There are many different career paths for people interested in the field of sustainability. From sustainable agriculture to green business to conservation and nature jobs, all employees have some core tasks and values in common:
- Provide support for a range of client environmental management needs
- Understanding of environmental policies at the local to federal level
- Audit client operations on a regular basis to ensure compliance
- Prepare written recommendations and critical paperwork
- Submit correspondence, reports and appeals
- Liaise with regulatory agencies and individuals as required
- Manage and review environmental documents
- Use investigation and remediation reports
- Pay attention to quality assurance details
- Work to coordinate challenging issues whose scope extends beyond the boundaries of the project at hand
- Work directly with government and civilian clients
- Possess or pursue relevant certification like LEED or its equivalent where applicable
- Consult on policy and rationale where appropriate
- Be comfortable in a nimble team environment in order to stretch funding and human resources
Here is a selection of some of the possible paths you can follow with a background in sustainability. See which ones interest you most.
What they do: Analyze financial information and prepare financial reports to determine or maintain record of assets, liabilities, profit and loss, tax liability, or other financial activities.
Median 2016 salary: $68,150
What they do: Agroforesters design and implement systems of agriculture, selection trees and plants that complement each other in each parcel of land. An example of this is improving coffee quality and yields through shade growing beneath trees.
New Jersey Average Salary: $44,790
Air Quality Engineer
What they do: 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.
National Average Salary: $74,851
Air Quality Forecaster
What they do: They may work developing models to enhance accuracy and quality of forecasting, or in education teaching children and adults about the importance of air quality and control of substances potentially damaging to public health or the environment.
What they do: Aquarists care for marine life and sustain the exhibits at aquariums in many different capacities such as feeding the animals, interacting with them, cleaning habitats, maintaining machinery, designing exhibits, and educating visitors.
What they do: Aquatic Biologists are specialists who work with biological life that lives in wetlands, ponds, streams, lakes and rivers. They differ from a marine biologist in that they also examine and study fresh water ecosystems.
Biofuel Production Operator
What they do: They work at factory sites to ensure smooth running and quality assurance. Biofuels are produced in a number of ways, mostly in the same way as food produce in agriculture. As this is an industrial material, it requires quality checks.
What they do: Conduct chemical analyses or experiments in laboratories for quality or process control, maintenance of environmental standards, or other work involving application of chemistry. May require master’s level degree.
Median 2016 salary: $73,740
Climate Change Analyst
What they do: Research and analyze policy developments related to climate change and make recommendations for legislation, awareness campaigns, and fundraising approaches. May require master’s level degree.
Median 2016 salary: $68,910
Corporate Sustainability Strategist
What they do: Develop corporate strategies to address sustainability issues and share strategies with management, shareholders, customers, and employees.
Median 2016 salary: $69,040
Director of Sustainability
What they do: A Director of Sustainability, also known as a Chief Sustainability Officer, is a high-level corporate role concerning the organization’s sustainable practice.Their role involves monitoring the environmental impact of their industry and their business as well as ensuring compliance organization-wide through policy and ultimately improve performance.
What they do: 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.
National Average Salary: $72,370
What they do: An ecotourism guide is essentially a vacation tour who organizes trips and talks to talk about local environments, ecology, how to be an environmentally conscious traveler and encourages sustainability. They tend to have a background in the environmental studies but can come from all walks of life.
What they do: Energy managers perform audits to ensure efficient use of both financial and environmental resources. They may be employed in the private or public sector.
National Average Salary: $80,862
What they do: 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.
National Average Salary: $67,822
What they do: 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.
National Average Salary: $77,723
What they do: 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.
National Average Salary: $65,272
Environmental Public Relations Specialist
What they do: Environmental Public Relations Specialists put together PR campaigns and implement pollution education programs in their communities. By working on public outreach, Environmental PR Specialists ensure that the public and local businesses are aware of all environmental regulations, their importance, and the consequences of ignoring these regulations.
New Jersey Average Salary: $82,450
What they do: 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.
National Average Salary: $68,629
What they do: Geophysical Engineers are responsible for studying potential mining sites, determining what valuable resources may be located there, and then designing the safest and most efficient way to extract those resources from the site.
New Jersey Average Salary: $97,750
What they do: Geoscientists examine and study the way the earth functions. These scientists spend the majority of their time in the field collecting samples, taking data, and examining the geographic features of a site.
New Jersey Average Salary: $97,750
What they do: Design or create graphics to meet specific commercial or promotional needs, such as packaging, displays, or logos.
Median 2016 salary: $47,640
What they do: Hydrographic Surveyors use advanced equipment on survey vessels to gather various data points for map-making purposes. These maps may serve a multitude of purposes, such as safe ship navigation or pipeline planning.
New Jersey Average Salary: $51,520
What they do: Sell types of insurance policies to businesses and individuals on behalf of insurance companies, including automobile, fire, life, property, and medical insurance.
