Learn how to build your climate experience with Terra do founder Anshuman Bapna

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May 17, 2023

In 2020, Anshuman Bapna needed a major shift in his life, a professional one. With the magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis weighing on him, he decided to leave his good job to pursue climate work. But what, exactly? He didn’t know. Making the change was tough. As Bapna tried to navigate his way to a new climate-specific role, he found a calling he never expected: He could help other green jobseekers who were experiencing similar job-hunting roadblocks. Thus Bapna’s company, the online education and training firm Terra.do, was born. And it was born with an enormous mission: To get 100 million people working on climate solutions in the next decade.

In this episode of The Year of the Climate Job, Bapna shares strategies for confronting daunting green job descriptions asking for years of direct experience. He also offers advice on how to gain new skills, build your portfolio, and send a message to potential future employers that you have the drive and ability to learn on the job.


HILL: Anshuman Bapna says his daughter has always given him good career advice. But the best bit of guidance she ever gave him was when she was about 10 years old. 

BAPNA: I went to her and I was talking about how I was thinking about leaving the job that I was doing, which was heading this very large online travel company, running all product for them, and so on.

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HILL: Anshuman was thinking of pursuing a new field entirely. 

BAPNA: And then when I told her that I was thinking about working in climate, her reaction changed completely, she said, ‘Good for you, and frankly, what else is worth working on?’

HILL: It was the best validation he could have gotten. 

BAPNA: We all ask, at different times in our careers, about what's next. But that question, what's next, became very quickly, what's really next that's worth working on. And so she hit that nail on the head, and was for me was, one of those moments that I kind of go back to every once in a while – every time I have doubts.


Change is coming, oh yeah

Ain’t no holding it back

Ain't no running 

Change is coming, oh yeah!

HILL: Welcome back to The Year of the Climate Job: a five-part Degrees mini-series designed to help you get a green job. I’m Daniel Hill.

As you just heard, Anshuman was ready to take the leap into the climate space. But to what, exactly? He wasn’t sure. And so he found the transition difficult. Extremely difficult. 

For one, he tried to get clear on what kinds of roles were out there, and which companies to approach. But the term “climate work” can mean SO many different things. Anshuman was overwhelmed.

BAPNA: I tried my best to read a lot. But it was still really hard to kind of put that all together as a framework.

HILL: And he had another problem, one that surprised him. 

BAPNA: It also felt lonely. 

HILL: It was early in the pandemic, when most of us felt lonely sometimes. But also because he was used to having hundreds of colleagues he could contact. He’d been working for close to 20 years. But when he went through his enormous contact list, he came up short. 

BAPNA: None of the people I knew worked in climate.

HILL: And that wasn’t all. Anshuman also struggled to figure out which of his skills would transfer to a green career, and whether he needed to learn any new climate-related skills or somehow gain specific experience. 

Is this sounding familiar?

BAPNA: I can imagine the number of people who must have gotten stymied, despite the best intentions, on one of, or multiple of, these steps.

HILL: Throughout this mini-series, we’ve been examining your biggest roadblocks, and how to break through them.  Anshuman just laid out his four biggest pain points. In case you haven’t noticed yet, they’re likely the same as yours. And the same as thousands of jobseekers I’ve connected with:

He didn’t know how to identify roles or organizations;

He lacked a network in climate;

He struggled to identify his transferable skills;

And he was daunted by employers’ ambitious job requirements! 

So, back in 2020, Anshuman asked himself: How do I overcome these challenges? 

The short answer: He couldn’t. 

But what he could do is turn his struggle into something useful for every green jobseeker. He went back to his entrepreneurial roots, and asked himself how he could solve this wicked green workforce problem. Lightning struck. 

BAPNA: How about I build a company that answers this hopefully better for many, many, many more people? And that's how Terra do started three years ago.

HILL: That’s Terra do, Anshuman’s company. It’s a global platform that offers training, resources, bootcamps and online job fairs with the goal to get 100 million people working on climate solutions within the next decade. 

Which is why I wanted to talk to Anshuman about a very specific pain point: the overwhelming fact that you – like most green jobseekers – are new to this space. And you don’t have much, if any, direct climate experience. But, the job listings you’ve found? Most demand a lot, dare I say ridiculous, amount of experience. 

BAPNA: I don't see this as terribly different from the early Internet era. If I could take you back 15-20 years ago. 

HILL: Oh, the early internet days. When the World Wide Web was starting to go mainstream. When you’d be updating your away message with some sweet song lyrics only to be kicked off the internet because your mom decided to call her friend Joyce. When you’d still say www when mentioning a website. When you could make a sandwich while you waited for your dial-up to connect. When a little computer-generated voice told you, “You’ve got mail.”

Back then, Anshuman was just starting his career. And he wanted to be in on the internet boom.

