Turning Green Degrees Into Sustainable Careers

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Table of Contents: Green Degrees into Sustainable Careers
1. Five Reasons to Choose an Environmentally Friendly Major
2. Career Maps for Green Degrees
3. Expert Interview: with Nuritz Katz
4. Green Job Resources

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.

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.

  • Boost the Economy

    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.

  • Public Health

    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.

  • Higher Salary

    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.

  • Climate Change

    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.

  • Reduce Poverty

    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.

Top 10 Green Degrees

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.

  • Green Architecture

    Green architects specialize in using sustainable practices and materials. These professionals design buildings and building methods that cause less damage to soil, air, water, and human health.

  • Sustainable Landscape Designer

    These designers create regenerative and responsive landscapes that may restore local ecology. Sustainable landscapes can clean air and water, protect habitats, and sequester carbon.

  • Urban Designer

    This green career combines landscape design, architecture, and city planning. Urban designers often design parks, streets, transportation systems, and landscapes. These professionals strive to create aesthetically pleasing and functional city spaces.

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 Engineering Technician

    These professionals operate, test, and adjust environmental engineering devices that help prevent, reduce, or remediate environmental problems. They often support the work of environmental scientists and engineers.

  • Environmental Project Manager

    These managers oversee environmental situations and projects. They may investigate potential problems, study safety measures, assess risks, and remediate designs.

  • Hydrologist and Hydrogeologist

    Hydrologists study surface water, while hydrogeologists study groundwater. These experts often conduct field research, and they may work in the public or private sectors.

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 Health Scientists

    These scientists identify and prevent environmental and public health problems and dangers. They design solutions that can better protect the environment and the public.

  • Environmental Health and Safety Specialist

    This green job involves monitoring and improving company safety and efficiency processes. These specialists may help to design and conduct safety training, programs, and manuals that reduce workplace hazards and dangers.

  • Industrial Hygienist

    This career focuses on increasing environmental and occupational health and safety in workplaces and communities. These professionals help companies safeguard occupational and environmental health.

Environmental Law

  • Environmental Lawyer - Government

    Some environmental lawyers work for government regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Activities may include prosecuting corporations, negotiating standards and treaties, and drafting regulations.

  • Environmental Lawyer - Nonprofit

    Many nonprofit organizations, human rights groups, and watchdog groups require legal expertise. Environmental lawyers sometimes help these organizations with class action lawsuits and community defense.

  • Environmental Lawyer - Private

    Some environmental lawyers work for private individuals, groups, or corporations that must follow environmental regulations. These lawyers often create environmental impact statements, ensure regulatory compliance, and help produce corporate environmental policy.

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.

  • Climatologist and Climate Change Analyst - Government

    These scientists and analysts conduct planet climate research and/or analyze data. This research may focus on subfields such as ocean conditions, greenhouse gas emissions, polar ice caps, or temperatures.

  • Environmental Chemist - Nonprofit

    These chemists test and monitor soil, air, and water to determine how chemicals enter and influence the environment. Some environmental chemists work for nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups, such as Chemists Without Borders, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and The Nature Conservancy.

  • Industrial Ecologist - Private

    These professionals perform environment and pollution monitoring and investigation for companies. These green jobs usually entail collecting and testing data in laboratories and in the field. Industrial ecologists often collaborate with environmental specialists and scientists.

Chief Sustainability Officer

Expert Interview with Nuritz Katz

Nuritz Katz

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

  • Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education 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.
  • CareerOneStop This Department of Labor-sponsored site provides career exploration, training, job opportunities, and scholarships. Visitors can search for green careers in 12 sectors.
  • Green America 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.
  • Green Jobs Network 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.
  • Solar Today Job Board The quarterly magazine Solar Today maintains a job board that users can search by job title, keyword, and location.
  • Sustainable Career Pathways 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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