Environmental Science Careers and Other Green Jobs
When things like resource shortages, extreme weather events and sea level rise brought on by climate change start disrupting supply chains and hitting corporations where it hurts, all of a sudden you start seeing huge investments in the search for solutions.
This is what it's come to, and it's resulted in a surge in green jobs around the country, in almost every sector of both industry and government.
While the science behind environmental work has become ever more complex, the routine and day-to-day adoption of environmentally-friendly technology, policy and practices has made green jobs much more common and accessible at every level. It's still largely a science-heavy domain where advanced degrees are standard, but there is a lot of very important work going on at the policy level and where the rubber meets the road in everything from remediation work to the technical work that goes into building solar arrays and other green infrastructure. This means there's a place for everybody with something to contribute. Jobs are booming in the green economy, opening up new opportunities for workers at every level of education.
You're still going to want to be really proactive in getting the education you need. The surge in jobs is matched by a surge in enrollments from workers who are eager to re-skill for positions in an up-and-coming employment sector.
You'll find information about the different types of degrees that can lead you to the exact environmental job you're looking for, all broken down into the four major categories - environmental policy and planning, sustainability and the green economy, green agriculture and forestry, and environmental health. This is a field where education is everything, and where degree offerings are almost as diverse as the many green jobs available in the field.
To make it easy to connect the education requirements to the specific career paths, we've organized this guide according to the area of study and degree level it takes to find your career niche:
- Environmental Policy and Planning - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers in Policy Development and Implementation
- Sustainable Development and Engineering - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers Related to Sustainable Building and Engineering
- Agriculture and Forestry - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers in Green Agriculture and Forest Management
- Environmental Health - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers at the Intersection of Environmental Science and Public Health
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington, DC
- West Virginia
Environmental Policy and Planning - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers in Policy Development and Implementation
Working at the policy and planning level in environmental science takes a serious education. This area includes the jobs that involve pulling the levers that reshape regional and national economies, set major global initiatives into motion, and craft regulations that can reshape commerce and the daily lives of millions.
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Associate's Graduates in Environmental Policy and Planning
While most jobs that would be considered as being firmly in environmental policy and planning will require at least a bachelor's degree, you can find a foothold in a few fields with an AS or AA.
One such job would be that of a public affairs or public involvement specialist. Also called outreach coordinators, these individuals work in communications for policy and planning organizations to educate the public and get communities involved in their efforts.
In a complex area like environmental science, that means absorbing and accounting for thousands of different factors and variables - and it's a field where mistakes can have real consequences.
Some examples of the jobs you'll find in this area, and the related salaries, as tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are (These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Public Relations Specialist - $62,810/yr
- Environmental Science and Protection Technician - $46,850/yr
With the high-level considerations necessary for policy and planning decisions, you shouldn't expect to land a job in the field with only a two-year associate's degree under your belt. But you might still plan your career progression through an associate's, as a key part of your preparation for a bachelor's program.
That means your biggest consideration in picking a degree at this level will be the transferability to a four-year program. This is most likely if you pick a program in the same region, or even at the same school, as your preferred bachelor's program.
An associate's can also lead to the kind of down in the dirt, hands-on experience working in the environmental field that will make you a better policy and decision-maker in higher level positions
The curriculum at the associate's level is carefully prescribed, with few electives and a basic slate of introductory courses in the field. For policy and planning careers, you will probably be looking at very general associate's studies in environmental science or sustainability. But AAs in other fields, such as communications, marketing, or administration could also be useful depending on your career path.
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Bachelor's Graduates in Environmental Policy and Planning
A broad range of entry-level positions are available for anyone with a master's degree in this field. Job titles include:
- Environmental Policy Analyst
- Recreation Planner/Consultant
- Environmental/Wildlife Educator
- Land Use Planner
Salaries for these positions vary by responsibility and location. A few examples of jobs in this category and their median salaries as listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are (These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Public Relations Specialist - $62,810/yr
- Environmental Science and Protection Technician - $46,850/yr
- Conservation Scientist and Forester - $64,010/yr
- Environmental Scientist and Specialist - $73,230/yr
- Forest and Conservation Worker - $30,640/yr
- Cost Estimator - $66,610/yr
A bachelor's degree is considered the entry-level credential for most environmental policy and planning careers. An associate's program with transferability can ease your acceptance into a relevant bachelor's program for environmental policy and planning careers. Many students, however, enter these degrees directly from high school.
