Sustainability is among the most prominent interdisciplinary majors. Graduates enjoy diverse and growing job prospects in business, economics, social planning, environmental science, design, and technology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a positive job growth rate in many sustainability careers, including environmental engineers, conservation scientists, environmental specialists, urban planners, and community services managers. Renewable energy reflects another robust field, especially wind power, where technicians can expect a staggering 96% growth in jobs through 2026.
Not all bachelor's-degree holders want to pursue entry-level sustainability jobs. For some, the next step entails pursuing a graduate or doctoral degree, where the advanced coursework, research opportunities, and leadership training open doors to higher pay and more career opportunities. Whatever their trajectory, students benefit from effective and early planning. This involves visiting the university career center and taking stock of their skills and experiences. Planning also involves research into the sustainability field. This guide helps students do just that with in-depth information on academic programs, career options, and professional development opportunities.
Skills Gained in a Sustainability Program
Because the sustainability field encompasses so many professional paths, students enjoy the freedom to pursue the coursework and hands-on training that best suits their career. However, all professionals in the field greatly benefit from the overarching skills detailed below. Research and analytical skills enable students to locate information, assess its validity, and evaluate its significance. With relevant information in hand, students apply problem-solving strategies to creatively tackle challenges. Communication skills allow professionals to clearly and persuasively get their points across. Interpersonal skills also empower them to effectively collaborate with and lead teams.
- Analytical Skills
Students learn to locate, collect, analyze, and present information. Presentations may include a written report, data visualization, and verbal exhibition. As part of their training, students learn to use statistical analysis and computer modeling programs. Proper application of these tools allows students to interpret information efficiently, saving time and improving accuracy.
- Communication Skills
Regardless of their particular industry, all sustainability professionals must learn to speak cogently and listen effectively. Communication enables professionals to learn from and cooperative with each other. This skill also prepares them to write persuasively and present their findings in front of different audiences. Students develop communication skills through rhetorical practice and group work.
- Interpersonal Skills
Though sustainability professionals, like researchers and conservationists, complete daily tasks individually, they eventually convene with their teams to advance communal goals. By developing interpersonal skills, students learn to effectively share resources, resolve conflict, and depend on one another for support and positive critique. Professionals seeking positions as project managers and program directors require advanced interpersonal skills.
- Problem-Solving Skills
Sustainability professionals confront urgent environmental, social, and health crises caused by human behavior and industry. Problem-solving skills include the ability to implement research-supported best practices and creatively tackle a problem through unconventional means. As an interdisciplinary field, sustainability trains students in strategies that are useful in business, policy, community engagement, and scientific research.
- Research Skills
To validate individual claims, project proposals, and policy changes, sustainability professionals must provide accurate, up-to-date information. Research involves sifting through sources like library stacks, archives, websites, and online databases to identify data, statistics, and facts. It also entails designing and conducting tests to discover new information. Research skills also include critical thinking, because students must evaluate information for relevance and validity.
Why Pursue a Career in Sustainability?
Sustainability careers center on minimizing environmental and health-related risks while inducing organizational growth. This means that, with the proper degree, certification, and professional experiences, sustainability specialists can work in virtually any field or industry. For students interested in business, sustainability stands as a major consideration for consumers. Consumers and other stakeholders value reusable and biodegradable products created through socially and environmentally ethical means. To align corporate practices with these values, companies need chief executives to develop sustainability strategies, operations and production managers to implement them, and distribution specialists to ensure they get to sellers. Organizations also need engineers who understand sustainable practices for reducing waste, cutting costs, and ensuring employee safety. Scientists and researchers represent other in-demand sustainability careers, including microbiologists, soil and plant specialists, atmospheric researchers, and conservation scientists.
All of the aforementioned careers stand to grow as environmental and health challenges become more pressing and nations worldwide create policies and programs to meet them. The BLS projects a 6% growth for conservation scientists, 8% growth for general executives, and 10% growth for industrial engineers. Because green industry jobs represent emergent and expanding opportunities, students can shape their careers with advanced degree work and continuing education. Professional certification offers another option for career advancement.
Sustainability Jobs Salary
Salaries for environmental sustainability jobs vary by industry, job function, and location. Business, engineering, and scientific research are the three main sustainability fields. According to Payscale, entry-level sustainability coordinators can expect $45,282 as their average salary. Like any other career, sustainability professionals with more work experience enjoy higher pay. Experienced coordinators earn approximately $62,000. Professionals with a graduate degree and advanced certification may occupy roles as sustainability managers, whose average salary is $71,044. Sustainability majors who want to pursue work in related fields can consider occupations in compliance, auditing, cost estimation, occupational health, and the military.
