The Green Component: Dean of James Cook University, May Tan-Mullins on sustainability as career option

Moumita Chaudhuri
Moumita Chaudhuri
Posted on 21 May 2024
05:40 AM chen chen


Sustainability is a fairly new area of expertise. It calls for an interdisciplinary approach with an equal understanding of environment, the sciences and policy making. James Cook University, which has campuses in Australia and Singapore, offers courses with a sustainability component. Excerpts from an interview with May Tan-Mullins, dean international and chief sustainability officer of the Singapore campus.

q Who is a sustainability officer?

Someone who tries to push the sustainability agenda in a company or an institution. The United Nations defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainability officers should have knowledge of the environment, the immediate social context and governance.


It means empowering students with fundamental knowledge of the current challenges of climate change and environmental pollution. By way of social responsibility, this is what we are doing inAustralia. We are working closely with the indigenous people who are helping local scientists study marine species around the coastal area from the Great Barrier Reef up to Darwin. They are figuring out how to protect them, the climate change impact on corals, on fisheries and on reef fish. We also train local communities in healthcare.

q And how does governance come into play?

Governance involves engaging with the government on policies, laws and practices related to sustainability. When I came to India, I was a bit surprised that there were a lot of plastic bottles. But then there is not much we can do about it because you cannot drink water from the tap all the time. But a very nice way of moving forward would be to see India change its policies in terms of plastic use.

q What are the different career options?

Besides being a dedicated sustainability officer, one can also opt for “green jobs”. In fact, there is a corporate philosophy that says sustainability should
be embedded in all possible units. For example, take human resources (HR). You do not need to have a special person called the sustainability professional sitting in HR, but you train the whole unit in HR to understand what sustainability is.

q What do green jobs and green skills refer to?

Jobs and skills related to the environment or improving the environment. So if you’re working in an EV (electrical vehicle) car company, that’s a green job. The green skills in question here would be knowing the technology that helps to reduce carbon footprints for the EV.

If you work for a green energy company or for a construction firm that’s trying to build green buildings, obviously you are in the sustainability field. You are still very much into your sectoral skill sets such as engineering, research and innovation. But it has a green component in it. It deals with renewable energy efficiency.

q Who can apply to these courses?

A sustainability professional can be a business student, an engineer, an IT student, a psychologist or just about anybody. The core skills do not change. In the technology field, though, you have a green component included in your course. But there is no bar regarding which stream the student belongs to.

q How do you teach sustainability at the college level?

At the Singapore campus of James Cook University, we offer more than one course. We have one very good programme called business and environmental sciences and there is also a course in aquaculture.

Last updated on 21 May 2024
05:41 AM
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