Common degrees for policy and planning careers include:
- BS in Environmental Policy and Management
- BS in Environmental Psychology
- BS in Sustainability
- BA in Environmental Planning and Policy
You can expect to study subject such as:
- Environmental law and regulation
- Environmental science
- Communication and English
- History of environmental protection
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Master's and Doctoral Graduates in Environmental Policy and Planning
Some of the top-paying jobs in environmental studies are found in policy and planning sectors, whether with Fortune 500 companies or high up in federal government agencies. These can include:
- Environmental Economist
- Environmental Lawyer
- Environmental Policy Analyst
- Urban Planner
Some salary data, taken directly from Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2020, include (These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Management Analyst - $87,660/yr
- Natural Sciences Manager - $137,940/yr
- Construction Manager - $97,180/yr
- Emergency Management Director - $76,250/yr
- Lawyer - $126,930/yr
Master's degrees and higher are where you begin to unlock the best-paying and most influential roles in environmental policy and planning. These are the positions that use your advanced education to actually come up with new and innovative policies and to design and execute plans to put them into effect.
As you might imagine, this requires a depth of training that a bachelor's degree can't provide. Master's and doctoral programs go into much greater detail and more tightly focused specializations, including:
- Juris Doctor in Environmental Law
- Masters in Environmental Planning and Design
- Master of Business Administration in Sustainability and Compliance
- Masters of Energy Regulation and Law
- Doctorate in Environmental Economics
You'll need to tailor your approach to preparing for the doctorate or master's you'll need to get into a career at this level. There is an enormous difference in the kind of prerequisites and the course load required to become an environmental lawyer versus an expert in sustainability practices, for example.
The curriculum you will study at the graduate level will be similarly specialized. However, there will be some similarities in most degrees designed to prepare you for a career in policy and planning positions. That means that no matter what niche you're getting into within the broader category, you'll likely encounter some variation of these kinds of courses:
- Environmental law and regulation -The structure of environmental legal frameworks and enforcement are important to all planners and policy makers. You'll look at both case law and major environmental legislation like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, as well as government agencies that enforce those laws, like the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Current and proposed environmental policy -You'll study the trends in environmental policy, particularly with relation to global climate change and carbon emissions as well as proposals to handle the effects of rising seas and warming temperatures.
- Global and international environmental policy -The international component of environmental law is important when looking at policy on a global scale, so you will study major international organizations operating under the auspices of the United Nations, and treaties like the Paris Treaty that nations have developed to cooperate.
For a full list and even more educational and salary information, look to our Environmental Policy and Planning Careers page.
Sustainable Development and Engineering - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers Related to Sustainable Building and Engineering
Careers in sustainability energy and building are unique in that they are expanding in every industry. As sustainability becomes more important to both public approval and economic growth, companies need professionals attuned to the trends and best practices in sustainable building and engineering.
This means that you can find work in sustainable building and engineering at almost every educational level, from ground level technical positions that involve the manufacturing and installation of sustainable energy infrastructure like wind turbines and solar arrays, to the high level engineering jobs responsible for designing, developing and testing that equipment. This is an area where there is lots of room to grow and excellent financial prospects.
In fact, according to a 2018 report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics,environmental engineers, engineering technicians, solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians, all of which fall within this broader category, are projected to be among the fastest growing green jobs during the ten-year period leading up to 2026.
These are only a few of the options you'll find in sustainable development and economics, though.
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Associate's Graduates in Sustainable Building and Engineering
Perhaps more than any of the other green career categories listed here, sustainability and green economy jobs tend to offer more and higher paying opportunities to associate's-qualified candidates. The ground-level, blue-collar skills can earn solid money as the overall demand for construction and building management positions skyrockets.
A couple of the most popular positions had salary information published in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 Occupational Outlook Handbook*:
- Solar Photovoltaic Installers - $46,470 - $64,600 per year
- Wind Turbine Technicians - $56,230 - $83,580 per year
Associate's degrees for green economy careers tend to focus on both practical and in-demand subjects, with degree options that include:
- AAS in Environmental Technologies and Sustainable Practices
- AS in Green Sustainable Design
- AS in Renewable Energy
- AAS in Green Building Maintenance and Management
Needless to say, it's also possible to use these as transfer degrees to extend your studies to the bachelor's level in the future.