Meet a Sustainability Professional
Jordan Tobey, Analyst, Customer Energy Solutions — E Source
Jordan Tobey graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2015 with a BA in environmental studies. Her emphasis was on renewable energy, climate change, and sustainability. She also received a minor in atmospheric and oceanic sciences to broaden her understanding of the climate above and below the earth's surface. Jordan now works for E Source as a research analyst on the demand-side management research team. She advises North American electric and gas utilities on how to best run their energy-efficiency programs, specifically midstream and upstream programs. She also specializes in trade ally networks and counsels utilities on how to develop and nurture their contractor relationships.
Why did you choose to pursue a green career? What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job?
The summer before my first year at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU), my family and I toured the dorm buildings on campus. CU was just finishing construction on the first-ever Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum–certified dorm in the nation. I'd never heard of LEED building certification, let alone all of the cool sustainable and efficient technologies being used in the facility--stuff such as gray water, solar water heating, and energy-efficient lighting with daylight harvesting. Our tour guide explained that CU had a really amazing environmental studies degree, that it was a burgeoning field, and that it required a certain type of student: dedicated, passionate, and innovative. Right up my alley. I loved the idea that my work could positively impact our planet every day.
Green degrees are extremely interdisciplinary. They require individuals who are passionate about research, policy, engineering, sciences, human behavior, business, statistics, and other interests. And a green degree can take you in numerous career directions. You can work for governments, nonprofits, big businesses, small businesses, or yourself!
I work at an energy-efficiency research firm catering to utilities. By far, the most rewarding part of my job is learning about new energy-efficient technologies, regulatory environments across North America, and ways to encourage utility customers to be more green. I honestly can say that my environmental studies degree gave me the skills I needed to enter the workforce with a leg up on other candidates.
What challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis?
My job is to help utilities encourage their customers to adopt reliable and efficient technologies and to participate in energy-saving programs, such as appliance recycling and weatherization. That's a big challenge. People aren't eager to change their energy habits because they don't want to be uncomfortable. And they don't know what it means to reduce their energy usage by 1 kilowatt-hour; the concept is too abstract. Every day, I need to help utilities communicate energy's value and its costs, environmental and otherwise.
What are some of the most valuable skills you gained through your degree?
Based on the classes I took, I found that there are six valuable skills that I gained through my degree:
- Objectively reviewing sources and combining into an argument. Reading and listening to sources of information without imparting judgment or opinions is a really tough skill to achieve. Because environmentalism is fraught with opinions, the environmental studies degree teaches students how to report the facts first and opinions second. I use this skill every day in my current job, where I write unbiased and actionable reports for utility employees to read.
- Communication skills. The environmental studies degree taught me one thing very clearly: how to effectively communicate a story and present a convincing argument.
- Working in a group with diverse areas of interests. Because a green degree covers a lot of disciplines, I collaborated with people who had myriad interests. It prepared me well for the workplace and facilitated empathy for coworkers and customers.
- Statistical analysis. My favorite class at CU was on wind turbine meteorology. The goal of the class was to walk away knowing how to cite a wind farm that was conducive to the meteorological environment of a particular area. Much of this course involved using statistics to determine the likelihood of a high energy production. I occasionally apply these statistical analysis skills to my job.
- Technical writing. In almost every class, I was required to write technical reports. Communicating technical concepts in an accessible way is an invaluable skill. If I hadn't developed the capability in school, I wouldn't be able to perform my job today. You can't encourage people to change their energy behavior if you throw a bunch of tech-speak at them.
- Understanding of climate change and climate science on both sides of the argument. My environmental studies degree didn't take a stand on climate change; it offered arguments on both sides. Now, when I have conversations about this incendiary topic, I can be informed, empathetic, and diplomatic.
What was the job search like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
While in my senior year at CU, I approached my adviser and asked him for company and career recommendations. At this point, I was not optimistic that I would find a golden-ticket job right out of college. I worked with my adviser to identify my hard and soft skills, and I looked for jobs at companies I admired that would fit my skill set. A position opened up at E Source that didn't directly use my degree, but it used my skills. After eight months of proving my value, I moved into a position at E Source where every day I rely on the knowledge I gained at CU. The moral of my career development story is that you don't need to find your dream job right away. By finding a job that uses your strongest skills and allows you to show your potential, you'll arrive at a position that's perfect for you. Pro tip: It's much easier to climb the career ladder through promotion within a company than it is to go out and get a new job every couple of years.
How important is having practical job experience before entering the workforce?
Job experience--whether it's in your area of study or not--is extremely important before entering the workforce. I worked fast food in college, then interned at my current company; these positions gave me skills I wouldn't have developed otherwise. I learned problem-solving, business organizational structures, time management, project scoping, and budgeting. But most importantly, my first jobs helped me identify my professional strengths and weaknesses; they enabled self-reflection and helped me define who I was and how I showed up in the workforce.
What advice would you give to undergrad students who are on the fence about earning a graduate degree in a field related to environmental sustainability?
