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

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

Sustainability means using resources in a way that they can fulfill existing needs without compromising future resources and generations. It aims to integrate and administer a sustainability strategy relevant to a business or organization. It helps achieve overall success and resilience through reduced risks, cost efficiency, and prevention. It is an interdisciplinary field, encompassing diverse career paths and allowing students to choose their preferred coursework and training. Sustainability careers hone the intersectionality of people, planet, and prosperity (EnvironmentalScience.org., n.d.).

Students study environmental management, environmental systems, and research techniques. Upon graduation, they can take roles in businesses and organizations to create more environment-friendly policies. Although career goals in sustainability are usually associated with environmental conservation and protection, it also ensures promising social and economic impacts. Many companies actually impose sustainability approaches to grow revenue, operate more efficiently, and establish a sense of wellbeing among their communities.

See what the sustainability career path can offer you in terms of the salary range, job outlook, and professional resources in this guide.

Sustainability Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in sustainability?
  2. Sustainability Career Outlook 
  3. Required Skills for Sustainability
  4. How to Start Your Career in Sustainability
  5. How can I advance my career in sustainability?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Sustainability

Why pursue a career in sustainability?

Persons whose passion lies in the environment and making a better world should pursue a sustainability career. Besides passion, sustainability professionals must also display exceptional skills in research, communication, and analysis. To improve these skills, enrolling in an associate, a bachelor’s, or a graduate degree would be of great help.

Source: The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, 2020

The sustainability career path includes sustainability specialist, environmental engineer, sustainability manager, and sustainability director roles. These professions can bring positive effects to the environment, quality of living, and upcoming generations (Best Colleges, 2020).

Sustainability Career Outlook 

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are roughly 53,150 environmental engineers in the country. They earn an average income of approximately $88,000 annually. The BLS also predicts that vacancy for the position will grow by 5% between 2018 and 2028, adding about 3,800 new jobs (Best Colleges, 2020).

The table below shows the average sustainability salary.

Average Yearly Salary for Sustainability Careers

Job TitleEntry-Level
(0-12 Months)
Early Career
(1-4 Years)
Midcareer
(5-9 Years)
Experienced
(10-19 Years)
Environmental Engineer$56,670$61,730$74,320$88.570
Sustainability ManagerN/A$65,090$76,540$95,780
Sustainability DirectorN/A$76,280$97,040$113,380
Source: Best Colleges, 2020

Required Skills for Sustainability

In the 2021 Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences paper “The Unsustainable Sustainability,” Suzi H. Theodoro and Othon H. Leonardos raised more questions about the concept of sustainable development. They then concluded by citing how change always leads to conflicts. “Even though many writers and thinkers consider the environmental issue to be a modern phenomenon, it has been an important factor for more than a century now, influencing political-economic decisions across the world. And while development has made life easier for most people, bringing improvements to health and longevity and creating opportunities for consumption and well-being, it has also brought about opportunistic diseases, unknown and increasingly dangerous viruses, and in particular, the deterioration of the natural environment and mankind’s relationship with nature.”

To make an influence and real change, sustainability professionals need to acquire skills that would enable them to accomplish more than just checking their to-do lists every day (Qualis Flow, n.d.). Here are some of the skills that can help you thrive in the field.

Essential Skills for Sustainability Professionals

  • Systems Analysis. Systems analysis refers to understanding how a system should work and how changes in it will impact results.
  • Systems Evaluation. Sustainability professionals must determine indicators of system performance and the actions required to enhance performance.
  • Management of Personnel Resources. Encouraging, improving, and leading people are not easy things to do, but these are where sustainability professionals must be good at.
  • Operations Analysis. Analyzing needs and product must-haves is key to developing an effective sustainable design.
  • Building and Construction. Knowledge of materials, processes, and tools when building or repairing houses, establishments, or other infrastructures is also an essential skill for sustainability professionals.

General Skills for Sustainability Professionals

  • Decision-Making. An excellent decision-making skill lets sustainability professionals decide on critical environmental, social, and economic factors. This skill can help understand each focus area to ensure that risks can be handled appropriately.
  • Communication. Articulating the benefits and risks of sustainability that would make sense to a group of people, such as board members, commercial managers, engineers, designers, and project managers, is important.
  • Pragmatism. While there may be a lot of solutions that would be thought of along the way, not all of them may be feasible to apply. Hence, sustainability professionals must learn how to choose their battles by actually listening to raised concerns and identifying which of them are real concerns and which ones are only a nuance.
  • Math. When working on sustainability projects, you have to be good at numbers as quantifying added values and coming up with data-driven solutions will always be a part of the job.
  • Patience and Perseverance. Aside from the job nature itself, dealing with different types of people will serve as a challenge. Keeping calm and focused on a job that entails problems, where mistakes are inevitable is the key to succeeding at it.

