Whether you consider yourself an environmental activist or just someone who loves being close to the great outdoors, your enthusiasm for the natural world is a big part of who you are. Indulge your passion for going “green” with a career that will really make a difference. You can earn a living conserving natural resources, stopping pollution, making agriculture more environmentally-friendly or making clean energy and recycling efforts a reality. Read on to learn more about 10 excellent green careers and find out which one is right for you.
Environmental engineers are professional problem-solvers who focus on the natural environment. They dig – sometimes literally – into the causes of environmental issues like acid rain, pollution, climate change, waste management and ozone layer depletion. Once environmental engineers understand the cause of the problem, they search for ways to fix it. To develop the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in solving problems like unsafe drinking water, global climate change and public health threats, aspiring environmental engineers need a college education. Bachelor’s degree programs in environmental engineering typically include coursework in subjects like biology, chemistry soil science and engineering principles and applications. Entry-level environmental engineering positions usually don’t require candidates to hold a Professional Engineering (PE) license, but many environmental engineers will attain a license later in their careers. The job outlook for environmental engineers is excellent, with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a “faster than average” increase in job opportunities for the career.
Environmental engineering is a great green career path because the goal of these professionals’ work is to help the environment. They use their knowledge of science and engineering to repair damage to an ecological system, or to prevent that system from being harmed in the first place. . Sometimes this work entails designing new or improved containment systems for hazardous waste. Other times, environmental engineers look for new methods of generating energy. They develop solutions that range from water reclamation procedures to recycling practices and from sustainable systems for reducing pollution to methods of protecting animal habitats from harm. Many environmental engineers enjoy working outdoors, though they often have to divide their time between working in the natural environment, collaborating with project partners in offices and presenting ideas at seminars. If there’s a particular ecological threat that concerns you, pursuing a career as an environmental engineer may allow you to specialize in studying and solving that issue.
Median Salary: $84,560
Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering
IMAGE SOURCE: U.S. Forest Service, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
If you’re interested in concerns that involve water – from water pollution to water scarcity – then hydrologist might be the right green career for you. These scientists study how water moves and use their knowledge to solve environmental problems related to water quality and quantity. An undergraduate college education is essential for aspiring hydrologists, and it’s not unusual for students to pursue a graduate degree even before they enter the career field. If you can’t find a school that offers a major in hydrology specifically, you’re not alone. There aren’t many such programs, the BLS reported. Many students instead look for a school that offers a concentration in hydrology as part of its earth science, geosciences or engineering program. Unlike environmental engineers, hydrologists are expected to see only an average rate of growth in career opportunities over a decade. However, climate changes and the consequences of construction, mining and similar work that affects the environment will continue to mean this career is in-demand, according to the BLS.
Hydrology is such a great career path for nature-lovers because it is involved in so many environmental issues, including droughts, floods, soil and land erosion and water pollution. Lack of access to clean drinking water is a major problem particularly in many developing nations, and lengthy droughts can cause serious problems with farming, agriculture and fire hazards across the world. While studying water – and its movements, quality, and accessibility – is an important part of the field of hydrology, it’s just one aspect of the job. Hydrologists do more than just analyze water. They also work with scientists in various fields of study to research and develop plans for conserving, managing, and improving quality of and access to the water supply. A career in hydrology requires a lot of hands-on work in the field, which means spending time outdoors. Hydrologists also often have the opportunity travel to new environments as they study water supplies and movements across the globe.
Median Salary: $79,550
Education Level: Bachelor’s degree in Hydrology, Geosciences, Earth Science or Engineering
3. Environmental Scientist
Environmental scientist may seem like the most natural career path for a nature-lover to pursue. These professionals use their college-level knowledge of the natural and physical sciences to study and solve issues that affect the natural environment. There are numerous specialist roles within the field of environmental science. Environmental chemists analyze how chemicals affect the natural world, with applications in fields like cleaning up contamination and pollution and hazardous waste management. Environmental restoration planners manage pollution cleanup projects, establishing budgets, procedures and steps for completion. Environmental health specialists focus on how environmental issues affect public health dangers. Industrial ecologists collaborate with companies in industries that often have a negative effect on the environment to establish practices that minimize the ecological harm. The BLS predicts a “faster than the average” increase in job opportunities for environmental scientists. Many environmental scientists begin the career working as laboratory technicians, field analysts or research assistants before advancing to higher level roles, often with the help of an advanced degree.