My advice to undergraduates who are thinking of getting a postgrad degree is to work a few years in the industry to determine whether it's a career path suited for you. Green and sustainable energy is the future, but it's not for everyone. You need to be passionate, indefatigable, resourceful, and curious. You'll have the wind knocked out of you a few times, but--as we green grads know--the wind will come back; it always comes back.
How do you keep up-to-date with new research and developments in the field? What does continuing education look like for you?
My job requires me to constantly research new energy efficiency programs and technologies for our customers. Every day, I'm speaking with utility professionals over the phone and learning about their challenges and opportunities. I also subscribe to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainability publishers, such as Utility Dive, Green Tech Media, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Association of Energy Service Professionals, and Smart Electric Power Alliance. A couple times a year, I attend an industry conference, and I frequently attend and host energy-related web conferences. The best way for me to keep current, though, is to talk to my colleagues. I'm surrounded by experts in sustainability, distributed energy, emerging energy technologies, and energy behavior science; I can learn seven new things while getting coffee in the break room.
Educational Path for Sustainability Majors
Earning Your Degree in Sustainability
Professionals can pursue green jobs with an associate degree, usually in supporting roles like research assistant and paralegal. However, to access the full array of careers, students should earn a bachelor's in sustainability. This undergraduate degree provides the comprehensive academics and learning experiences needed to take on work in such fields as ecology and business consultancy.
A graduate or doctoral program offers extensive leadership training and independent research opportunities that empower professionals to occupy management and postsecondary teaching positions. Time frame usually dictates what program students choose. An associate degree takes about two years to complete and a bachelor's takes about four years to complete. Master's programs take two years, while doctoral programs range from three to seven years. Research components, capstone requirements, and practicum experiences also affect a program's timeline. Obligatory certification/licensure represents another factor, especially for those pursuing engineering and scientific professions.
Sustainability majors can shorten the length of degree work by pursuing combination programs that allow students to earn a bachelor's and master's degree in five years. Students can also expedite graduation through transfer credits earned for work experience and professional training. Distance education represents another accessible option. Online sustainability programs use asynchronous classes that allow students to study at their convenience. However, distance learners should take note of prospective schools' online learning structures. Most schools facilitate individual pace learning that lets students decide, to an extent, how many credits they take each term. Other programs require students to engage in cohort learning, taking one class at a time and earning their degree at the same pace as their peers.
Other Educational Paths to Green Jobs
Curricula should affect what college program students choose. A degree in sustainability provides an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge and skill development that allows students to pursue a wide variety of careers. However, it may not offer the focused study plan a student wants for their particular field, especially if said field requires distinct research skills, practicum experiences, and professional licensure. Fortunately, other educational paths exist for sustainability professionals. This section details science-, engineering-, and business-intensive programs popular with students interested in green industry jobs. Note that some of these programs, especially at the graduate and doctoral level, require candidates to possess adequate work experience as part of their admission criteria.
Biology is the scientific study of life. These programs consist of topics in animal life, plant communities, and molecular structure and processes. Students can expect subjects like gene theory, homeostasis, evolution, physiology, and epidemiology. Biology curricula include extensive lectures coupled with practical laboratory work and field training. Capstone projects require students to plan and implement research projects, then present their findings through presentations and publishable articles. Because of the field's broad scope, biology students enjoy ample specializations, starting at the bachelor's level. Options comprise neurobiology, behavioral studies, genetics, and conservation biology. A biology degree enables students to pursue science-, health-, and research-based sustainability jobs.
- Conservation Biologist
- Environmental Research Director
- Environmental Engineering
trains them in remediation processes, which prevent and reverse environmental devastation. A general degree plan includes coursework in fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, mathematics, chemistry, process engineering fundamentals, and heat and mass transfer. Through problem-based learning and laboratory work, students learn to apply their knowledge to solve environmental challenges and keep socioeconomic development as sustainable as possible. Students may focus their studies and training by taking on a specialization, such as air quality, waste management, water resources, and environmental systems engineering.
- Environmental Engineer
- Alternative Energy Specialist
- Water Treatment Engineer
- Environmental Law and Policy
Environmental law and policy concerns how organizations and individuals reconcile economic aspirations and human liberties with the prevention of planetary devastation. Students begin by studying the American law system and major government regulations, including the Clean Air, Clean Water, and National Environmental Policy Acts. Students also learn to analyze policy and assess environmental risk using the precautionary principles and theories of transboundary responsibility and sustainable development. Environmental law and policy programs generally exist at the graduate and doctoral levels due to its advanced topics and research requirements. However, students pursuing a bachelor's in political science, environmental studies, or a related field may choose to specialize in this field.
- Government Policy Consultant
- Environmental Impact Analyst
- Environmental Studies
Environmental studies is a multidisciplinary major that provides students with the knowledge and skills needed to analyze complex relationships between human societies and the natural world. Many of these relationships often result in conflict, so environmental studies programs also train students to develop and implement strategies to address such challenges as large-scale pollution. The degree plan includes classes in the foundation of social research, economics of the environment, population studies, GIS, and spatial analysis. Because environmental studies encompass such subject diversity, students enjoy specialization options in areas like environmental management, cultural ecology, earth system processes, and resource use and policy.
