and feels there is tremendous opportunity in this industry which is going to grow.

Watch her interview at Work Voices 8, Elena Olmedo, Sustainability Specialist

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