There are no special prerequisites for associate's degrees in this category. The curriculum you will find at the two-year level is commonly very hands-on and task oriented. Some courses you might find will be:
- Renewable Energy Systems,studying solar, wind, geothermal, and high-efficiency systems
- Green Design Elements,looking at how architecture and building construction lead to sustainability, including LEED evaluation
- Ecological Design Principals,examining how modern design and build practices help structures fit in to natural ecological systems
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Bachelor's Graduates in Sustainable Building and Engineering
A bachelor's degree opens up even more positions in sustainable building and design. There are many natural progressions from associate's level degrees that can take you into more in-depth studies of design and development at the four-year level. In turn, these programs will also serve as excellent preparation for a more advanced course of study at the master's level.
A broad range of entry-level positions are available for bachelor's-prepared graduates, all with solid salary prospects. (This BLS job data was retrieved in September of 2021. These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Project Management Specialist - $84,290
- Environmental Engineer - $92,120
- Environmental Science and Protection Technician - $46,850
A combination of straight scientific study and more applied practical skills can be found at the bachelor's level. You are likely to find degrees that serve as preparation for master's studies but also those that prepare you for direct entry into sustainable building and engineering jobs.
Common degrees for sustainability and green careers include:
- BAS in Sustainable Practices
- BS in Sustainable Environments
- BA in Landscape Architecture
- BS in Community Development
- BAB (Bachelor of Arts in Business) Sustainability Management Emphasis
You can expect to study similar subjects as the ones found at the associate's level in these areas of expertise, with hard sciences and lab courses as an emphasis.
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Master's and Doctoral Graduates in Sustainable Building and Engineering
Some of the highest paying sustainability jobs in the nation go to holders of master's degrees in this area, particularly those working in architecture or energy.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes salary range data on some popular careers in sustainable building and engineering in the 2021 Occupational Outlook Handbook*:
- Urban and Regional Planner - $75,950 - $118,280
- Landscape Architect - $70,630 - $115,660
- Civil Engineers - $88,570 - $144,810
- Environmental Engineers - $92,120 - $144,810
The wheels at the very top levels of the green economy are kept spinning by people who have master's degrees and doctorates in areas such as:
- MS in Sustainability Management
- MS in Sustainability with Environmental Management Emphasis
- MS in Global Energy Management
- PhD in Built Environment
- PhD in Building Technology
- MS in Engineering in Sustainability Engineering
Master's programs and doctorates in this category very commonly require that you have already gained some experience on the job in the field. While it's possible to enter a graduate program like this without a standardized test score, it's less common with heavily science and math-focused degrees. You may also need to clear some prerequisite courses in areas like chemistry, biology, or algebra to enter these programs.
For more in-depth information, please see our complete Sustainability Careers and Green Jobs page.
Agriculture and Forestry - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers in Green Agriculture and Forest Management
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, as of 2020, approximately 16 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions were from methane, primarily resulting from agriculture. At the same time, deforestation around the globe has removed a potent carbon sink for CO2 emissions, with a study published in Nature Climate Change in 2019 warning that soils stripped of nitrogen and phosphorous as a result of unsustainable farming practices will limit our abilities to replant that vital part of the planet's lungs.
So it's clear that to make meaningful progress, environmental sustainability has to involve scientists and other professionals with advanced expertise in sustainable agriculture and forestry practices.
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Associate's Graduates in Agriculture and Forestry
There are many blue-collar positions in green agriculture as well as forestry and wildlife management that are experiencing significant growth.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of jobs for environmental science and protection technicians, for example, will increase by 1% between 2020 and 2030. Many of these positions are seasonal, however, offering employment only in the summer months.
Some qualifying positions, and their median pay, as listed by BLS in September of 2021 and compiled from data gathered in May of 2020 include*:
- Environmental Science and Protection Technicians - $46,850 - $80,530 per year
- Environmental Engineering Technicians - $51,630 - $87,730 per year
- Agricultural and Food Science Technicians - $41,970 - $66,620 per year
Many ground-level agriculture and forestry technicians start off with associate's degrees in the field:
- AAS in Sustainable Agriculture
- AS in Sustainable Horticulture
- AS in Forest Technology
- AS in Sustainable Food and Farming
These tend to be very practical and hands-on programs that prepare you to get out into the field and start making a real impact, whether in agroecology and food processing, or forestry and wildland management.