- Environmental Educator
- Climate Change Specialist
- Soil Conservationist
- Environmental Science
Environmental science focuses on natural and unnatural processes and their effects on the planet. The former include volcanic eruption and land formation, while the latter comprises oil drilling and industrialized farming. Like its name suggests, environmental science emphasizes research, analysis, and data collection. Students can expect core classes in physics, biology, chemistry, geography, and marine science. Courses generally incorporate laboratory practice and field experiences where students learn to visualize data using geospatial and remote imaging technologies. Individuals who want to pursue sustainability careers can specialize in areas like pollution remediation, biological conservation, soil ecology, and water resource management.
- Environmental Scientist
- Park Ranger
Forestry programs train students to preserve wooded areas, while also maintaining them for human usage. Forestry students enjoy an interdisciplinary curriculum that synthesizes scientific topics, like forest biology and ecosystems, with social and political subjects, such as resource management and government jurisdiction. While it may seem like an esoteric field, forestry actually reflects a robust area of study with emerging specializations directly related to green careers. These include urban forestry, which trains students to create green spaces in cities to combat air pollution and revitalize neighborhoods. Carbon management is another specialization, providing students with the skills to fight climate change.
- Conservation Scientist
- Procurement Officer
- Forest Recreation Specialist
Geology is the study of the earth, its materials, and the organisms therein. Students in the field also delve into environmental stewardship, which involves understanding the earth's history and using that knowledge to pursue sustainable science, conservation initiatives, and ethical business practices. Course topics include earth chemistry, paleontology, material science, geophysical tools, and computer imaging. Students also learn how to interpret and visualize data for the purposes of written reports and oral communication. Like other physical sciences, geology entails extensive laboratory work, preparing students for careers as researchers and scientists. Geology majors may also pursue work in petroleum and other natural resource industries.
- Engineering Geologist
- Minerals Surveyor
- Marine Biology/Oceanography
While marine biology and oceanography share similarities, they are not interchangeable. Marine biology students examine ocean organisms and ecosystems, including their physiology, diversity, and life cycles. Oceanography entails the study of water currents, weather, and ocean composition at the molecular level. Programs usually emphasize one over the other but cover fundamental topics in both. Students can expect ample fieldwork since both fields require research and practical skill development. Classes include macromolecules of life, marine evolution, deep-sea exploration, and ocean circulation systems. Because these joint fields cover a multitude of career possibilities, students enjoy diverse specialization options. These comprise marine toxicology, coral reef ecology, fisheries management, and marine natural products.
- Marine Biologist
- Physical Oceanographer
- Marine Geologist
- Natural Resource Management
Natural resource management involves the supervision, handling, and distribution/use of coal, oil, timber, air, land, and certain living organisms. Students in the field learn to put natural resources to human use while reducing waste, preventing pollution, and preserving ecosystems. In addition to a chemistry and biology core, students can expect classes in pollution control, wildlife conservation, environmental communication, and agribusiness administration. Students also learn to develop programs in accordance with government laws. Outside of classroom instruction, students pursue field research and seasonal internships. Specializations include parks management, geographic information systems, watershed management, and restoration ecology.
- Wildlife Habitat Specialist
- Environmental Policy Analyst
- Natural Resource Manager
- Sustainable Agriculture
Through a sustainable agriculture program, students learn to grow plants and raise animals for food through ethical practices that enhance local and global ecosystems. Students may also choose to specialize in urban sustainability, where they learn how to create self-sustaining city farms to tackle childhood obesity and related health challenges. Other specializations include horticulture, agronomy, and livestock and poultry science. Regardless of their concentration, sustainable agriculture students must learn the fundamentals of seasonal crop production, soil management, and food systems within a geographical area. Schools that offer these programs operate or partner with nurseries and farms to give students opportunities for experiential learning.
- Plant Geneticist
- Rural Practice Surveyor
- Animal Nutritionist
- Business Degree With a Concentration in Sustainability
Commonly known as an ecobusiness major or a green MBA, these degrees provide students with the financial, human resource, and administrative skills found in conventional management programs. The main differences lie in philosophy and application. Students learn how to incorporate social and environmental consequences into their strategies while maintaining profitability and stakeholder interests. Public opinion grows increasingly hostile to companies that do not implement sustainable business practices. A green MBA prepares professionals to reduce facilities waste, embrace renewable energy, and manage and maintain a diverse workforce. Coursework includes environmental regulations, economics of sustainability, industrial ecology, intercultural communications, and building social capital.
- Renewable Strategy Leader
- Green Marketer
- Fossil Fuel Specialist
What Types of Green Jobs Are Available?
