10 Sustainability Careers That Can Make a Difference
Updated July 23, 2023
As the public increasingly expects organizations to reduce their environmental impact, there is a high demand for talented people in the sustainability field. Work in the sustainability industry involves the application of social science, environmental science and civil engineering to conserve the earth's resources by recommending changes to business practices. Pursuing a career related to sustainability can help you find a fulfilling job and apply a broad set of skills ranging from consulting to product design.
In this article, we define sustainability, discuss 10 relevant careers in this field and list several degrees that can help you prepare for a role in this industry.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability is the ability to maintain or improve the quality of life for present and future generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It strives to maintain an ecological balance in the environment by governing resource usage, reducing waste and pollution and protecting natural resources. The field also considers social issues like equity and sustainable economic development.
A career in sustainability involves preventing the depletion of natural resources, analyzing an organization's current ecological impact and advocating for the use of sustainable practices. It also involves policy analysis and knowledge of environmental regulations and climate change. A career in the field of sustainability typically requires at least a bachelor's degree, though certain positions may require more advanced educational credentials.
Related: 7 Great Careers in Conservation
10 sustainability careers
If a career in sustainability interests you, here are 10 paths to consider pursuing:
For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.
National average salary: $60,097 per year
Primary duties: An environmental scientist promotes sustainable development by conducting research, developing policies and implementing environmental management strategies. They identify methods that not only protect the environment but also promote human health. Environmental scientists may work with clients in the public and private sectors. Other duties include researching illnesses and identifying the causes of local wildfires.
National average salary: $60,743 per year
Primary duties: An environmental geologist studies the history of the planet and the interaction of various ecosystems and biospheres. Their work helps support sustainability-related initiatives by contributing to the discovery of alternative energy sources. They can also consult 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 sources. In addition to working for oil and gas companies, environmental geologists can find positions at engineering firms, consulting companies and government agencies.
National average salary: $65,727 per year
Primary duties: Ecologists use their knowledge of biology, ecology and environmental science to understand the complex interactions between organisms and their surroundings. They study human impacts on the environment and develop solutions to improve sustainability. Ecologists can work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, universities and private companies. They can also work as part of a research team to study the effects of construction or restoration on an ecosystem.
National average salary: $66,284 per year
Primary duties: An urban planner helps organizations develop plans for the efficient use of land and other resources in order to create a healthy and sustainable environment. They may specialize in designs relating to sustainable communities, road systems, parks or city layouts. Additionally, urban planners develop programs to accommodate growing populations and adhere to environmental regulations and zoning and construction codes. Urban planning can require new construction or restoration projects to modernize buildings, transport systems or other infrastructure.
National average salary: $71,745 per year
Primary duties: A landscape architect surveys the natural geography and terrain of an area and implements various design strategies to seamlessly combine artificial structures with the environment. Their main aim is to make outdoor spaces both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Landscape architects employ skills such as design and creative problem-solving to build projects that protect and support the natural environment. Landscape architects may spend much of their time completing tasks in an office, but they also visit physical construction sites to assess the location in terms of soil type, vegetation and elevation changes.
National average salary: $72,522 per year
Primary duties: An environmental consultant works with clients to provide advice concerning issues like water pollution, air quality and soil contamination. They partner with individuals, businesses and government agencies to ensure compliance with environmental regulations and standards. In addition to assessment and analysis, consultants help clients develop sustainable strategies, conduct audits to assess compliance and provide training and education.
National average salary: $83,849 per year
Primary duties: An air quality engineer analyzes air pollution in a specific area by implementing sophisticated monitoring processes, chemical and statistical analysis and three-dimensional computer modeling. In some instances, they 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.
National average salary: $84,573 per year
Primary duties: An environmental engineer uses the principles of engineering to create solutions to environmental issues. They apply their knowledge of soil composition and biological and ecological processes to improve public health. They may also develop waste disposal and recycling plans and control air or water pollution. Environmental engineers can work within the public or private sector or for nonprofit environmental organizations.
Read more: How To Become an Environmental Engineer
National average salary: $85,732 per year
Primary duties: An energy manager develops and implements strategies to reduce resource consumption and costs. They perform audits to ensure the efficient use of financial and environmental resources. They may also research and recommend clean energy technologies. Energy managers can work within the public or private sector to offer their expertise in the development of new city projects, municipality plans and governmental contracts. Because manufacturing can be energy- and labor-intensive, energy managers may find that their career options extend into this sector.
National average salary: $91,936 per year
Primary duties: A sustainability engineer designs and implements renewable energy projects by assessing sites, reviewing financial information and drawing up plans. While their work is generally office-based, sustainability engineers may travel to job sites to understand job specifications and formulate project designs. Sustainability engineers also leverage computer-aided design software and develop plans to increase energy efficiency.
Common sustainability degrees
Here are some relevant degrees that can help you pursue a sustainability career:
Master of Public Health: This sustainability degree encompasses environmental and occupational health roles.
Master of Business Administration 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: When pursuing this degree, students study the planning and implementation of environmental policies, laws and regulations.
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