Environmental scientists play a role in understanding and addressing environmental problems of all kinds. They do the field work of gathering soil, water, plant and other samples for testing as well as the laboratory work of studying the samples and recording data. They use their information to not only identify existing ecological issues, but to predict possible threats that haven’t yet resulted in easily noticeable environmental changes or problems. Some environmental scientists spend the bulk of their employment time doing hands-on work to clean up polluted ecosystems. Others collaborate with public policymakers or private industry leaders to develop regulations and business practices that result in less of a disturbance to the natural environment. In either case, the occupation allows the professional to make a positive change on the environment, directly or indirectly. Successful environmental scientists must have the analytical skills and self-discipline to present their findings in technical reports, but they also need the problem-solving and interpersonal skills necessary to develop plans for resolving ecological problems and getting the message across to the public and government and business entities.
Median Salary: $67,460
Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics or Geosciences
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain.
What job could be more green – literally – than growing the plant crops that feed families across that nation? Agricultural managers are the professionals who oversee the routine activities required to run a farm. Whether they grow crops, raise livestock or both, agricultural managers play an integral part in the U.S. economy and, of course, its food supply. Many agricultural managers start their careers by doing hands-on farm production work, often during their childhood or adolescence (particularly if they grew up living on a farm). However, it’s become increasingly common for agricultural managers to have at least an associate’s degree, if not a bachelor’s degree, in agriculture, the BLS reported. By studying subjects like farm management, dairy science, plant breeding, agricultural economics and the business of agriculture, students develop the analytical and critical-thinking skills they need to run the farm as a business as well as the mechanical skills necessary to do hands-on farming work.
It’s true that not all farming activities qualify as “green.” However, today’s farmers are met with a greater demand for organic food products and sustainable farming practices. Because they’re in leadership roles, agricultural managers are in a position to implement these changes and make farming more environmentally-friendly than ever before. After all, agricultural managers are rarely responsible for the actual planting, plowing, harvesting, herding and animal care tasks you most likely associate with farming. They focus instead on the big-picture concerns of running a successful farm, like how the farm will spend its operating budget, what crops to plant or animals to raise and how to store and ship crops and livestock for sale. It’s an agricultural manager’s job to recruit and train farm workers as well as to maintain the farm, and all of the equipment necessary to run it, in proper working order. These are precisely the decisions that have the power to make the agriculture industry green.
Median Salary: $64,170
Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture
Landscape architects design outdoor environments, from public parks to private home gardens. The path to becoming a landscape architect is more rigorous than you might think due to the licensing requirements in place in most states. A college degree is a requirement, but not any degree will do. Students typically need to choose an accredited Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) or Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA) degree program, which can take up to five years of full-time study, to meet licensing requirements. Like the architects who design buildings and bridges, landscape architects must complete extensive studio design work that involves building models and creating computer-aided designs. They also study subjects like landscape ecology, surveying, geology, plant and soil science and landscape design and construction, the BLS reported. Even after earning a degree, aspiring landscape architects may need to attain several years of training working under experienced landscape architects before they can take the Landscape Architect Registration Examination and finally earn their licenses.
While it’s certainly important for the spaces designed by landscape architects to be visually and aesthetically appealing, appearance isn’t the only thing that matters in their work. Many of the projects a landscape architect may work on help the environment in some way. Landscape architecture projects often include adding plant life, possibly to places where plants are lacking, like the rooftops of tall city buildings. They decide where on a site to put trees and other plants – as well as structures like walkways and buildings – and what plants to use. Other projects focus specifically on restoring ecosystems that have been altered, polluted or destroyed by human activities or changes in the environment. Aspiring landscape architects should be comfortable working both outdoors and in office environments. Landscape architects spend some of their work time at jobsites, but they also spend a good deal of time in the office researching, creating designs and preparing budgets and reports, according to the BLS.