Exciting green industry jobs exist in industries like construction, design, government, and nonprofit environmentalism. Sustainable builders and urban designers are among the fastest growing positions in the U.S. because city governments understand the need for green architecture to combat air pollution and excessive waste production. These positions entail leadership skills and therefore necessitate at least a bachelor's in sustainable engineering or similar area. However, professionals with an associate degree can enter the field as a construction worker or design assistant.
As communities take on the threat of climate change and growing lack of natural resources, sustainability officers, project managers, researchers, and strategists are needed to lead. Public health represents another growing concern, and sustainability majors can take advantage of increasing initiatives among government agencies and nonprofits, including Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) jobs. PATH also works with companies to build sustainable practices. These professions generally require a bachelor's or master's, but associate degree holders may apply for assistant positions.
Associate Degree in Sustainability
An associate degree in sustainability provides students with a core in statistics, biology, chemistry, and geology. The curriculum also includes introductory classes in communication, environmental science, ecology, and environmental ethics. Laboratory and fieldwork are common requirements. In lieu of a general sustainability degree, students can pursue a specialized associate in fields like arboriculture, sustainable horticulture, equine management, and landscape contracting. These programs prepare students for practical and trade-based eco jobs. Students who earn a conventional sustainability degree can occupy administrative assistant and other supporting roles. Through on-the-job training and experience, they can advance into general leadership positions without further schooling.
- Paralegal, Environmental Law Firm
Paralegals assist lawyers by preparing legal documents and investigating facts. They also research legal precedents to bolster their client's position. An associate in paralegal studies emphasizes research practices and information analysis. Students build computer imaging and data visualization skills. To work for an environmental law firm, paralegals need to understand relevant government acts and principles of sustainability.
- Conservation Officer
Also known as park rangers, wildlife troopers, and foresters, these law enforcement officers oversee large natural areas. They implement conservation efforts with government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Some may also work with schools and tour groups to create education programs. Conservation officers need to possess the administrative skills to maintain a department budget and manage employees.
- Environmental Science and Protection Technician
This broad job title defines professionals who work in supporting roles for environmental and health organizations. These include government agencies, hospitals, and community initiatives. Technicians can work as research assistants who help conduct tests and analyze results. They may also occupy administrative positions that are responsible for general communication and supply purchases.
Bachelor's Degree in Sustainability
A bachelor's in sustainability prepares students for the full range of green jobs in such fields and industries as engineering, organizational consultancy, policy analysis, and research. Like an associate program, a bachelor's builds from a science-based foundation. Additional coursework includes water management, environmental economics, energy issues, and planning sustainable communities. Undergraduate candidates build skills through internships and practicums. Four-year degree programs also necessitate capstone projects where students conduct their own research and present findings. One of the main strengths of a bachelor's degree lies in the multifarious specializations. Students can pursue advanced coursework that aligns with particular career goals, whether it is urban sustainability, soil research, or civil engineering.
- Environmental Consultant
Environmental consultants may work for government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. These professionals assess the natural and health consequences of an organization's products and processes. They also evaluate work conditions by observing and talking to employees. Consultants need to effectively gather, analyze, and present data through reports and projects.
- Environmental Engineer
As part of one of the fastest growing environmental sustainability jobs, these engineers tackle waste and pollution problems through technological means. They may also work with government organizations to ensure compliance with federal law. Environmental engineers must possess advanced technical and research skills that allow them to conduct investigations and provide recommendations.
- Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Analyst
These analysts work primarily in production and manufacturing fields, observing a company's work practices. They then determine if the company's methods align with environmental health and individual safety standards. EHS analysts also develop and help implement green initiatives. In addition to knowledge of government regulations, these professionals need to possess strong administrative skills.
An ecologist's primary responsibilities entail research and surveys of ecosystems. They determine behavior and diversity in populations, noting changes caused by human interference. Beyond these duties, ecologists can work as educators, environmental impact specialists, and consultants. Some professionals work with nonprofit organizations as lobbyists, assisting with the development and legalization of environmental regulations.
Geoscientists may find employment as researchers and theorists, or they can work in practical capabilities. The former entails data collection and analysis into groundwater, magnetic fields, soil composition, and other geological elements. The latter sees geoscientists working with companies to identify natural resources, create extraction maps, and plan for possible risks.
Master's Degree in Sustainability
A master's degree in sustainability focuses on coursework in advanced and specialized topics, extensive research training, and independent projects that lead to new or updated contributions to the field. Because graduate programs build on undergraduate academics and training, candidates benefit from the same degree options. They can pursue a master's in environmental studies, marine biology, or industrial engineering to access work as researchers, designers, and consultants. Students may also take on the popular green MBA to prepare for business sustainability jobs. Because graduate programs emphasize leadership and communication, many working professionals return to school to open the doors to manager and director positions.
