Careers in Sustainability

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Generally speaking, a green job is a position where a worker strives to boost energy efficiency, reduce waste, or develop or hone sources of renewable energy. Green jobs may exist within a conventional field, or be part of an industry comprised of nothing but green jobs. Whether describing a particular career or a field of interest, green practices are increasingly becoming part of the traditional workforce.

The emergence of the “clean economy” can be attributed to the more than 2.7 million workers employed in green jobs across the U.S., according to Brookings. These positions continue to evolve and grow, and are appealing to a wider demographic of workers. For low- and middle-class workers, the green economy offers more work opportunities and better pay than the economy as a whole. Green jobs are ideal for professionals seeking a long and sustainable career, and are also accessible to a wide spectrum of workers across all education levels.


Many states in the U.S. have led substantial efforts to contribute to the green economy. Below you will see a snapshot of green job distribution across the country. Expanding job possibilities for workers at all levels of education and experience who are interested in a sustainable industry means green jobs opportunities will continue to grow.

Green Employment Snapshot

Source: Brookings

The green economy encompasses a growing expanse of environmental careers and sustainability jobs. With such a variety of available positions, it can be difficult to know which education requirements you need for a given job. Still, there are a couple of majors that will effectively prepare you for a variety of careers. If you want to direct your educational path toward a green job, here are some of the most common majors for different positions:


Biology and environmental biology require professionals to study ecology and the pollutants and conditions affecting the ecosystem. Biologists monitor and analyze ecological data through extensive field and lab work. Potential careers include:

  • Biologist
  • Environmental biologist
  • Conservation biologist
Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering includes subfields in civil, electrical, and mechanical green studies. Environmental engineers use physical, ecological, and biochemical techniques to develop solutions for environmental systems that protect human health and welfare.

Civil environmental engineering majors develop methods to restore natural resources to their purest state for sustainability and safe human consumption. Potential green jobs include:

  • Environmental civil engineer
  • Urban planner
  • Agricultural engineer

Electrical environmental engineers study various applications of electricity and electronic science in relation to environmental systems. They develop environmentally friendly solar- and wind-powered electricity systems. Potential jobs include:

  • Environmental electrical engineer
  • Solar power electrician
  • Wind energy engineer

Mechanical environmental engineers are trained in traditional mechanics and materials engineering, and also take courses in sustainability and environmental technology. Professionals usually help design and develop the mechanisms that support green energy systems. Potential jobs include:

  • Environmental mechanical engineer
  • Solar panel designer
  • Robotics engineer
Environmental Law and Policy

Majors in this discipline develop expertise in energy and environmental resource laws and policies. Environmental law and policy majors may study legal aspects of environmental protection, climate change, pollution, energy, and land use management. Possible jobs include:

  • Environmental lawyer
  • Environmental policy analyst
  • Environmental economist
Environmental Studies

Environmental studies majors address environmental problems by studying their social, historical, and political implications. Not to be confused with environmental scientists, these professionals concentrate on law, policy, and society as they pertain to the environment. Possible jobs include:

  • Environmental sustainability analyst
  • Natural resources specialist
  • Climate change specialist
Environmental Science

Environmental science takes a fundamentally scientific and quantitative approach to overcoming environmental challenges in our ecosystem. Students approach environmental science through biology, chemistry, and physics courses. Potential jobs include:

  • Environmental scientist
  • Biochemist
  • Geographer

Forestry majors study all aspects of the forest services industry, including how to properly conserve natural resources. Forestry programs rooted in environmental studies focus heavily on conservation and sustainability in forests and wooded areas. Potential jobs include:

  • Forest conservationist
  • Agricultural sustainability specialist
  • Firefighter

Geologists study the Earth and the materials found within it. In order to understand the Earth’s minerals and scientific components, geologists study the evolution of the Earth and its inhabitants, including climate changes and tectonic plate shifts. Potential careers include:

  • Geologist
  • Geophysicist
  • Hydrogeologist
Marine Biology/ Oceanography

Marine biologists and oceanographers study and help protect and preserve marine life and the oceans. They serve in a range of roles within this specialty, from tracking endangered marine species to developing bioactive medicine from ocean microbes. Potential jobs include:

  • Marine biologist
  • Oceanographer
  • Marine environment conservationist
Natural Resource Management

Natural resource management requires professionals to organize, monitor, and conserve natural resources, including water, land, soil, and living organisms. Ultimately, natural resource managers improve the quality of life for Earth’s current and future inhabitants. Potential jobs include:

  • Natural resource manager
  • Conservation scientist
  • Compliance officer
Sustainable Agriculture

Students in sustainable agriculture programs learn how to grow crops without using noxious fertilizers or toxic chemicals. Courses cover environmentally friendly techniques for sustaining crops and farming naturally for future generations. Potential jobs include:

  • Agriculture engineer
  • Agriculture and food scientist
  • Farm manager

Green jobs continue to expand across industries. With such a variety of job possibilities, gauging exactly how many positions are available in the “clean economy” is challenging. Regardless, the employment outlook for green jobs is promising. Here are some common trends among sustainability jobs and environmental careers:

Green Construction

Green construction is one of the fastest growing industries in the clean economy. Professionals are responsible for developing and implementing efficient building practices and for preserving the environment and its natural resources. In an effort to promote environmentally friendly practices, green building strives to incorporate recycled and renewable materials, conserve energy and water, and keep each structure’s carbon footprint as small as possible. These practices are increasingly common, and are part of a growing trend throughout the industry to “go green.” Below are several popular jobs in the industry:

Urban Planners
  • Mean Annual Salary: $68,220
  • Degree/Certification Required: Master’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 38,000

Urban planners develop environmentally responsible plans for land use to create and accommodate communities and manage shared resources.

Civil Engineers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $82,220
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 8%
  • Number of People Employed: 281,400

Green civil engineers devise and implement public- and private-sector construction projects that promote environmentally sustainable practices and use environmentally safe materials.

Landscape Architects
  • Mean Annual Salary: $63,810
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 5%
  • Number of People Employed: 22,500

In the green economy, landscape architects design outdoor areas for public and private use. They incorporate responsible organic farming techniques, water conservation methods, and sustainable landscape materials.

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agricultural specialists develop environmentally friendly farming and crop management techniques, without using pesticides, growth hormones, or other chemicals. Professionals typically have a detailed understanding of green farming practices, including natural soil compounds, water conservation, and crop rotation techniques. Some may focus on an acute specialty in science, engineering, or technical aspect of this field, such as researching biochemical formulas, or designing green farming machinery. Below are several popular jobs in the industry:

Farm Manager
  • Mean Annual Salary: $64,170
  • Degree/Certification Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): -2%
  • Number of People Employed: 929,800

Farm managers devise natural, sustainable methods of managing crops, livestock, and dairy production.

Agricultural Engineer
  • Mean Annual Salary: $75,090
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 4%
  • Number of People Employed: 2,900

Environmental agricultural engineers solve problems related to agriculture production and processing, such as power supply, energy-efficient machinery, and pollution.

Agricultural and Food Scientists
  • Mean Annual Salary: $62,470
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 5%
  • Number of People Employed: 36,100

Agriculture and food scientists enhance the safety and efficiency of food production and sustainability by researching farm animals, soil quality, and food packaging and delivery, and subsequently developing safe and sustainable practices.

Renewable Energy and Efficiency

Renewable energy and efficiency requires professionals to develop sustainable and environmentally responsible methods of managing public energy systems. In turn, these affect water and food supplies and services. Renewable energy and efficiency workers research, design, and implement machines to generate or harness wind power, hydroelectric power, or solar energy. Some specialists in work in research, performing auditing services on existing energy systems in the green sector or working to develop new technology. Below are several popular jobs in the industry:

Wind Energy Engineer
  • Mean Annual Salary: $51,050
  • Degree/Certification Required: Associate degree is preferred, with at least 12 months of on-the-job training
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 108%
  • Number of People Employed: 4,400

Wind energy engineers install, repair, and maintain wind turbines. Typically, these professionals can access turbine diagnostics from both on- and off-site.