Median 2016 salary: $49,990
What they do: 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.
National Average Salary: $63,819
Public Relations Specialist
What they do: Engage in promoting and creating external-facing communication materials for groups or organizations.
Median 2016 salary: $58,020
Risk Management Specialist
What they do: Analyze and manage operational or enterprise risks for an organization and recommend ways to control or reduce risks. May require master’s level degree.
Median 2016 salary: $69,470
What they do: Teach science subjects to students at the secondary or high school level.
Median 2016 salary: $58,030
Soil Conservation Technician
What they do: Soil Conservation Technicians are responsible for surveying, designing, engineering plan preparation, and construction inspection. A lot of soil conservation technicians work in agriculture with local government or land developers.
New Jersey Average Salary: $91,060
Supervisor of Production and Operating Workers
What they do: Directly supervise and coordinate the activities of production and operating workers, such as plant and system operators.
Median 2016 salary: $57,780
What they do: Work with companies and communities to develop sustainable processes that reduce strain on the environment and local residents.
Median salary: $61,924
What they do: Address organizational sustainability issues, such as waste management, green building practices, renewable energy options and green procurement plans.
Median 2016 salary: $69,040
Sustainability Program Coordinator
What they do: Sustainability Program Coordinators work with stakeholders such as decision-makers, the public, service users and those responsible for putting plans of action into practice. Their skills are practical, requiring a broad knowledge of sustainability issues but with an understanding of the processes of business decisions, costing, human resources and the organization’s scope also. They thrive on problem-solving and enjoy the planning process.
What they do: Sustainability Specialists are responsible for procurement or suggest those who are into replacing fleet vehicles with electric models. They have the potential to save millions in operating costs through reorganizing utility supply and encouraging good practice. They may also be involved in outreach activities such as local clean up.
What they do: Turf Scientists perform various landscaping tasks and sometimes oversee a team of grounds keeping workers to ensure that the turf thrives all year. Turf Scientists are required to work outdoors in all weather conditions and likely engage in a great deal of hard labor if they work alone. Most Turf Scientists must have a Bachelor’s degree in plant sciences to be successful in this position.
New Jersey Average Salary: $58,420
What they do: Urban planners typically assist companies and organizations 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.
National Average Salary: $62,707
U.S. Military Service Member
What they do: Maintain U.S. national defense by serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or Reserve.
Median salary: Salary depends greatly on rank and years of service. See the latest military salary information here.
Water Resource Engineer
What they do: Water resource engineers function similarly to that of environmental engineers, but with a specialization in hydrological systems. Water resource engineers are primarily concerned with the management and assessment of both the quantity and quality of above ground and below ground water sources.
What they do: Watershed Managers are responsible for the management of all water supplies – not just sewage and waste water, but effective drainage, flood mitigation and other water rights and ecology.
Approximate salary: $45,000
Watershed Science Technician
What they do: Watershed Science Technicians are professionals that often work in water or wastewater treatment plants under the authority of a local government. This important profession assures that the citizens of the United States have clean water to consume and drink, and also guarantees that our wastewater is properly treated and disposed of.
What they do: Wetland specialists study the conditions that allow animals and unique plant life to thrive in wetlands and the factors that affect wetland health. Suburban sprawl combined with global warming have magnified the problems of declining wetlands.
Wind Energy Engineer
What they do: Wind energy engineers are the experts who design and improve wind farms. Their work is moving this small but growing clean energy sector forward.
What they do: Zoning Technicians assistant Land Use Planners by investigating current building and zoning laws to assure that current land plans are legal, safe, and environmentally friendly. They do this by examining building plans and comparing them with current public policies.
Here is where some of our past students ended up after completing our Sustainability minor:
- Insurance Council of NJ
- GIS technician at Trimble MAPS
- Sustainability Professional doing Project Development for NORESCO
- Renova Environmental Services
- Environmental Scientist at American Consulting Professionals
- Billing analyst at Utilivisor, an energy consulting firm
- Sustainable Jersey
- Environmental Specialist at FEMA
- Water treatment operator in Perth Amboy
- Coastal waterbird field assistant in Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Connecticut
- Assistant project manager at Vertex Companies, Inc.
- PhD student Bingamton University
- StonyBrook Millstone Watershed Institute
- Masters of Environmental Management, with a focus on sustainable business strategy, at Duke University
For more information:
University of Wisconsin – what you can do with a degree in sustainability
EnvironmentalScience.org – job descriptions and Salary Comparison tool that is location and field specific
Indeed.com – 10 Sustainability Careers That Make a Difference
Sustainability Minor Links
- Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior
- Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior Minor
- Sustainability Minor
- Science Communication Minor
- Sustainable Global Food Systems Minor
- Creative Expression and the Environment Minor
- Graduate Certificate in Human Dimensions of Environmental Change