- Sustainability Director
A sustainability director envisions ways to make their company more environmentally friendly and work with their team to actualize goals. These can include building sustainable facilities, reducing production waste, and training employees in energy saving methods. In addition to keen leadership qualities, directors must possess financial skills to maintain budgets.
- Environmental Scientist
Employed by government bodies, consulting firms, and universities, these scientists conduct research on environmental issues. These include climate change, ocean pollution, and deforestation. Environmental scientists analyze findings and report their findings through clear communication and data visualization skills. Their research assists the design, implementation, and assessment of conservation regulations.
Because a biologist's main function lies in the analysis of living organisms, they can access diverse sustainability careers. Biologists may work as laboratory scientists, conducting research to help a company reduce waste production and increase energy-saving efforts. They can also work as part of field teams, assisting with land surveys and analyzing soil and water composition to help conservation efforts.
Doctoral Degree in Sustainability
Doctoral programs in sustainability require students to contribute to their field through self-motivated work. Candidates spend most of their degree plan designing and conducting research that results in a doctoral thesis, dissertation, or project that students must present and defend to earn their degree. Beyond these conventional characteristics, doctoral degrees in sustainability display surprising diversity.
Professionals can pursue a general Ph.D. program that prepares them for work as college professors and research scientists. Coursework includes human dimensions of sustainability and qualitative methods for environmental challenges. Doctoral candidates can also pursue degrees in sustainable development, enabling them to become directors in private companies and government organizations. These programs consist of classes like resource economics, econometrics, and collective action for global environmentalism. A doctoral degree in business management with a focus on sustainability offers similar training. Finally, professionals who want to pursue high-level sustainability careers can earn a doctorate in sustainable education. With coursework in global citizenship, community engagement, and project planning, this degree prepares candidates for careers as consultants and nonprofit managers.
- Professor, Postsecondary
College professors teach students in lecture-based and seminar-based classes. They also help students with laboratory work, research projects, and theses/dissertations. Professors need to possess mastery over their subject matter, cultivating knowledge through degree work and their own research and publications. They can also occupy consultancy positions with government and private organizations.
- Department Chair (College/University)
In addition to the duties related to their teaching positions, department chairs need to work with other educators at their university to develop, actualize, and evaluate curricular and administrative plans. Colleges generally hire chairs from faculty within their own ranks. Candidates need to demonstrate exceptional academic, analytical, and managerial skills.
- Research Scientist
These professionals gather and assess information. They then publish these findings in detailed reports subject to peer review. While research scientists tend to work in academic settings, they may also seek employment in applied fields that require design and development skills. For example, a fossil fuel company may hire research scientists to develop more efficient and less environmentally harmful means of extracting raw materials.
Other Career Paths for Sustainability Majors
A sustainability degree naturally leads to work with universities, laboratories, or environmental firms, including private consultancies and government organizations. However, sustainability is a multidisciplinary field. With the right course planning, skill training, and professional experiences, students can pursue work in any of the fields detailed below.
Sustainability majors can use their knowledge of environmental policies and regulations to work as paralegals, lawyers, and corporate analysts. Additionally, they may apply their research, analytical, and communication skills as journalists to bring light to environmental challenges. Environmental journalists and writers may work for news outlets or organizations focused on changing state and federal laws. With training through a green MBA, sustainability majors can pursue work in businesses and corporations, occupying roles as planners, coordinators, and directors. By combining all of the aforementioned skills, students can also find environmental sustainability jobs in political and nonprofit sectors. Finally, students may apply their skills to government and military positions as environmental technicians, sustainability coordinators, and agriculture specialists.
With a bachelor's degree in environmental law and policy, professionals can pursue legal careers with government agencies, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and law firms. Government regulations exist for virtually every natural resource and related business processes. Law students can specialize in such areas as pollution control, environmental justice, climate change, energy law, food law, water law, and land use. With so many options, students can pursue the degree plan and professional training opportunities that fit their career goals.
Environmental lawyers may work as analysts and compliance officers for federal bodies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and Department of Agriculture. They may also occupy similar positions at the state level. Private corporations offer positions as consultants who ensure company policies meet environmental standards and satisfy public opinion. Environmental lawyers who work for nonprofit organizations generally occupy roles as litigators or policy strategists. Finally, professionals can work for law firms, protecting the environmental and economic interests of their clients.
While colleges and universities do offer an environmental journalism degree, students can cultivate similar scientific, research, analytical, and communication skills in other college programs. These include environmental science, sustainability education, and law and policy. Environmental journalists advocate for conservation and remediation through evidence-based articles and reports. They educate individuals, businesses, and governments on mounting challenges to spur tangible changes. Journalists may also act as watchdogs, reporting on environmentally harmful actions and providing evidence for legal action.