BAPNA: A job description like a product manager did not exist. A job description like a UX designer did not exist. And if it did, then the job descriptions for each of those pretty standardized roles used to be all over the place. And the thing that you would see the most often was, what you're seeing in climate right now, which is this desire to have five years of experience in a role that didn't exist two years ago.

HILL: When Anshuman looks at climate roles today – even though he has a job, as the CEO of Terra do – he’s frustrated by green job posting after green job posting demanding five or 10 years of experience, and fancy credentials, for opportunities in a job market that is still in its infancy and evolving daily. 

Anshuman is a positive guy, though. So he’s taken his frustration straight to climate employers. Terra do tries to persuade them to be more realistic, to recognize that they’re looking for a unicorn. That’s a big problem not just for you, the jobseeker, but for the employer because critical jobs are going unfilled, sometimes for a year or more, because, well, by definition, unicorns don’t exist. 

Which is how Anshuman landed on the following advice for job seekers.

BAPNA: These job descriptions right now are a bit of a suggestion.

HILL: When you reframe a job description from a commandment to a suggestion, now you should be more comfortable throwing your name into the mix. Here’s how: 

If you see an interesting job description, say for a climate communications coordinator, pause before you shoot off that cover letter. First, dig into the company. Learn as much as you can about its mission and vision. If possible, find people who work there on LinkedIn. Read their posts. Then reach out and try to talk with them about the company’s culture and its needs. Then use all of that information to craft your cover letter, and pitch the experience you do have, along with your passion for climate work. 

Also, if you’re not already, consider looking at a range of organization types. Maybe the big companies aren’t the right fit yet, or their automated screening systems are kicking your applications out. Smaller organizations might be more flexible on direct experience. And looking for more of a passion-fit that they can upskill.

BAPNA: Don't stop yourself from applying for these kinds of roles.

HILL: Now listen, we’re not trying to be toxically positive here. Just like you, I’m well aware that applying for a job doesn’t mean you’ll get an interview, let alone land the role. And applying  is a time suck! But what Anshuman is saying is: Do some self-reflection about the experience you do have and do not let these intimidating job descriptions prevent you from applying. Sometimes it’s a mental roadblock.

HILL: But of course, the road blocks aren’t all in your mind. What if you actually do need more experience to get your dream climate job? 

We have some answers for that, after a short break.

HILL: Welcome back to The Year of the Climate Job. 

So I just read a couple of job descriptions. One, for a city government climate and energy manager. The requirements are four pages long. They’d like a master’s degree, four years of experience, thorough knowledge of climate trends, policies, laws, an understanding of that city’s rules and regulations, and a lot more. It’s a cool job, for sure. But this is the problem we’ve been talking about.

Or this very cool internship at an international poverty-fighting nonprofit, helping countries make their crops more sustainable. You’ll need to be studying in an international development graduate program now and already have an understanding of agriculture, nutrition, and environmental sustainability, international development and market-based approaches to poverty alleviation. 

It pays $20 an hour. 

And honestly, I’m not sure I could get it. 

Wait, yeah no, I definitely couldn’t get it. 

OK. Here’s the good news. Despite the problem, people find good green jobs every day. 

So, what should you do? 

As we said earlier, these descriptions are suggestions. Think of them as wants, an employer’s wishlist, not needs. In most cases, roles are ambiguous. So Anshuman says, remind yourself that everyone is still figuring this out. Including employers. So do you have some of the qualifications? Go for it. Apply! Remember unicorns aren’t real. Wow, I feel like such a downer with all these reminders about unicorns not being real. At least dragons are real.

But, as I said before the break, sometimes you do need more skills and experience. What do you need to do? Where do you need to go to gain that?

One place you can go: Terra do. Anshuman’s company. 

BAPNA: So Terra runs many different learning programs, typically about six to 12 weeks in length. And we run programs that range from a bootcamp, that is for anyone who's looking to get a sense of what the landscape looks like, what the solutions and so on look like, to very specific programs on hydrogen on electric vehicles, on regenerative agriculture, and so on.

HILL: These courses are taught by experienced educators with backgrounds in climate work. Guest lectures bring in practicing experts, from journalists who cover environmental issues, to climate justice advocates, to renewable energy specialists. Anshuman’s first goal is to get students up to speed on how to navigate the vast climate landscape.

BAPNA: And navigation is not just about going to a job search engine and typing climate jobs for mechanical engineers. It's about first of all, first of all, having a framework in your head on, one, what really matters, and what is a real climate solution. And then second, kind of going down this path of, well, of all of these impactful climate solutions, where are the mechanical engineers needed? So it gets more and more tactical.

