10 Sustainability Careers That Make a Difference

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 11, 2021 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated February 11, 2021

Published December 12, 2019

Sustainability is a popular and growing field that attempts to integrate social science, environmental science and civil engineering to make the earth more sustainable. Now, more than ever, the need is great for highly-educated professionals to study and implement more sustainable practices. In this article, we define sustainability and provide a list of sustainability careers and degrees within the field.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is the avoidance of natural resource depletion to maintain an ecological balance in the environment.

A career in sustainability can offer innovative ways to address the concern of ecological balance and the earth’s sustainability. Generally, a career in sustainability may require a bachelor’s degree in the field to enter the industry.

Related: 7 Great Careers in Conservation

10 careers in sustainability

There are many different types of roles in the sustainability sector. If you are seeking a career in sustainability, here are 10 popular sustainable career options to consider:

1. Urban planner

National average salary: $62,707 per year

Primary duties: Urban planners typically assist companies and organizations to develop plans for the use of land. Communities, road systems, parks and the overall layout of a city can oftentimes be priorities in an urban planner’s designs. Additionally, urban planners develop programs or plans to accommodate growing populations with the least amount of impact on the environment. Urban planning can require new construction or restoration projects to modernize buildings, transport systems or other infrastructure. Further, urban planners may work with various organizations to help ensure a company’s project adheres to zoning or construction codes and environmental regulations.

2. Landscape architect

National average salary: $63,819 per year

Primary duties: Landscape architects survey the natural geography and terrain of an area and then implement various design strategies to combine man-made structures seamlessly with the environment. Landscape architects work in both cities and rural areas and may work to develop wildlife habitats and unique spaces or build sustainable infrastructure systems. Landscape architects employ skills such as design, creative problem-solving and technical skills and knowledge. In doing so, they can help building and construction companies by incorporating architectural methods that protect and support the natural environment.

A landscape architect may spend a majority of their time completing tasks in an office, but they also visit physical building and construction sites to assess the location in terms of soil type, vegetation and any elevation changes. Being a landscape architect may also require working on a team, as they often collaborate with architects, engineers and members of the community.

3. Environmental geologist

National average salary: $65,272 per year

Primary duties: An important aspect of sustainability-related initiatives is finding alternative sources of energy and resources. Environmental geologists help to do that by studying the history of the planet and how it engages and works with its various eco-systems and biospheres. 

An environmental geologist plays an important role in consulting with gas and mining companies regarding energy resource consumption and acquisition. Environmental geologists may use sophisticated equipment such as drones to take aerial photographs and reference drilling records to help map different resources, such as oil and other energy resources. Most environmental geologists work for companies in the oil and gas industry, but they can also be found working in other industries that hire environmental geologists, such as engineering firms, consulting companies and state or federal agencies.

4. Environmental consultant

National average salary: $67,822 per year

Primary duties: An environmental consultant typically contracts with private or public sector clients, like environmental agencies, water treatment facilities and other organizations whose products or services can influence the environment. Environmental consultants may provide counsel and planning strategies that address environmental concerns like water pollution, air quality and soil contamination.

Environmental consultants may work with clients to offer their knowledge and insight on environmental standards, regulations and laws to help businesses adhere to environmental protocol. Consultants may also assist organizations in avoiding regulatory fines or legal action.

5. Environmental scientist

National average salary: $68,629 per year

Primary duties: Environmental scientists work to find the best methods of protecting the environment and promoting human health. Generally, environmental scientists may provide services to private and public sectors, where they often research health and environmental problems and work to identify causes and create solutions. An environmental scientist might research and analyze mysterious illnesses, unexplained deformities in local wildlife or sickness in a community with an unknown source. Environmental scientists work to find the causes behind these types of events and research ways to eliminate them.

Read more: Environmental Officer Resume Samples

6. Ecologist

National average salary: $72,370 per year

Primary duties: Ecologists study and find ways to address how human actions influence and affect the environment. An ecologist may work for environmental organizations where they conduct research and create solutions to environmental problems caused by human consumption, interaction and impact on the environment. Ecologists may even be part of a research team that studies and analyzes the effects of construction, restoration or other community processes on ecosystems. 

7. Air quality engineer

National average salary: $74,851 per year

Primary duties: Air quality engineers are responsible for the analysis of air pollution in a given area by implementing sophisticated monitoring processes, chemical and statistical analyses and three-dimensional computer modeling. In some instances, air quality engineers may design or modify pollution-control equipment. Air quality engineers generally concentrate their efforts in or around large cities and measure and analyze the impact of certain practices on the local environments.

8. Environmental engineer

National average salary:  $77,723 per year

Primary duties: Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering combined with knowledge of the environment–such as soil composition and biological and ecological processes–to create solutions to environmental issues. Environmental engineers may be involved with projects or plans to improve public health, waste disposal and recycling, as well as plans to control or minimize air and water pollution. It is not uncommon for environmental engineers to work within private, public or government agencies and environmental organizations.

9. Energy manager

National average salary: $80,862 per year

Primary duties: Energy managers perform audits to ensure efficient use of both financial and environmental resources. They may be employed in the private or public sector. Energy managers can usually find that their services are needed in the development of new city projects, municipality plans and governmental contracts. Energy managers may also be responsible for controlling the consumption of energy and water by designing energy-efficient projects that meet specific design specifications, legal requirements and budget restrictions.

Additionally, because manufacturing can be energy- and labor-intensive, energy managers may find that their career options extend to the manufacturing sector. Energy managers are also responsible for continuing their education, as continuous certification is required throughout the span of their careers.

Related: Guide: How to Choose a Career

10. Sustainability engineer

National average salary: $87,796 per year

Primary duties: A sustainability engineer designs and implements renewable energy projects by assessing sites, reviewing financial information and drawing up plans. Sustainability engineers generally work indoors, however, sometimes they must travel to specific job sites for purposes of accurately formulating job designs, understanding required job specifications and gaining a better familiarity with the project at hand. Typically, college graduates are required to take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam before becoming officially engineers-in-training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs).

Additionally, after gaining four years of work experience, EITs and EIs often go on to take the “Principles and Practice of Engineering” exam to be eligible to receive their engineering license. Solar engineers may also be required to be familiar with CAD programs that can be widely used and accepted in the field.

Common sustainability degrees

Just as there are a variety of careers to choose from within the sustainability field, there are also a great number of degrees to help you move into your career. If you’re considering going after a career in sustainability, you should consider choosing one of the following applicable degrees: 

  • Master of Public Health: This sustainability degree encompasses environmental and occupational health roles.

  • MBA with sustainability concentration: This field of study focuses on sustainability and environmental management in the business sector.

  • Master of Science in Global Energy Management: This field encompasses energy management such as fuel resourcing, monitoring and acquisition with international applications.

  • International Environmental Law & Policy: This field focuses on the planning and implementation of appropriate environmental policies, laws and regulations.

Read more: What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree?

Future outlook for sustainability careers

Sustainability careers can be found in several industries and provide hope for a promising future for the environment. Additionally, as the population continues to rise and companies and organizations look for more ways to expand, build and use fuel resources in ecologically-sustainable applications, the outlook for careers in sustainability will continue to increase.

Explore more articles