Because sustainability efforts comprise so many different areas, environmental journalists need to specialize to produce effective and accurate reportage. Options include wildlife conservation, indigenous communities, marine life/oceanography, and forestry. They also need extensive knowledge of government regulations and relevant industry standards. Journalists can find work with private news outlets and environmental nonprofits. They can also pursue a freelance career, relying on the support of professional organizations like the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Sustainability represents a primary concern for businesses and corporations that want to meet government regulations while pursuing long-term growth. To this end, green MBA graduates and related professionals can find work in nearly every facet of business strategy, design, development, marketing, management, and evaluation. Students can also apply their skills and understanding as entrepreneurs. By developing sustainable business plans that satisfy the environmental concerns of consumers, they can launch tech companies, design mobile applications, or even start a green-focused bed and breakfast.
The fossil fuels industry has many opportunities for sustainable business professionals. Many of these companies operate renewable energy programs because they understand the finite nature of oil, coal, and gasoline. They need specialists who can help them transition into new forms of energy and related product development without losing profitability. Regardless of their particular industry, business professionals must possess leadership skills to help their teams through every part of the project cycle.
Politics and Government
Sustainability careers in politics and government often center around law and policy where professionals work as consultants, strategists, and compliance officers. However, other positions exist in these settings as well. Students with knowledge of international environmentalism and humanitarian efforts can pursue careers with the United Nations or similar organizations. The UN hires chief executives and sustainability officers to work with member countries who want to reduce pollution, enhance conservation efforts, and improve staff diversity through their own agencies. Professionals work directly with these agencies as team members and advisers, which requires them to spend months in the field.
Sustainability specialists may also fight for legislative action by working for political parties and organizations. These positions necessitate differing responsibilities, including analyzing policy and developing strategic plans. Professionals may also pursue business-oriented careers within a political and government setting, including marketing/branding, accounting, and operations management.
Like careers with private businesses and government agencies, nonprofit sustainability jobs are diverse. Professionals can pursue work as program coordinators and, if they possess a master's degree and adequate work experience, managers and directors. They may also work as part of a community outreach team, implementing educational programs and providing direct services to underserved populations. While nonprofit profitability may seem contradictory, these organizations are also concerned with paying their employees and pursuing short-term and long-term growth. Sustainability specialists with business acumen can occupy financial administration and fundraising roles. They can also pursue marketing, public relations, and communications positions.
Nonprofit environmental organizations advocate for specific causes, communities, and geographical areas. This means sustainability majors encounter little trouble when finding positions that fit their particular interests and training. Those who want to work for conservation efforts can find work with organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund. Professionals with interests in sustainable development should look into the World Trade Organization and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Where Can I Work With a Sustainability Degree?
Environmental sustainability jobs vary by setting and industry. Private sector positions generally pay better than public ones, but this greatly depends on the professional's work experience and education level. Government agencies, energy companies, and research and development organizations represent the largest employers. Location and population dynamics also affect career prospects. Cities generally provide more opportunities due to stronger economic performance and government funding. However, certain green careers necessitate a rural or isolated environment, including forestry, conservation, and geological research.
Adaptability is a cornerstone of the sustainability field. With the right planning, professionals may work in a variety of locations. For example, sustainable agriculture specialists can work on farms or with native communities to preserve endangered plant life, or they can occupy positions as urban growers who alleviate air pollution and provide affordable fruits and vegetables to those living in food deserts.
Beyond job availability, professionals should consider salary potential, which varies by industry and individual employer. They should also look into state license and professional certification requirements, especially those who want to pursue research and education. Finally, sustainability professionals should consider quality of life when making career decisions.
- Environmental Consulting
Consultants can work for businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits. While job duties vary by position, environmental consultants usually assess an organization's environmental impact. They also plan and implement sustainable strategies.
Average Salary: $57,609
- Engineering Services
Environmental engineers help businesses and organizations design technical improvements that promote sustainability and meet government regulations. They also provide analytical services, evaluating a company's facilities for employee safety and other standards.
Average Salary: $71,678
- Environment, Conservation, or Wildlife Organization
These nonprofit and government organizations hire sustainability professionals for various roles, including field coordinators and canvassers. Career opportunities exist at every degree level.
Average Salary: $50,410
- Environmental Remediation Services
These organizations remove contaminants and pollution from designated areas, like surface water, groundwater, and soil. Professionals in this industry oversee the clean up, including specific tasks like thermal desorption and bioremediation.
Average Salary: $59,000
- Environmental Research
Environmental research scientists can work in a purely investigative role, collecting information and analyzing data related to such topics as coral reef health and soil degradation. They can also find employment with private companies, where they incorporate research into sustainable design and development.
Average Salary: $65,000
Environmental educators can work as instructors in postsecondary institutions, teaching students and pursuing their own research. Or they can work with nonprofit and government organizations to educate the public on environmental challenges and sustainability efforts.
Average Salary: $64,858
How Do I Find a Job With a Sustainability Degree?