Solar Power Electrician
  • Mean Annual Salary: $37,830
  • Degree/Certification Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 24%
  • Number of People Employed: 5,900

Solar power electricians have a working knowledge of functional solar power technology. They assemble, install, and perform maintenance on solar panels and solar power systems in a variety of settings.

Energy Auditors
  • Mean Annual Salary: $62,850
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 11%
  • Number of People Employed: 67,190

Environmental energy auditors examine the energy output of a given client to ensure that resources are being used efficiently and in an environmentally responsible manner.

Sustainability and Environmental Remediation

Sustainability and environmental remediation professionals integrate green practices into the traditional economy. They work in a variety of industries, including traditional sectors that have only recently addressed green technology. Specialists in sustainability help organizations achieve economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable business practices. Environmental remediation professionals restore polluted or contaminated sites, such as waterways or hazardous waste dumps, to their natural state by incorporating new and green technologies and resources. Below are several popular jobs in the industry:

Conservation Scientists
  • Mean Annual Salary: $60,220
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 7%
  • Number of People Employed: 36,500

Conservation scientists are responsible for studying and maintaining forests, parks, land, and other natural resources. They may perform research that leads conservation and preservation efforts for global resource protection.

Natural Sciences Managers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $120,160
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 3%
  • Number of People Employed: 55,100

Managers supervise other scientists researching environmental quality control. They oversee chemists, physicists, biologists, and other professionals performing tests or assessments to help solve environmental issues.

Compliance Officers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $69,180
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): N/A
  • Number of People Employed: 257,010

Compliance officers implement a checks-and-balances system for laws and regulations governing environmentally responsible business practices. They help enforce strict laws against unnecessary pollution and are crucial in environmental remediation initiatives.

Miscellaneous Green Jobs

Outside of positions in inherently green industries, there are a variety of green jobs in traditional fields, including law, marketing, and communications. Professionals with expertise in legal or marketing aspects of environmentally friendly business practices, sustainability initiatives, or conservation efforts can easily find a job in the field. The growing need for professionals with this innovative background is restructuring the economy, and convincing more and more organizations to “go green.”

Environmental Lawyer
  • Mean Annual Salary: $115,820
  • Degree/Certification Required: Doctoral or professional degree
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 778,700

Environmental lawyers work to help companies follow regulations, and work to help companies implement green business practices compliant with new laws.

Green Marketer
  • Mean Annual Salary: $124,850
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 9%
  • Number of People Employed: 225,200

These marketers generate ideas to benefit the environment and promote green practices. They develop strategic advertising and promotional campaigns to share green initiatives with the general public.

Public Relations Specialist
  • Mean Annual Salary: $56,770
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 240,700

Public relations specialists inform the public of environmental remediation projects. They communicate with the public and members of the media clearly and concisely.

Entry-Level Green Jobs

Spanning a range of fields and industries, these green jobs are available to applicants from all educational and professional backgrounds. While some entry-level positions require a degree or speciality skills, others are general labor positions that require little experience. As green initiatives become more popular throughout the country, the number of opportunities will only grow in the future. Below are a few common entry-level green jobs:

Biological Technician
  • Mean Annual Salary: $39,750
  • Degree/Certification Required: Associate

Biological technicians work alongside scientists, helping them collect information and conduct lab experiments.

Environmental Science and Protection Technician
  • Mean Annual Salary: $41,240
  • Degree/Certification Required: Associate

These professionals often work in teams under the supervision of environmental scientists and specialists to solve environmental degradation and public health problems. They may set up equipment, assist with inspection, and prepare reports.

Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $80,860
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s

These professionals carry out ecologically-friendly waste management and transportation. They help reduce waste and save energy.

Environmental Engineering Technicians
  • Mean Annual Salary: $41,310
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s

Environmental engineering technicians help engineers implement environmental remediation plans. Job duties include site inspection, equipment testing, and sample collection.

Meredith Brown Recycling and Waste Diversion Program Manager at Cox Enterprises

Please provide a brief background of your academic and professional experience.

