Environmental Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Environmental Careers: 2021 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

The United States green economy employs an estimated 9.5 million people and accounts for 7% of the nation’s annual GDP (Georgeson & Maslin, 2019). As more companies invest in greener practices due to high consumer demand for sustainability, the need for professionals in the environment sector will also inevitably rise. As will be demonstrated through data in this guide, environmental careers have indeed a very bright outlook.

Reading this document will benefit people who are interested in exploring environmental careers. It will walk them through the process of deciding if this career path is the right one for them. Moreover, it can prepare them for opportunities ahead by giving them insights into the essential and general skills, career options for every college degree type, and various certification programs in the environmental sector.

Environmental Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue environmental careers?
  2. Environmental Careers Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Environmental Careers
  4. How to Start Your Environmental Career
  5. How can I advance my environmental career?
  6. Alternative Environmental Careers

Why pursue environmental careers?

Not everybody can tweet #SaveTheEarth and actually go do the work it takes. After all, saving the earth is as hard as it sounds. However, it can also be very rewarding. Environmental career paths can help you positively impact your own life, the life of others, and the life of the planet. These aside, you will come across people who will inspire you and have the chance to inspire others as well.

The green revolution needs entire populations. By pursuing environmental careers, you can make concrete research-based actions to raise awareness and concern for the environment. A study published in the journal of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, titled “Relationship of Sustainable Behavior, World-Mindedness, National and Global Identities, Perceived Environmental Risk and Globalization Impact Among College Students in the United States,” shows that “perceived risk from climate change and environmental degradation, as well as stronger identification with humanity at large, tends to promote and encourage more sustainable behavior. One of the implications of these findings to increase sustainable behavior is raising awareness of the risks of climate change and raising one’s sense of belonging to all of humanity and global citizenship through education, exposure to the pervasive impact of climate change around the world, and through community-based intervention for sustainable behavior and development” (Der-Karabetian, Alfaro, & Cao, 2018).

For those who want to help with the above-mentioned endeavor, environmental career opportunities are available to people coming from different backgrounds and of different levels of education. These will be discussed in the next sections.

Environmental Careers Image 1

Environmental Careers Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), the employment of environmental scientists and specialists will grow 8% between the years 2020 and 2030. This means around 7,300 more people will be needed to work in this role. Meanwhile, conservation scientists’ and foresters’ jobs will also grow by 6% and 10%, respectively, within the same period (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Most of the roles that will be discussed in this guide are either under or closely related to both environmental and conservation science. Below is a table that shows the compensation rate and demand for specific job positions.

RoleSalaryDemand
Forest and Conservation Technicians$42,800
-8%
Environment Science and Protection Technicians
$46,900
11%
Wind Turbine Technicians
$56,20068%
Soil and Water Conservationists
$63,600
7%
Wildlife Biologists
$66,350
5%
Environmental Engineers
$92,120
4%
Industrial Ecologists
$71,400
8%
Climate Change Analysts
$77,400
8%
Atmospheric Scientists
$99,740
8%
Environmental Biotechnologists
$73,200
8%
Environmental Physicists$73,200
8%
Environmental Statistician$93,30033%

Required Skills for Environmental Careers

Given the wide scope of environmental careers, the skills necessary will largely depend on what specific job functions an individual will be required to perform. However, there are foundational skills that will be useful to every professional in this sector. Some of them are discussed below.

Essential Skills for Environmental Careers

  • Environmental Awareness. Professionals working in the environment sector are expected to have at least a basic understanding of the issues in their field at the onset of their careers. This will demonstrate their passion for the field and willingness to contribute to creating solutions. Their understanding of environmental issues can only deepen as they get more exposure through literature, projects, advocacies, organizations, and fellow environmentalists.
  • Inductive and Deductive Reasoning. Seeing the world through a scientific lens requires knowledge of inductive and deductive approaches. People in the environment sector will need this for formulating scientific queries, designing methodologies, and conducting research in general.
  • Systems and Risk Analysis. Environmental workers must be able to make sense of complex issues and scenarios. They must be able to identify health and safety hazards and calculate the probability of risks occurrence. This is especially true for workers in leadership and management positions.
  • Data Science. It is important for people with environmental careers to know how to collect, interpret, and visualize data for them to be able to share their expertise with other people. Due to its enormity, environmental issues will not be solved by only a few people who know how. Advocacy campaigns are necessary and more convincing with data.