Median Salary: $63,810
Education Level: Bachelor of Landscape Architecture or Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture
Few careers are greener than that of a conservation scientist, who studies the quality of natural resources and plans how those resources can be used. About one-third of conservation scientists work for the federal government, and 75 percent of all workers in this profession work for an agency at some government level (federal, state or local). If a career as a conservation scientist sounds like the right choice for you, you’ll need to choose your college carefully. Employers typically want candidates to have a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Society of American Foresters, and there are only about 50 such programs in the nation, the BLS reported. Accredited programs often require coursework in subjects like biology, ecology, forest resource measurement and computer modeling, according to the BLS. Though not required, some conservation scientists choose to pursue professional certification through the Society of American Foresters or the Society for Range Management.
Conservation scientist is another occupation that allows workers to split their time between working outdoors and indoors. Conservation scientists may work extensively in the field, often taking long walks that require a great deal of physical stamina according to the BLS. They also spend time in laboratories and offices, where they analyze data and draft plans for conservation projects. As a conservation scientist, the main goal of your job would be to preserve the natural environment and its resources. In fact, many conservation scientists don’t just conserve existing resources, but actually work to improve resources, like making farmland more fertile for agriculture. Your work would include tasks like gathering and studying water, soil and plant samples, developing strategies for using and conserving resources and overseeing land use and harvesting contracts and practices. You might find yourself in a specialized role like conservation land manager, range manager, soil conservationist or water conservationist, where you focus your efforts on preserving a particular land area or aspect of the natural world.
Median Salary: $60,220
Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree in Forestry, Environmental Science or Agricultural Science
7. Wildlife Biologist
IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
If your environmental interests focus more closely on animals than plants or earth science, a career in zoology and wildlife biology might be what you’re looking for. Wildlife biologists and zoologists study animals, often focusing particular types of animals, like mammals, or the groups of animals that live in specific habitats, such as oceans. What education you will need for a career as a wildlife biologist depends on what you plan to do in the field. You can get an entry-level role with just a bachelor’s degree, but you’ll need a master’s degree if you aspire to conduct higher level investigative or scientific work, the BLS reported. To advance into independent research or university research roles, you will need a Ph.D. and experience with computer programming and statistical software, according to the BLS. About one-third of wildlife biologists work for state governments, while 21 percent work for the federal government.
Working with animals may not be enough to make a career qualify as green, but the wildlife biology career path certainly does. Part of a wildlife biologist’s job is to observe the animals’ behavior, physical characteristics and interactions with its own kind and with other species. However, much of a wildlife biologist’s work focuses on conservation of the animals’ natural habitat and preserving the species. These scientists keep tabs on the animals’ populations, implement breeding programs to increase the population of endangered species and develop conservation plans, according to the BLS. In fact, wildlife biologists even play a part role in the development of alternative energy solutions. For example, if a wind farm is being constructed, a wildlife biologist will work to assess how the turbines and construction could interfere with the local ecosystem and devise strategies to minimize the impact on the regions birds and other animal life, the BLS reported.
Median Salary: $59,680
Education Level: Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D. Degree Zoology and Wildlife Biology
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain.
Limnologist probably isn’t a career you’re familiar with, but it can be a very rewarding one. A limnologist is a type of scientist. Unlike the marine biologist, a similar but more well-known career path, a limnologist studies the animals, plants and ecosystems that make up freshwater environments like lakes and ponds. How much money a limnologist makes can vary significantly based on the kind of work the limnologist does and where he or she is employed. Limnologists typically specialize, and that specialization affects both job duties and earning potential. For example, limnologists who study freshwater animals can expect to earn a median wage of around $55,100 per year, the BLS reported. Those who study the movement of water, instead, earn salaries more comparable to that of hydrologists. Limnologists with a chemistry focus may bring home a median salary of $63,490 per year, a paycheck on par with chemists in other disciplines.
Limnologist is a very broad career path. Ecologists, environmental scientists, biogeochemists and various other kinds of scientists and researchers can all fall under the category of limnologists, provided that they specialize in studying freshwater ecosystems. Limnologist is an excellent career for nature-lovers because many of the roles these scientists play include a focus on conservation. For example, a limnologist who studies freshwater animal life might research the reasons behind a diminishing population of fish and develop plans for increasing that population back to normal levels. Limnologists also conduct experiments to determine what effects possible changes to the freshwater ecosystem – like the introduction of a new species of fish or changes in the diet of small organisms like plankton – could have on the environment, according to the BLS. If you enjoy spending time in lakes and ponds, you will enjoy the fieldwork limnologists do as they record measurements and gather specimens and water samples to study in the lab.