I received a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Emory University and a master of public health degree in environmental health from the Rollins School of Public Health. I have a proven track record of solving complex environmental, sustainability, and business problems at two Fortune 500 companies and a leading research institute. I currently lead the waste management program for Cox Enterprises, an $18 billion company with locations across the nation. The company is involved in multiple industries, and through its national sustainability program, Cox seeks to send zero waste to landfill by 2024.

What factors should a student take into account when considering a degree in this field?

Sustainability has gone from a “nice to-do” to a business imperative. You must be well rounded on multiple environmental subjects because they are all intertwined. We have goals around waste, water, and carbon. Many of our projects have an impact on more than one area.

You must be comfortable with data, finance, and presenting projects in business terms. Luckily, our leadership understands that what’s good for the environment is also good for the bottom line. That isn’t the case at all businesses. You need to be able to “sell” projects using business terms. What’s the ROI?

What do you find most fulfilling about this career path?

I work for a company that truly cares about the environment, so I am empowered to make a difference. It’s rewarding to know that I’m doing something that will make our planet a better place, while at the same time, I’m helping the company’s bottom line. It’s really fun to explore all of the new technologies that are being developed in sustainability.

What challenges do you face day to day?

Our company operates in several industries, so we have many different types of waste. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a challenge, but it also gives me the opportunity to come up with a variety of solutions. In the last year, I’ve worked on waste management programs around tires, newspaper printing facilities, deskside recycling, electronics waste collections, and composting. I was really excited that one project led to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution becoming the first newspaper printing facility in the country to achieve Zero Waste certification.

There are a lot of opportunities for creativity and innovation in this space.

What type of person would excel in this industry?

Flexible people excel in this industry. They understand that there is no one right answer. Different solutions work for different projects. Being passionate about the environment is great, but you have to understand the business side of it as well.

What additional advice can you give to someone pursuing this career path?

Network, network, network. Many companies are facing similar issues. By networking, you learn best practices. No one can do this alone. We all need partners.

Green Job Boards

  • Green Jobs Network – National network of green job postings, with options available to search by category, state, or city.
  • – Job board featuring national jobs with an increased focus on sustainability-related industries and career opportunities. Job seekers may search by skill level, location, category, and other criteria.
  • Green Local Jobs – Job bank with listings in almost 50 urban areas for environmentally friendly job opportunities.
  • Green Biz – For a nominal fee, job seekers can post resumes and browse other resources for green jobs, along with internships and volunteer opportunities.
  • Environmental Career Center – The job board on this site features frequently updated job posts for job seekers, along with resources for employers looking for job seekers.

Green Career Blogs

  • Green Collar Jobs Blog – This blog features in-depth information on searching for and obtaining green jobs, from posting your resume to acing the interview. Some articles also explore the “hidden” green job market.
  • Echoing Green – Compilation site including several publications and blog threads about the environmental and social impact of green jobs; Explores how and why to begin your search for a sustainable career.
  • Environmental Job Blog – The self-proclaimed “gateway” to internships, jobs, and other green opportunities, this blog caters to professionals with a background in environmental studies.
  • – Comprehensive site with the latest news about all categories of green jobs and related events and seminars, along with articles covering recent industry trends.
  • The Meeting Point Blog – The online information source for the Good Jobs Green Jobs conference, this blog promotes in-person workshops and seminars along with online discussions about green jobs.

Professional Organization for Green Careers

  • – This comprehensive site features careers and educational opportunities all over the United States, with affiliations with employers like Audubon and The Nature Conservancy.
  • International Labour Organization – This organization features a division dedicated to green jobs, including information about economic and industrial trends and incentives for workers in the field.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics – The BLS features comprehensive information about green careers, including economic trends and geographic and demographic statistics.
  • – Among the nation’s leading environmental news agencies, Grist now features a green job blog, job board, and frequent op-ed pieces written by guest contributors covering green topics.
  • American Solar Energy Society – With chapters throughout the country, ASES maintains an extensive website that offers information about national annual environmental conferences and a solar energy job board.