HILL: From the first introductory course, you can branch off into specialized programs. For example, there’s a six week course on climate change and venture capital. There’s another called “Becoming a Climate Designer,” for graphic designers, user experience designers, art directors, etc. And if you’re interested in regenerative agriculture, Terra do offers a four-week Climate Farm School, where you get hands-on experience on an actual farm. 

And there are other climate-focused courses out there:The UN has an incredible library of free courses. They’re on the UN SDG: Learn platform, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Anshuman says putting climate-related coursework on your resume sends an important message.

BAPNA: So your participation in these kinds of programs is just a strong signal that you're sending to your employer, potential future employer that this is an area that you're keen to learn about. they're not going to take your EDX/Coursera carbon accounting standards degree necessarily at face value. And you shouldn't expect that either, you should expect that they'll see that as a sign that you care enough about the space to jump in and participate in their own learning on the job.

HILL: EDX/Coursera: those are online continuing education platforms. 

Also, I want to stress that when you take classes, you’ll get valuable connections with instructors and with other students. And as I talked about with networking expert Nick Martin in a previous episode, you never know WHO will help you get your next job. If you missed that episode, the link’s in our show notes.

You could also go for internships or fellowships. These programs can be very rewarding, although hard to come by. 

Anshuman doesn’t love the prestige, the gatekeeping associated with internships and fellowships. But he gets that they’re a way to build out your experience.

HILL: And internships done right, without making them so exclusive? Anshuman believes in those. And he’s open to pitches! Especially if you have ideas on how to help Terra establish and build out its own internship and fellowship programs!

BAPNA: We've never had the time as a startup to be able to both collect that and sometimes in some cases, even instigate that. So if there's somebody in your audience who wants to help out for potentially a paid internship, at the very least, to go run with that and build it on top of the Terra platform, I would love to help and support them.

HILL ON TAPE: Awesome, guys, you heard it here first. There's an opportunity right there

HILL: Another way to build some experience to put on your resume, if you have some flexibility in your schedule, start a side hustle! You could find people to collaborate with in communities like My Climate Journey, Work on Climate, or a Terra Do course.

BAPNA: Where you will find like-minded folks who are interested in building out something together. And that's not a full time project. It's something that you do on the side. But in the process, what you're doing is that you're getting deeper into an area that you weren't really interested in and in the process, building out something that you can showcase. 

HILL: You can also hit up places with climate job listings, like Climatebase or the ones on Terra do and EDF’s Green Jobs Hub. 

BAPNA: Maybe find a role that you like and reach out through the job board with a suggestion to do this as a contractor for a couple of months for a format that allows both the company and yourself to experience each other professionally. And that's one another way to build a portfolio. Even if that does not end up in a full time job, it creates this very high caliber product that you can then talk to other companies about.

HILL: But be careful. There’s a difference between contract work and volunteering. While they can both be helpful, Anshuman has conflicting feelings about the value of volunteering as a way to get a job. On the one hand, he says there are some really exciting opportunities. 

BAPNA: There are some incredible organizations, especially nonprofits and public sector organizations, that are doing work on everything from conservation to consumer behavior change, building out, for example, electrification reports across different states, and so on and on. And they need so much help, like I mean, Rewiring America, for example, is one of my favorites, like, go work with Saul and his team.

HILL: Saul is Saul Griffith, co-founder and chief scientist of Rewiring America, a nonprofit whose mission is to electrify homes, businesses and municipalities using data to show energy efficient and climate-safe ways to do so. When you find a way to help organizations on the cutting edge, you can get an advantage you may never have thought of: 

BAPNA: And help them out for something specific that they need. The amount of visibility that they have, something like a Project Drawdown already has, means that the work that you do will also have a lot of visibility. It could even be a lab, sitting inside, for example. Berkeley has some really interesting things going on, where they're working with the administration, both at the federal level and at the state level.

HILL: Those do sound like cool opportunities. But remember, Anshuman isn’t completely sold on volunteering. 

BAPNA: I'm a little bit worried about volunteering in the space. And this is maybe as much personal as anything else, which is, free labor doesn't create the right kind of incentives on either side. And you'll see that story many, many, many times. But second, also, because there's so much passion in the world in climate. The vast majority of people are doing it because they mean to do it. It's pretty easy to kind of get sucked into something which is maybe in the moment kind of attractive for you.” 

HILL Put a time limit on it, Anshuman suggests. 

BAPNA: Ideally, I would love everyone to get paid for what they do. But if you're not getting paid then at least there should be a tangible outcome after three to six months of doing that for you.

HILL: There’s one more big question that everyone asks when they see those scary long job descriptions: Do I need to go back to school? I told Anshuman about a conversation I had with a green jobseeker named Hannah, who wondered exactly that.  

HILL ON TAPE: But she also is in a career right now and doesn't want to start over, doesn't want to take on that debt. How does someone decide whether to go back to school or not?