There are no unique prerequisites for these associate's programs, but you will find a unique curriculum, including topics like:
- Soil Science
- Remote Sensing Systems
- Watershed Management and Irrigation
- Agribusiness Concerns
- Pest Management
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Bachelor's Graduates in Agriculture and Forestry
There is a bifurcation of salary levels between the forestry and recreation part of this category, which tends to have lower compensation, and the sustainable agriculture side, which is big business and has major business funding behind it. Still, these jobs come with benefits that can be hard to come by in other fields, such as spending most of your time working outside in the grandeur of nature.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides median salary data for many positions open to bachelor's graduates in these fields for May of 2020, as listed in September of 2021*:
- Agricultural and Food Scientist - $68,830 per year
- Conservation Scientist and Forester - $64,010 per year
- Agricultural Engineer - $84,410 per year
- Famers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Manager - $68,090 per year
- Zoologist/Wildlife Biologist - $66,350
A bachelor's degree will open up the types of positions you can find in agriculture and forestry conservation work considerably. In fact, with a bachelor's and the right kind of ag and forestry experience, you'll have access to the kinds of upper-level positions that would typically require a master's degree in any other field.
Common degrees in sustainable agriculture and forestry include:
- BS in Soil Science
- BS in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture
- BA in Food Systems, Nutrition, and Health
- BS in Forestry
- BS in Forest Health
You'll find additional ag and forestry specific courses in these programs, including:
- Soil Science
- Forest Biometrics
- Disease and Insect Biology
- Recreational Land Management
- Fire Management
- Agricultural Law
- World Crops
- Rangeland Science
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Master's and Doctoral Graduates in Agriculture and Forestry
Jobs that are restricted to only master's or doctoral graduates are relatively rare in this field. You will find, however, that the positions you can obtain with a bachelor's degree are open to you and you can expect to advance faster and further with more education under your belt.
PhD and master's graduates in this area are more likely to end up teaching or performing research science in either private, university, or governmental labs. These can be quite highly paid positions, however.
Some examples drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021 include (These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Biological Scientist - $85,290
- Biochemist - $94,270
Master's and doctoral studies in green agriculture and forestry are largely angled toward providing high-level research science professionals and educators. They involve extensive field and lab studies that push forward the realm of knowledge in biology and ecology and develop the new standards for environmental stewardship and best practices.
Some of the degrees you will find in this field include:
- MA in Environmental Studies - Sustainable Food and Farming concentration
- Master of Forestry
- MS in Range Management
- MS or PhD in Sustainable Agriculture
- MS in Environmental Biology
- MS in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering
It's very common for degrees at this level to require that you have some on-the-ground experience in agriculture or forestry, together with sterling letters of recommendation, before applying. Additionally, because they are firmly science-based, you will not only need high scores on the math and quantitative reasoning components of standardized tests, but also the appropriate baccalaureate-level courses in basic sciences, including chemistry, biology, and math.
Specialized coursework you will encounter in these degrees includes:
- Silviculture -The growing and cultivation of trees
- Measurement and Management of Forest Resources -Study of remote sensing technology and techniques for estimating and managing forest and agricultural resources
- Agricultural and Forestry Policy -Studies of high-level management and resource development policies that effect forest and crop land use
- Plant ecophysiology -The complex interactions between plants and environment, including responses to infestation or environmental stressors
These degrees almost always require an internship or extensive field experience of some sort to complete.
For a more extensive list of opportunities and educational options, be sure to check out our Agriculture and Forestry Careers page.
Environmental Health - Degree Options and Salaries for Careers at the Intersection of Environmental Science and Public Health
Understanding the impacts of environmental changes on public health has been a long running process, one thrown into sudden and dramatic prominence by the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. The interactions between humankind and the natural world have always been a vector for dangerous new disease, but only in recent decades has it been well-understood how introducing new environmental stressors and increasing encroachment into wild places has driven increasing exposure to viruses like SARS, Ebola, and MERS to create all new hazards to human health, life and prosperity.
Issues of food security and nutrition are also important considerations for public health professionals.
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Associate's Graduates in Environmental Health
While you won't find anything glamorous in environmental health work at the entry-level available with an associate's degree, but you will find some solid middle-class incomes and a relatively high level of demand around the country… no matter where you go, someone will always need their wastewater processed! But community health outreach and coordination jobs are also widely available if you are more of a people person.