General Skills for Environmental Careers

  • Project Management. This is the top skill affecting environmental management jobs salary. People with environment-related jobs are often tasked with planning, executing, and monitoring projects aimed at encouraging pro-environment behavior. For this reason, they must be thoroughly acquainted with project management tools and techniques. They must also be comfortable with working on teams and coordinating with stakeholders.
  • Technical and Academic Writing. Excellent writing skills can get professionals far in this field. It will allow them to communicate their ideas and discoveries with the public, policy-makers, and fellow scholars and can, therefore, help them become more influential.
  • Critical Thinking. This skill is important for identifying environmental problems and solutions. It will also help with refuting unscientific claims and understanding issues in their geopolitical and social contexts.

Source: Payscale

How to Start Your Environmental Career

Employers typically look for an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree when considering candidates for environmental positions. In the STEM fields, people with associate degrees typically land entry-level positions, such as technicians. Going up the career ladder would require industry experience or earning a bachelor’s degree.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Environment?

Forest and Conservation Technicians

Technicians manage forest and conservation workers and work under the supervision of foresters and scientists. They are expected to have extensive technical knowledge related to conservation. Their tasks include data collection and management, research, and experimentation.

Medial Annual Salary: $42,800

Environment Science and Protection Technicians

One in four environmental science and protection technicians work in the management, scientific, and technical consulting services industry (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). They provide technical assistance to prevent environmental health hazards. Employment in this position is expected to grow much faster than average at 11% between the years 2020 and 2030 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021)

Median Annual Salary: $46,900

Wind Turbine Technicians

Majority of wind turbine technicians (31%) work in electric power generation companies. Their main task is to ensure that turbines are at their optimal states. They are the ones who maintain and repair wind turbine components. Some of them also work on building new wind turbines.

Median Annual Salary: $56,200

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environment?

Soil and Water Conservationists

Soil and water conservationists work on projects related to land use, soil nutrition, erosion control, water quality, and watershed management, among others. They provide services to landowners, governments, and environmental organizations.

Median Annual Salary: $63,600

Wildlife Biologists

More than six in 10 wildlife biologists are employed by either state or federal governments. They study all aspects of plant and animal species in the wild, including their habitat, population size, and interaction with other species. Their work is important because it helps in the preservation and management of wildlife.

Annual Median Salary: $66,350

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers apply scientific and engineering principles in devising solutions that will protect and improve human and environmental health. They are required to take a five-year degree program in an institution accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. After which, they may opt to take the professional engineering licensure examination.

Median Annual Salary: $92,120

Can you get an Environmental Career job with just a certificate?

Yes, you can get an entry-level job in the environment sector with just a certificate. Here are some job positions in the industry that do not require a college degree:

  • Solar Photovoltaic Installers
  • Energy Auditor
  • Forest and Conservation Workers

Take note, however, that although employers will not always require a degree for these positions, it will still be an advantage for applicants to have one. Further, you will need at least an associate degree to advance your environmental career.

Environmental Careers Image 2

How can I advance my environmental career?

A master’s degree allows practitioners to specialize and gain a competitive advantage in a specific environmental field. For example, they may pursue continuing higher education with a major in ecology, climate change, or atmospheric science. The positions they may land thereafter are discussed in this section.

With a master’s degree, environmental professionals may land leadership and management positions. Meanwhile, further education or a doctorate degree will be necessary to be able to conduct more independent research.

What can I do with a Master’s in Environment?

Industrial Ecologists

Industrial ecologists study the relationship between environmental and societal issues and work to come up with science-based solutions. They are experts in assessing the environmental impacts of industrial practices, writing technical reports, and providing sustainable alternatives to harmful products or processes. To gain this level of expertise, industrial ecologists typically seek graduate education. In fact, according to a survey by O*NET Online, 65% of industrial ecologists have a master’s degree.

Median Annual Salary: $71,400

Climate Change Analysts

Climate change analysts or climatologists collect and interpret data to understand how climate might impact the environment, human beings, and life on earth, in general. They come up with scientific reports laying out the probable future scenarios and the actions we can take to mitigate climate change. Their work informs environmental regulations, organizational advocacies, and educational programs.

Median Annual Salary: $77,400

Atmospheric Scientists

Atmospheric scientists study the properties of the Earth’s atmosphere. They collect atmospheric data using satellites, radar systems, and other instruments. They communicate the results of their research through weather maps, reports, and forecasts.

BLS (2021) enumerates the following types of atmospheric scientists: (1) Atmospheric chemists, (2) Atmospheric physicists and dynamists, (3) Broadcast meteorologists, (4) Climatologists, (5) Climate scientists, (6) Forensic meteorologists, and (7) Research meteorologists.