Sustainability majors should start job searching well before they graduate, enlisting help from advisers and their college's career center. To write an effective resume, students should employ action verbs and adjectives to frame their work responsibilities as accomplishments rather than merely tasks. Students also need to familiarize themselves with industry keywords so they can play to the applicant tracking system. Preparing for an interview takes research and practice. Students should look into their prospective company's professional philosophies, major competitors, and current projects and initiatives. By understanding these points, students can cater their strengths to the employer's needs and anticipate any reservations. The university career center can help students practice common interview questions. Some green-industry jobs and individual employers require licensure/certification. Students should factor in the time it takes to earn these credentials on top of their academic degrees.
Graduates who do not possess adequate work experience can look into internships before applying for fully paid positions. College career centers and departments provide assistance. Students can also find internships through websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, Go Overseas, and Environmental Career Opportunities. Environmental groups and government organizations also post internships. To build additional professional experience, students can attend conferences, workshops, and summits. Organizations that provide these opportunities include the Network for Business Sustainability, Environmental Law Institute, Women's Environmental Network, and the Wildlife Conservation Network.
Sustainability careers stand to grow significantly in the forthcoming years as environmental and public health challenges mount. The BLS projects environmental scientist and specialist positions to grow 11% by 2026. Major employers include state and local governments, federal executive agencies, consulting firms, and engineering and architectural design companies. Sustainable leadership is another expanding field due to corporate demands for professionals who can create, implement, and analyze green business initiatives.
Professional Resources for Sustainability Majors
- International Society of Sustainability Professionals: Founded in 2006, ISSP supports professionals by facilitating networking events, promoting professional development opportunities, and providing best practices and tools. The society provides individual and organizational memberships, which come with perks like discounts on books, training seminars, and conference fees. Sustainability students benefit from internship and volunteer opportunities. ISSP operates professional certification programs in two areas: sustainability associate and certified sustainability professional.
- Sustainability Management Association: SMA seeks to empower sustainability management as a respected field through professional advocacy and training programs. Membership comes with networking opportunities, comprehensive training webinars, job postings, and social media coverage. SMA offers professional certifications at three levels: student associate and certified associate, which do not require work experience. and certified professional, which necessitates at least two years in the field.
- Association of Christian Sustainability Professionals: Established in 2011, ACSP promotes Christian stewardship and environmentalism. The association focuses on higher education, empowering students and professionals through networking events, training opportunities, and strategic collaborations. In partnership with the Center for Environmental Leadership, ACSP operates the Creation Care Covenant, a project that enables Christian leaders to advocate for environmental causes. Student members pay a $25 annual fee; professional members pay $50; and institutional members pay $100.
- The National Association of Environmental Professionals: The NAEP is a multidisciplinary professional organization that supports members through ethical research, state-of-the-art environmental planning, and networking initiatives. Members benefit from research awards, academic scholarships, and an extensive career development center. NAEP also operates an online library of research publications and statistical analysis reports. Students can take advantage of the structured professional certification program.
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists: With a history that dates back to 1973, the AAEES promotes leadership excellence through board certification and professional development programs. Professionals can earn certificates in such areas as air pollution control, radiation protection, environmental toxicology, and sustainability science. Students benefit from awards, scholarships, and career guidance. They can also engage with AAEES student chapters and Tau Chi Alpha, the organization's honor society.
- Society for Conservation Biology: Boasting over 4,000 members, the SCP advances a globalized approach to the scientific study and conservation of biological diversity. Members engage with policy initiatives worldwide and can access support from regional, local, and topical SCP groups. The society promotes networking and academic collaboration through monthly meetings and its annual international conference. Students and working professionals enjoy awards, scholarships, fellowships, career assistance, and educational resources.
- Society of Women Environmental Professionals: Operating from its flagship facilities in Philadelphia, SWEP supports members through monthly networking and professional development events. Sustainability professionals also benefit from field-specific mentorship programs and job postings. Additionally, SWEP provides financial assistance, including research grants, leadership awards, and graduate scholarships. Students can gain professional experience by taking advantage of the organization's educational and public service opportunities.
- Young Professionals for Agricultural Development: YPARD empowers its 15,000 global members with strategic policy advocacy, research collaboration, and educational outreach programs. Sustainability majors can gain hands-on training through the YPARD mentorship programs, which provides training and logistical support to the next generation of researchers, farmers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs. Members also benefit from an e-library, job postings, research grants, and academic scholarships.
- Green Business Network: The Green Business Network offers educational and professional resources for businesses, organizations, and individual entrepreneurs who want to engage in socially and environmentally ethical practices. Members can access consumer reports, statistical research, and a library of sustainable best practices. The network also operates an institutional certification program, which results in an official green seal.
- GreenJobs: Launched in 2008, this website facilitates recruitment for environmental, conservation, renewable energy, and sustainable architecture jobs. Professionals can sign up for a private account, which enables them to upload resumes, receive individualized job alerts, and find employers. GreenJobs operates a user-friendly search function with criteria like industry sector, job category, job type, region, and salary range.