Bridging gaps with green guidance

Green guidance as a methodology for bridge building in critical career transition points in university education

Heini Hult-Miekkavaara, expert in career counselling. University of Helsinki


We know for a fact that we are in the midst of an eco-social crisis, the seeds of which were sown at the start of the industrial revolution some 260 years ago, and rapidly boosted by the start of the Great Acceleration some 70 years ago. Today, we find ourselves to be firefighters in this crisis; putting out a fire we’ve come to fear is no longer extinguishable, or will at least leave our home with damage we can’t yet predict.

By now it should no longer be a novel idea to anyone in our profession that even us career guidance and counselling experts need, and must, address this issue. I’m sure we’ve all been faced with the questions of worried students, or students eager to make an impact through their work and careers.

Worsening ecosocial crises affect what can be perceived as fair work that will provide people means for living and a sense of meaning. On the other hand, working life is in a central role when addressing global environmental and ecological challenges. Career guidance and counselling is thus not only addressing individuals’ personal career concerns, but acts as a changing force in a profound societal transformation. The scale of this transformation in working life and careers is so fundamental that even the fundamentals of career guidance are quite rightly questioned. Peter Plant, for example, calls for a paradigm shift into green guidance

Counselling and guidance professionals know that we have the means – and the responsibility – to be eco-socially aware in our work. The IAEVG Communiqué 2023, for example, states that “…our field must … consider the environmental impact of our actions and the actions of the clients and communities we serve”, and that “this requires educational and vocational guidance to consider ecological, planetary, and social foundations”. I’m sure we’ve all also met this on the grass-root level working with the concerns of our students.

Fortunately, we are already equipped with a lot of tools, as well as a crucial understanding and mindset stemming from the notion that considering and promoting social justice has always been the very cornerstone of our discipline. Understanding the transition into post-fossil industries and societies – and post-fossil careers – will give us more knowledge of the ‘how’ as we advance in this transformation. Alongside ‘how’ we need to be aware of ‘when’. When is the right time for green guidance, or using career counselling as a lever for the sustainability transition?

I’ve noticed that there are certain gaps, or points of discontinuation, in our higher education system, when the tools of green guidance and addressing this societal transformation can, and should, be used.

We need to be building bridges at least across these gaps:

  1. The gap between secondary and higher education. The Finnish national curriculum for elementary education has had sustainability goals at least since 2007. Ecosocial bildung has been in the secondary school curriculum at least since 2019, when the UN SDGs and the idea of growing into a global citizen were incorporated into teaching at high schools. We can, of course, debate on how well we have succeeded, but at least in principle we have been educating environmentally and eco-socially conscious school generations for a while. What happens when they enter higher education? Is there a continuum, or will the students suddenly face a different mindset in their study programmes from the one they got used to in elementary and secondary education?
  1. The gap between so-called sustainability sciences and “other” scientific disciplines. This might sound like an unfair way to put this, I admit, since all sciences can and, in many cases are, perceived as sustainability sciences, or at least can be taught and researched with different sustainability angles. I’m labelling for the sake of making  visible our still prevailing tendency to think that just as there are the so-called sustainability jobs and careers and the rest need not to work for the just green transition, there are fields which are counted as sustainability sciences, and ones that are still not yet taught with sustainability viewpoints. Thus, a student not studying an actual sustainability science might not see how their scientific field can enhance the sustainability transition.
  1. The gap between studies and employability or transition into working life. Even as more and more organisations and sectors are realising they need sustainability expertise, many students still struggle with identifying different roles where to use their expertise, especially when their competence is multidisciplinary or non-traditional sustainability expertise.
  1. The gap between a sustainable life orientation and career. Many students might have already made several, significant life choices for living within the planetary boundaries, but have not yet found a way to see how their careers can contribute to that. The concept of career might be too limited to only eg. encompass employment or jobs, when a broader concept of several life roles making up a career could help them build a meaningful, sustainable career despite their short-term career plans.

These gaps can cause discrepancy with how students might perceive what is expected of them, and with what sort of expectations, plans and aspirations for the future they themselves have. They are critical transition points, where it’s fundamental that we CGC professionals raise awareness of the systemic transformation and what it entails, and offer support in this transition. We even have the chance to impact the educational system and universities’ societal role in the transition.

Green guidance shouldn’t be limited to just career guidance or counselling. As in all systemic change, it needs to be the concern of whole university education, and even beyond the realm of the university. The potential of sustainability science in understanding and managing complex problems is based on inter- and transdisciplinary approaches. These integrate scientific knowledge across different disciplines and between experts, practitioners and citizens even beyond academia. Green guidance could be used as a methodology in sustainability science in making these integrations visible.

So when to use green guidance?

→ When we need to bridge gaps between critical education and career transitions – and studies and career as a whole.

→ When we need to make multi- and transdisciplinary connections visible for systemic transformation.

→ When we need to clarify how a student’s competence and field of study support the sustainability transition.

→ When we need to clarify and emphasise how a student’s career decisions advance the sustainability transition.

One more note on the question of ‘when’. As we very well know, questions concerning individuals’ futures and careers are of course activated at different times in their lives. Some are triggered by different life situations or occurrences, while some students think about them more or less constantly during their studies. Sadly, this planet is burning at a rate where we no longer can afford to wait for individuals to become interested in becoming firefighters. We CGC professionals need to make sure that students are aware of the fact that working life and careers are irreversibly changing, and that they are in a position to make an impact – and that actually their very careers are the key in making this transformation both in society, and in making their personal lives sustainable and responsible. And in putting out the fire.

What is Green Guidance?

  • Green guidance is concerned with sustainable development, environmental conscientiousness, and responsibility for the ecosystem.
  • It deals with the choice of work and jobs that minimise environmental harm and that heighten awareness of the importance of green careers.
  • It encourages individuals to consider the environmental implications of their career choices  and to balance work and other aspects of their lives, thereby sustaining a way of life that promotes health, economic security, and social justice.

Di Fabio A and Bucci O (2016) Green Positive Guidance and Green Positive Life Counseling for Decent Work and Decent Lives: Some Empirical Results. Front. Psychol. 7:261.doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00261