Turning Green Degrees Into Sustainable Careers

There are many green degree options for those seeking a sustainable career. Here, we outline the top degrees, career paths, and other helpful resources.

October 4, 2021

Turning Green Degrees Into Sustainable Careers

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Careers That are Environmentally Friendly

To address the climate change crisis and meet Paris Climate Agreement targets, societies across the world must work to decarbonize the global economy. Shifting to a greener economy can also generate many new jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) considers a job "green" if it either makes production processes more environmentally friendly or produces goods or services that conserve natural resources or benefit the environment. The BLS projects above-average job growth for green career paths such as environmental engineering technologist or technician, environmental scientist, and environmental specialist between 2019-2029.

This guide covers important information about the best sustainability degrees and potential careers for graduates.

Top 10 Green Degrees

5 Reasons to Choose an Environmentally Friendly Major

Green degrees can lead to rewarding careers that boost the economy, improve public health, and reduce poverty and climate change. The following list outlines several ways that green degrees and careers support individual, social, and environmental wellbeing.

Green degrees and jobs can support the economy by reducing unemployment. The substantial opportunity for innovation in this field invites the invention of new jobs. Making strides in sustainability also increases the nation's competitiveness in a global economy that seeks greener products, energies, and practices. Researchers estimate that fossil fuel air pollution alone caused approximately 18% of total global deaths in 2018. Adding deaths linked to other air pollutants and to water and soil pollutants would raise this pollution death toll considerably. Such data suggests that protecting the environment helps to improve and safeguard public health. Many green careers pay above-average salaries. According to PayScale salary data from April 2021, environmental consultants earn an annual mean salary of around $58,050. The same source indicates that environmental engineers make about $66,370 annually, while environmental project managers average $72,626 annually. Some green careers focus on slowing the rate of climate change by reducing methane and carbon emissions. Many environmental engineers, scientists, and specialists design and implement systems and methods that reduce these emissions. Some climate-related green jobs include climatologist and climate change policy specialist. Environmental degradation and competition for limited resources contribute to global poverty rates, war, and increasing numbers of poverty-stricken refugees. Many green degrees offer concentrations in areas like environmental justice, social impact, and global sustainability, which can lead to careers combating poverty.

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Career Maps for Green Degrees

Prospective students interested in sustainability can choose from many green degrees and career paths. Degrees in fields such as environmental science, environmental health, environmental law, and environmental engineering can support diverse green jobs in the private and public sectors.

Many of the following green degrees can lead to high-paying green jobs. For instance, environmental architects, environmental engineers, and environmental scientists earn above-average median annual salaries. Environmental lawyers often earn particularly high salaries. BLS salary data indicates that lawyers make a median annual salary of $126,930. See below for more information about the best sustainability degrees and careers.

Environmental Architecture and Environmental Design

This interdisciplinary degree prepares graduates to design sustainable buildings, landscapes, and cities. Learners take courses on topics like history, design theory, graphics, and technology. Environmental architecture and environmental design degrees often lead to jobs such as green architect, sustainable landscape designer, and urban designer.

Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering students learn how to protect and improve human and environmental health. Learners complete science, engineering, environmental restoration, and sustainability coursework. This degree can support many green jobs, including environmental engineer or technician, environmental project manager, hydrologist, and hydrogeologist.

Environmental Health Sciences

Environmental health sciences learners study the environmental and human factors impacting human health. These programs often offer concentrations in areas such as environmental health biology, environmental chemistry, and environmental physics. Potential green jobs for graduates include environmental health scientists, environmental health and safety specialist, and industrial hygienist.

Environmental Law

Environmental Science and Sustainability

This green degree path teaches students how to practice environmental science field methods, conduct analyses, and use service-based learning techniques. Enrollees often complete coursework in biology, chemistry, hydrology, and environmental regulation and management. Environmental science and sustainability programs also typically require field-based internships. Graduates can pursue roles like climatologist, environmental chemist, and industrial ecologist.

Expert Interview with Nuritz Katz, Chief Sustainability Officer

UCLA's first chief sustainability officer, Nurit Katz is working to foster partnerships among academic, research, and operational departments to facilitate creating a world-class living laboratory for sustainability at UCLA.

Q. What are the most popular/fastest-growing green degrees and why?

Sustainable management programs and certificate programs are growing in popularity because of the breadth of content and skills they offer. Many professionals pursue continuing education in sustainability with an interest in applying sustainability in their current field or transitioning into the field of sustainability.

Q. Why is a green degree a good choice for students?

Sustainability is a rapidly growing field. Students are drawn towards green careers because they want to be able to "do well while doing good" — to have a positive social impact and help solve tough global problems, while also having a successful career. They are drawn to meaningful careers and interesting challenges. A green career allows them to connect their passion and their skills, and is also a good choice because there are increasing opportunities in sustainability and related fields.

Q. What jobs can students pursue with a green degree?

Sustainability is an incredibly broad field with a myriad of opportunities. Students can pursue jobs in all sectors — private, public, and civil/nonprofit — and a variety of roles — from broad sustainability management roles to more specialized roles. As an example, students from our sustainability certificate program have gone on to work in social responsibility roles at major corporations: solar and renewable energy development, environmental policy in an elected official's office, and have also started their own social innovation businesses and organizations.

Q. What is the growth potential for green careers?

There is huge growth potential in the field of sustainability and green careers. Even during the recession, many green jobs continued to grow. Furthermore, there are many new emerging industries and innovative technologies — for example, taking waste from one area and turning it into something new and valuable. There are also growing opportunities in policy as local, state and national governments tackle climate change and other critical issues. There is a growing demand for sustainability positions and sustainability consulting as companies of all sizes race to demonstrate their achievements to a customer base that is increasingly focused on these issues — and to realize the operational savings and efficiencies from applying smarter, greener business practices.

Green Job Resources

This nonprofit organization comprises higher education administrators, faculty, and students promoting and advancing sustainability-related fields. Members gain access to publications, events, and job postings. This Department of Labor-sponsored site provides career exploration, training, job opportunities, and scholarships. Visitors can search for green careers in 12 sectors. This national nonprofit membership organization serves social impact and environmental professionals, students, nonprofit organizations, and businesses. Green America offers resources and initiatives on topics such as green living, labor, food, and social justice. This networking site lists environmental and social impact jobs by category and location. The Green Jobs Network also produces a newsletter, a jobs blog, and webinars — plus links to job fairs and other job boards. The quarterly magazine Solar Today maintains a job board that users can search by job title, keyword, and location. This site provides education, networking, and professional development opportunities for current and aspiring sustainability professionals. Visitors can watch interviews that highlight various sustainability career pathways.

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