Every person in every job has the power to turn our world into a healthier, greener place.
From architects to engineers, teachers to insurance specialists, sustainability backgrounds are needed in all markets and careers. The question is, should you pursue a sustainability degree? What is the job market like for this area of expertise? Is it a major or a minor? And just how far can a degree in sustainability take you in today’s culture?
What Is a Sustainability Degree?
Sustainability is an interdisciplinary major that can take the form of a bachelor of art (B.A.) degree, focusing on the sustainability of environmental resources and social institutions, or a bachelor of science (B.S.) degree, focusing on the sustainable use of environmental resources.
Students can earn a business sustainability degree or focus on environmental science with a sustainability minor. Or they can earn that bachelor’s degree, bypass entry-level jobs, and go on to earn a master’s or doctorate degree before wading into the job market. Advanced degrees offer an opportunity to do research, internships, and leadership training, making bigger, better, and more lucrative careers a possibility.
There are many ways to craft and shape a sustainability degree for maximum profitability, job satisfaction, and environmental impact.
The Job Market for Sustainability Careers
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positive job growth for many sustainability careers in the areas of social planning, environments science, government, public health, construction, economics, technology, and design, most notably:
- Conservation scientists: Conservation scientists work to manage, improve, protect, and maximize natural resources without damaging the environment. They spend much of their time working outdoors and studying the natural environment.
- Environmental or industrial engineers: Environmental engineers work to improve the environment and are integral to reducing and eliminating causes of pollution. Industrial engineers help eliminate wasteful activities.
- Urban planners: Sustainable builders and urban designers enjoy a fast-growing position, says the BLS. The job growth is due to city governments’ need for green architecture to combat air pollution and excessive waste production.
- Renewable energy specialists: The BLS predicts steady growth for jobs in wind, solar, and geothermal energy for the foreseeable future. Specialists and visionaries in renewable energy can find jobs with universities, nonprofits, engineering design firms, and utility companies. Or they can work as private consultants.
Those with sustainability degrees can also find green jobs in the general areas of business, commerce, and communications:
- Law: Focus on environmental law and policy — even specialize in climate change, food law, land use, water law, or energy law. It’s a natural transition to pursue a legal career with a law firm, government agency, corporation, or nonprofit.
- Business: From marketing to management, business strategy to design, green MBA grads can apply their skills to existing businesses. Or, try your hand as an entrepreneur with the next big green idea in tech, mobile applications, or even a sustainable small-town café. Businesses and corporations need to meet existing and developing government regulations while maintaining long-term growth. Sustainability experts with a business focus are essential to meeting these goals.
- Politics: Every student has the potential to be the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — whether in the lower or higher echelons of government. You don’t necessarily need a sustainability degree to get there, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. Work as a consultant, strategist, or compliance officer. Spend time in the field. Fight. Have a voice, or at least know how to broadcast the voice of a political maven you support.
- Journalism: Major in sustainability, minor in journalism? When you already know the beat you want to cover, this career path works, whether you plan to freelance or work for a news outlet. An environmental journalism degree allows professionals to use their position to educate about, advocate for, and uncover issues in matters of conservation and sustainability. Specialization can help further this career, and a working knowledge of government regulations and industry standards is a must.
The Future of Sustainability Careers
The most successful green professionals are adept at research and analytics, problem-solving, communication, and interpersonal skills. Conveying an important environmental message takes passion and tools of persuasion. A dedication to your sustainability field and all that it makes possible is essential.
Sustainability jobs are diverse, and the more education and experience you have — as with any field — the more of an impact you can have in helping the environment.
Originally published on January 7, 2020, this article was updated in December 2022.