Median Salary: $55,100 to $63,490
Education Level: Bachelor’s, Master’s or Ph.D. Degree in Biology or Chemistry
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain.
Few things are greener than clean energy sources. Wind turbine service technicians, also known as windtechs, are the maintenance and repair professionals whose work makes renewable wind energy possible. Right now, the number of wind turbine service technicians is small, with just 4,400 of these workers across the United States. However, the BLS expects this number to more than double over a decade. To say that the field is growing rapidly would be an understatement. While the BLS is predicting job opportunities across all occupations to rise by just seven percent, it anticipates a massive 108 percent increase in roles for wind turbine service technicians. In fact, demand for wind turbine service technicians with the right education is so strong that employers are hiring technical school and community college students often before they can even complete their associate’s degree programs, according to the BLS.
Many of the jobs on our top 10 green careers list are science-based and at least partly academic in nature, but windtech is an exception. If you’re more comfortable fixing mechanical problems than studying samples in a lab, wind turbine service technician is a career path that will fit both your technical talents and your love of nature. Wind turbine service technicians are responsible for examining, repairing and maintaining the turbines that generate renewable wind energy. For many wind turbine service technicians, the opportunity to work primarily outdoors is enjoyable. However, the job is also physically demanding and can be dangerous. Industrial wind turbines are often hundreds of feet tall. Windtechs need to use safety harnesses and other equipment to safely climb the towers so they can perform maintenance work like replacing old or damaged parts and troubleshooting the various mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems used to power the wind turbines.
Median Salary: $51,050
Education Level: Associate’s Degree in Wind Energy Technology
10. Recycling Coordinator
IMAGE SOURCE: Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
If you’re passionate about recycling, why not turn your enthusiasm into a career as a recycling coordinator? These labor management professionals oversee recycling efforts and ensure that collected recyclables actually make their way to a facility where they can be transformed into something new and reused, rather than permanently discarded in a landfill. Recycling coordinators establish recyclables collection schedules, send workers to pickup routes and act as supervisors and managers for the employers who operate recycling collection trucks and processing facilities. The earning potential for recycling coordinators can vary widely, ranging from the low $30,000s to $100,000 per year, the BLS reported. Factors like the size of the program the recycling coordinator is responsible for managing and the amount of experience the worker has can make a big difference in salary. However, even new recycling coordinators who oversee relatively small recycling programs find the work rewarding in non-financial ways, particularly the positive impact is has on the environment.
Recycling coordinators help the natural environment in more ways than one. By planning and supervising recycling programs, they ensure that recycling efforts actually become a reality. Once the recyclables are collected and sorted, they need to make it to a facility that will actually recycle them – that is, use the materials to create another usable product. A recycling coordinator is behind this process, too, negotiating contracts to sell and transport the recycling materials to a facility that will use them. Of course, an important aspect of any successful recycling program is making the public aware of the importance of recycling and which items can be recycled. Education through community outreach is another job duty recycling coordinators must accomplish. While a passion for recycling is among the most important characteristics for a recycling coordinator to have, it’s not the only one. These professionals need to develop excellent skills in communication, data management and administration. They typically need a bachelor’s degree in a subject related to the environment, and they may even need state certification or past work experience in education, manufacturing, waste management or the government.
Median Salary: $30,000s to $100,000
Education Level: Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Education or Environmental Resources Management
Some green jobs have been around for decades, while others are relatively new and evolving all the time. If you’re seeking a job that’s environmentally-friendly and will allow you the chance to help protect the natural world, you have plenty of options. However, choosing a career is a big decision, and it’s important to consider all of the potential benefits and challenges of an occupation before you commit to it. Consider this list a guide for beginning your own research into the green career that’s right for you. To learn more about these and other jobs for nature-lovers check out the Green Jobs Career Outlook articles published by the BLS – the source for the employment, education, training, salary and career outlook information presented in this article.