BAPNA: I'm smiling because literally yesterday, my wife, who had the same midlife crisis that I did, decided to go back to school. And she just defended her PhD thesis in the Doerr Climate School here at Stanford. And she's in sustainable construction. So for her clearly it was the right career choice to go back to school for a five-year journey into getting a PhD. I'm actually almost on the other end of the spectrum.

HILL: Going to school was the right choice for Anshuman’s wife. But he’s not sure it’s necessarily the right choice for everybody. That’s because higher education isn’t known for its nimbleness, for its ability to change quickly.

BAPNA: My sense is that the velocity at which everything in climate is moving right now means that university programs are outdated even before you begin them, let alone, by the time you're done with them. And on top of that, their ability to kind of connect you back into actual opportunities is essentially a function of what their brand is and what kind of employers naturally get attracted by that brand, as opposed to this very systematic way.

HILL: His suggestion, if you’re on the fence about going back to school, is to explore certification courses. There are so many out there now, from programs to learn greenhouse gas accounting to green buildings to smart cities.  

And also, school doesn’t have to mean a two- or four-year degree. Consider extension and certificate programs, too. For example, Harvard Business School offers a 3-week online Sustainable Business Strategy certificate course. 

Look, I get it. This issue of not having the specific experience listed in job descriptions is really hard. And in some cases, there’s no true substitute. But what Anshuman and I are saying is to be creative. Don’t think of experience as only years you’ve worked a job doing that exact thing. Think of it as a collection of your work, internships, projects, education and more.  

HILL: We heard at the very top of this episode that Anshuman’s daughter played an important role in his transition to climate work. He’s watched both of his kids grapple with the sad reality of climate change. But to know Anshuman is to feel the opposite of gloom and doom. He believes the older generations have an immense responsibility right now, to flip the script, and say, yes climate change is bad, but you can be a part of the solution. 

BAPNA: So part of the sense of urgency in my mind, as I build what I do, is that we have five to 10 years to create this entire narrative and ground reality, where there are these incredible climate careers to be built out for people who are younger and looking at their careers and decades ahead of them.

HILL: Anshuman is passionate that we can give younger generations hope by showing them that they can earn a good living while solving the climate crisis.

HILL: That was Anshuman Bapna, founder and CEO of Terra do. 

Before we wrap up: here are some things you can do right now!  

  • First: Stop doubting yourself! Apply for jobs that you think you can do, even if you don’t have the long list of unrealistic qualifications in the job descriptions. Remember what Anshuman said: in this evolving workforce, job descriptions are more suggestions than needs. 
  • Two: Consider taking courses like the ones on Terra do. Or enroll in a certification program. Even if you don’t learn every skill you need to function perfectly on day one, taking classes can count towards experience. Studying shows employers you’re interested and willing to learn.
  • And three: Try pitching yourself as a freelancer to companies you’re interested in. Offer to help with specific projects. Even when freelance gigs don’t lead to full-time jobs, they build your portfolio, your credibility, your network and your visibility. 

HILL: That's it for this episode! Remember that we list all of the resources in each episode in our show notes, and we post the transcriptions of each episode there as well! 

Make sure to listen and follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening now. Sign up for our free newsletter to get the latest updates on EDF’s Green Jobs Hub and new Degrees episodes. And share this podcast with a friend. 

In the next episode of “The Year of the Climate Job,” we look at ways to green your current job, no matter what kind of an organization you work for! 

ALEXANDER: We do need to have people working specifically on climate, like in NGOs, on sustainability teams, in climate tech, like all those things. Absolutely. And if you're currently inside of a company, there's no reason that you also can't apply a climate lens and try to move things faster from wherever you are.

I talk with Jamie Alexander of Project Drawdown about sparking change at all kinds of  companies from the inside. We also take a look at some fantastic, actionable job guides she and her team produced. That’s next time, on “The Year of the Climate Job.” 

Degrees is presented by Environmental Defense Fund. Amy Morse is our producer. Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf, Elaine Grant, Andrew Parrella and Eric Aaron worked on this episode. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from eco-conscious band Lake Street Dive. And I’m your host, Daniel Hill. Find me on LinkedIn and let’s chat green jobs. See you next time. 


Change is coming, oh yeah

Ain’t no holding it back

Ain't no running 

Change is coming, oh yeah!


Episode resources


Degrees: Real talk about planet-saving careers is presented by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Daniel Hill hosts The Year of the Climate Job. Yesh Pavlik Slenk hosts Degrees. Amy Morse is EDF’s producer.

Podcast Allies is our production company. Stephanie Wolf is senior producer; Andrew Parrella is our production manager; Matthew Simonson is our audio editor; Elaine Appleton Grant is CEO of Podcast Allies and Tina Bassir is podcast manager. Our music is Shame, Shame, Shame from Yesh’s favorite band, Lake Street Dive.