Some qualifying positions, and their respective salaries, found in Bureau of Labor Statistics data in 2021 include the following examples (These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant and System Operators - $49,090 - $79,620
- Occupational Health and Safety Technician - $53,340 - $89,780
- Health Education Specialist - $56,500 - $101,890
- Community Health Worker - $42,000 - $70,790
Positions for staff with associate's level qualifications tend toward the hands-on, which makes most programs of this sort very much healthcare oriented. Some common degrees include:
- Associate of Public Health
- AS in Health Science
- AS of Allied Health Science
The course requirements for these degrees will often be quite similar to those for other healthcare professions, leaning heavily on the basics of biology, chemistry, and other sciences. You can also expect to have an extra helping of computer and internet literacy courses to prepare you for both the vital record-keeping and research parts of the jobs. Look for classes such as:
- Medical Terminology
- Introduction to Sociology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Health Care Administration
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Bachelor's Graduates in Environmental Health
A broad range of entry-level positions are available for anyone with a master's degree in this field. Job titles include:
- Air Pollution Analyst
- Environmental Sanitation Engineer
- Environmental Health Professional
- Public Education Outreach Specialist
Salaries for these positions vary by responsibility and location.
A few examples, retrieved from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in September 2021, include (These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Environmental Scientists and Specialists, including Health - $73,230 - $129,450
- Management Analyst - $87,660 - $156,840
- Conservation Scientist and Forester - $64,020 - $100,350
Bachelor's programs can get you out of the field and into the lab working in more advanced public health jobs. They can also help you get into management-level roles in some of the jobs noted under the associate's section. The degrees you will be looking at can include:
- BS in Biostatistics
- BA in Public Health
- BS in Nutrition
- BA in Sociology
- BS in Environmental Health
- BS in Environmental Microbiology
It's also very common for bachelor's programs to be used largely as stepping stones to master's degrees, which are commonly required for many public health positions.
More responsibility means more studying, though. These degrees are multidisciplinary in nature and require a broad range of expertise in everything from communication to microbiology. Your additional years in school studying public health and healthcare topics will take you into subjects like:
- Biology, Math, and Chemistry
- Quantitative Analysis
- Microorganism Biology
- Global Environmental and Public Health
- Radiation and Air Pollution
- Hazardous and Solid Waste Management
- Industrial Hygiene
These degrees often include an internship or practicum component to place you in actual public health roles doing real work under supervision as part of your studies.
Jobs and Salary Expectations For Master's and Doctoral Graduates in Environmental Health
Public health roles can be found around the country, anywhere that populations exist that can be affected by environmental health issues… which is to say, everywhere. Naturally, salaries vary considerably based on location in this field and the kind of work going on in different parts of the country. Of course, the challenges of rural Nevada environmental health differ considerably from those in Miami. Still, it's a wide range of options and with increasing demand and a variety of interesting specialties, you can find a job that suits you and brings home a solid salary just about anywhere in the country.
(These examples do not represent job offers or an assurance of employment)*:
- Epidemiologist - $74,560
- Medical and Health Services Manager - $104,280
- Emergency Management Director - $76,250
- Occupational Health and Safety Specialist - $76,340
You'll need to get a master's degree if you want to progress to the top jobs in environmental public health. As we've seen every day, the complexity of this field requires the utmost expertise from decision makers and advisers who have to make hard choices affecting millions of people.
Master's degrees available in this area include:
- MS in Environmental Sciences
- MS in Health Science in Environmental Health
- MPH (Master of Public Health) with Environmental emphasis
- MS in Health Informatics
Doctorate degrees in the field tend to be most useful for those who intend to make a career in academia or to conduct important research in either public sector positions or private companies such as drug manufacturers.
You will very commonly need to have a related bachelor's degree to apply to public health master's programs, and often some real-world experience in either healthcare or public health positions as well.
The curriculum for these degrees can mirror what is found at the bachelor's level, but there is also room for a significant amount of specialization that can take your studies into areas such as:
- Epidemiology and Toxicology
- Healthcare Management
You will certainly be expected to conduct some lab research and quite likely fill an internship role during your master's program.
It's a complex area that calls for the best education available to protect both man and nature. For even more information, look to our extensive Public Health Careers page.
* 2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for all occupations and job titles listed here reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.
Salary Comparison Tool
Search and compare the salaries of various environmental science careers around the United States by city and state. All salary data is sourced from BLS.gov.