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Sustainability Focus: Interview with Daniel Laaber, Senior Account Director @ Burson

Today, we interviewed MSc Environmental Technology & International Affairs alumnus Daniel Laaber about how he applies the knowledge he gained during his MSc studies and incorporates sustainable practices into his daily work life. He also shared valuable tips for individuals interested in pursuing careers in the politics or sustainability sectors.

[Translate to English:] Daniel Laaber

How do you integrate Sustainability into your Role and the Institution you work for?

In my current role, I help chemical companies understand government rules and policies, acting as a go-between for businesses and regulators, including the EU.

The chemical industry is a good example of why thinking about sustainability is important when making decisions. Sustainability isn't just about the environment; it's also about keeping people healthy, dealing with climate change, and making sure the overall trends in society progress in the right direction. Since it's difficult to have zero impact on the planet, we need to focus on finding a balance between doing good and causing as little harm as possible, especially in industries where safety and taking care of nature are of utmost importance.

Sometimes what people want and what's practical don't match up. For example, batteries for electric cars are great for the environment, but they also contain chemicals that can cause problems. Every solution we come up with to fix one problem usually creates new ones, which is why keeping sustainability in mind is crucial for making the best decisions as such managing risks are a significant part of what I am doing day to day. 

How do you believe Continuing Education can contribute towards promoting Sustainability in Tech/Business/Industries?

The landscape of the chemical industry and its associated regulations is in a perpetual state of flux. The variety of chemicals in use is ever-shifting, with new ones emerging and existing ones possibly facing restrictions as scientific knowledge advances. Concurrently, industrial methods and consumer demands evolve swiftly. In this environment, ongoing education is essential to meet the demands of roles within this sector.

In my current position, it's imperative to have a foundational understanding across various sectors such as mobility, manufacturing, energy, and more. Contiuning education (or lifelong learning as its called in the EU Bubble) is imperative. This is particular true for professionals who already have 10+ years of work experience but would like to keep up with latest scientific findings or to embark on a new journey in a new field. Who knows what the future may bring. Just a couple of years ago green technologies where still a distant reality and became now ubiquitous.  


In what way has our Program changed or influenced Your Perspective on Sustainability within Your Industry?

Having gained some experience in corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability within the industry, participating in the ETIA program significantly broadened not only my comprehension of sustainability but also enhanced job opportunities within this specific domain. While this program may not confer expertise equivalent to someone with over 8 years of dedicated study in a particular field, it equips individuals to effectively collaborate and function across different areas. This is particularly advantageous in sustainability, which intersects with nearly every sector.

For instance, learning about environmental law enables effective communication with legal professionals, while studying topics like air and water pollution facilitates dialogue with scientists regarding their findings. Insights into economics and business contribute to a deeper understanding of the intricate socioeconomic evaluations.

Therefore, I highly recommend such a program, especially for professionals seeking to augment their expertise or those occupying managerial roles, where detailed expertise is not as much as required as in positions for experts. 

Could You share some Advice for those who aspire to start a Career in Sustainability?

Sustainability affects many sectors which means you can work in it from many angles. Consider your interests or educational/practical background before choosing your own path. Green jobs, in particular those with a policy component, are ubiquitous in Brussels due to the societal (and legal) importance of achieving set objectives in decarbonizing our economy and working towards a “harm free” society. 

The sector is rapidly evolving and here to stay, as such you should embrace a willingness to change, adapt and become more resilient. Upon embarking on my personal journey I was rather surprised by the amount of job openings in more “traditional” companies or associations and not just think thanks, NGOs and the government. Sustainability is no longer a niche market as it has become a necessity for all companies no matter their size.

Therefore, I would recommend to be strategic and either choose a sector (e.g. mobility or energy) and then embark on the sustainability challenge within that sector or choose a specific environmental challenge (e.g.  water stress) and apply your knowledge cross-sectoral. At the same time you need to think about if you would like to work on this subject at national or international level. In my personal experience the EU level provides the right balance in between to learn from national/company best practices and working at larger scale due to EU wide effective legislations. If you want to tackle sustainability at a global level I would rather suggest to embark with specific companies/NGOs who are dealing with this subject rather than an international organization as this topic has the tendency to become quite meta the less regional it becomes. 

How has Your Approach to Sustainability evolved since completing Your MSc with TU Wien Academy?

Not unusual for any graduate, my lofty ideas took a hit when they were faced with reality. Quickly, I realized that reality is much more complex than simplistic solutions to broad challenges. However, the combination of practical subjects with more scientific ones provided by the ETIA program gave me a good balance to face this challenge. 

This is particularly true for the challenges we face today. The risk for failure and frustration are particularly high when individuals try to solve today’s challenges with future technologies not yet developed to scale (e.g., large-scale battery systems, water pollution filters, and others) . Thus, I would recommend to always check what is feasible, cost-effective and reliable. Quite often, the best results can be achieved by adapting processes, data collection, and a general awareness of the topic before embarking on novel avenues.