How to Start Your Career in Sustainability

Obtaining a sustainability career starts with holding an associate, a bachelor’s, or a graduate degree. An associate degree can already qualify an individual for some professions, but higher degrees, such as a bachelor’s or master’s lead to better salaries and higher positions (Best Colleges, 2020).

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

Conservation Worker

Also referred to as park rangers, wildlife troopers, and foresters, conservation workers manage huge natural areas. They impose conservation initiatives with government institutions and nonprofits. Some of them also develop academic programs for schools and tour groups.

Median salary: $31,770

Environmental Science and Protection Technician

Environmental science and protection technicians support environmental and health organizations, such as government bodies, hospitals, and community groups, by taking research assistant or administrative roles.

Median salary: $46,540

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

Environmental Consultant

Environmental consultants assess how the products and processes of an organization impact the environment. They also look into work conditions by monitoring and talking to workers. They may work for the government, private businesses, and nonprofits.

Median salary:  $58,060

Environmental Engineer

Environmental engineers handle waste and pollution problems through technology. They may also work with the government to guarantee federal law compliance.

Median salary:  $88,860

the cost of dealing with America's waste

Can you get a sustainability job with just a certificate?

You cannot get a sustainability job with just a certificate, but holding an industry certification can definitely improve your career development plan in sustainability and salary prospects. Many organizations offer extensive certification programs for sustainability careers.

sustainability-related job postings on LinkedIn

How can I advance my career in sustainability?

To improve your career and salary potential as a sustainability professional, you can earn a certification from many organizations or continue your education by earning a master’s or doctorate degree. Another option would be engaging yourself in networking or professional organizations. Doing the latter can provide you with opportunities in private job boards, free publications, and networking events.

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

Sustainability Director

Sustainability directors think of more ways to establish Earth-friendly policies within companies. Their works may also center on inventing sustainable facilities, minimizing production waste, and teaching energy-saving techniques to employees.

Median salary: $102,610

Source: University of Wisconsin, 2020

Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists work for government agencies, consulting companies, and schools by performing research on environmental concerns. They study data and present their findings. Their works guide the development, execution, and assessment of conservation laws.

Median salary: $71,360

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

Professor

Professors teach students, as well as guide them with laboratory activities, research, and theses. At the same time, they may also work on their own research and publications or take consultancy roles with government or private bodies.

Median salary: $79,540

Research Scientist

Research scientists collect and assess information and publish their findings. They can either work in school settings or in applied fields.

Median salary: $79,720

Which certification is best for sustainability?

The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) and the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) are just two of the most prestigious programs that can help you prove that you are a knowledgeable and skilled sustainability professional. Through these programs, you can prove that you can deliver sustainability strategies and implementation work across regions, industries, and functions (Kenlon, 2021).

Alternative Career Options for Sustainability

A change in mind once you step out onto the field or after a long time of practicing your specialization is inevitable. Should you decide to explore other related careers, here are some alternative options for you.

What else can a sustainability professional do?

Landscape Architect

Landscape architects study the natural geography and terrain of a location and then impose different design methodologies to integrate man-made patterns with the environment. If you are a sustainability graduate or professional, these tasks would be easy for you.

Food Scientist

Safety measures and efficiency are also the main focus of food science roles. Food scientists are also tasked to perform experiments to improve the sustainability and efficiency of goods, especially of farming practices, farm animals, and agricultural goods.

Sustainability: More Than Just a Career

With the current struggles of people and the world, it is just reasonable to look for a job that could contribute to the betterment of our lives and of others. In a sustainability career, you can help in protecting the environment, stopping the ongoing climate crisis, and making a brighter future for everyone. More than being a job role, sustainability is a mindset and lifestyle.

Do not just look for a job, find one that could have a long-lasting impact (Gonçalves, 2019).

 

References:

  1. Best Colleges Staff Writer. (2020, September 18). Sustainability Careers. Best Colleges.
  2. EnvironmentalScience.org. (n.d.). Sustainability Careers & Green Jobs. EnvironmentalScience.org.
  3. Gonçalves, A. (2019, November 12). Sustainability Jobs: Time To Work And Have An Impact. You Matter.
  4. Kenlon, T. (2021, May 18). The 33 sustainability certifications you need to know. GreenBiz.
  5. My Majors. (n.d.). Sustainability Manager Career. My Majors.
  6. Qualis Flow. (n.d.). 5 key skills every sustainability manager should have. Qualis Flow.
  7. Theodoro, Suzi H., & Leonardos, Othon H. (2021). The Unsustainable Sustainability. Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
  8. University of Wisconsin. (n.d.). Sustainability Careers. University of Wisconsin.

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