Median Annual Salary: $99,740

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Environment?

Environmental Biotechnologists

Environmental biotechnologists use their knowledge of biology and engineering to develop technological solutions for a greener and more sustainable society. They work to prevent pollution and treat contaminated sites. They also conduct research and experiments to reduce the ecological footprint of humanity.

Medial Annual Salary: $73,200

Environmental Physicists

Environmental physicists concern themselves with how physical laws and principles can be applied to environmental issues. It is important to study this intersection between environmental science and physics to understand heat transfer processes, create renewable energy, and develop tools for environmental monitoring, to name but a few.

Median Annual Salary: $73,200

Environmental Statisticians

Statisticians focus on environmental data collection, analysis, and visualization. They shape research designs based on statistical theories and methods and come up with reports, forecasts, and models that then inform policies and regulations.

Median Annual Salary: $93,300

Which certification is best for Environmental Careers?

Certifications should be on the environmental careers list of serious professionals. These can help demonstrate their expertise in an environment subfield and highlight it to employers. Many reputable organizations offer certifications in this field. Some examples are The Ecological Society of America, Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals, The Institute of Professional Environmental Practice, and International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

Environmental Careers Image 3

Alternative Environmental Careers

The sections above focused on science and engineering job opportunities but the types of environmental careers are not limited to these. One can become a writer, an urban planner, an emergency manager, a teacher, or a lawyer and still pursue a career in the environment sector.

What other environmental careers can you pursue?

Environmental Writers

There are writers who specialize in producing content that advocates for the environment. They draft and publish essays, stories, journal articles, and other forms of literature and help disseminate important local and global information relating to the environment.

Median Annual Salary: $67,100

Urban Planners

Planners directly influence the eco-friendliness of urban spaces. They are the ones who design and implement community plans that may or may not promote sustainability and may or may not have a positive environmental impact.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000

Emergency Management Directors

Emergency management directors play an important role in environmental management. Part of their job is to respond to emergencies caused by natural events and analyze the human and environmental factors involved in the scenario. The data they gathered during these unfortunate events can be used to prevent and prepare for natural disasters.

Median Annual Salary: $76,300

Post-secondary Teachers

Teachers perform an important role in protecting the environment in that they shape the minds of the next generation of citizens who will deal with environmental issues in the future. As of 2020, there are 7,100 environmental science teachers and 1,700 forestry and conservation teachers in America (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

Median Annual Salary: $80,600

Environmental Lawyers

Environmental lawyers represent the interest of stakeholders in legal issues concerning environment-related matters, such as natural resource preservation and management, pollution control, and climate change mitigation. They have extensive knowledge of existing environmental laws and regulations and are involved in reviewing and drafting new policies.

Median Annual Salary: $126,900

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Is going green the career path for you? 

The spread of woke ideology influenced many people to pursue environmental careers. With the clamor for sustainability, it comes as no surprise that professionals in the field have plenty of job opportunities available to them, depending on their educational attainment and background. Pursuing this career can also be lucrative for those who decide to take up further studies. More than that, as it involves work that has a big impact on the world, it offers a high level of job fulfillment for those in the industry.

Even people who are not professionals in this field still want to work in a company that fights its causes. In fact, 69% of job seekers in the U.S. report that a company’s environmental record factors in on their decision about whether or not they will accept a job offer (McCarthy, 2021).

Environmental professional or not, everyone can contribute to the green revolution by being just a little more mindful of daily environmental decisions. We can set career goals that are in line with environmentalists principles or take environmental classes to educate ourselves. Big or small, we can all contribute to saving the planet.

 

References:

  1. Data USA (n.d.). Environmental Studies. Retrieved from https://datausa.io/profile/cip/environmental-studies
  2. Der-Karabetian A., Alfaro M., & Cao Y. (2018). Relationship of Sustainable Behavior, World-Mindedness, National and Global Identities, Perceived Environmental Risk and Globalization Impact Among College Students in the United States. Psychology and Cognitive Sciences 4(1), 8-13. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.17140/PCSOJ-4-138
  3. Georgeson L. & Maslin, M. (2019). Estimating the scale of the US green economy within the global context. Palgrave Communications, 5:121. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0329-3
  4. McCarthy, J. (2021). Environmental Record a Factor for Most U.S. Job Seekers. Gallup. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/346619/environmental-record-factor-job-seekers.aspx
  5. O*NET Online. Industrial Ecologists. Retrieved from https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-2041.03
  6. United Nations (n.d.). Climate Action Fast Facts. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/key-findings
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/educational-attainment.htm
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/
  9. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/

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