It is one thing to use your spare time and money to clean up community parks, plant trees and other flora, reduce your emissions and waste, and perform other sustainable activities. It is quite another thing to devote your entire career to saving the environment. Yet, if it weren’t for those who committed their lives to going green — and convincing others to go green, too — the world would likely be in a much worse environmental position. Plus, many sustainable jobs offer outstanding opportunities to gain high salaries and prestige.
If you want to transform your sustainable tendencies into a lifelong career, here are the most profitable and most impactful professions to consider.
Because the training is so specialized and the service is so essential in modern society, lawyers almost always take home healthy salaries. Fortunately, lawyers can also lend significant support to environmental efforts through their practice. Environmental lawyers work tirelessly to enact and protect pro-environment legislation. Some lawyers specialize in different aspects of environmentalism, such as clean water, renewable energy, or land management, and others are generalists that work to protect the Earth at large.
All you need to practice environmental law is a law degree, bar certification, and relevant experience; then, you can enjoy a long, beneficial career with a median salary of around $113,530.
Like law, engineering is a recognizable career field that understandably offers high salaries. Environmental engineering is a broad field of engineering that renews natural environments, reduces pollution and waste, and otherwise protects the environment. Environmental engineers often obtain degrees in other engineering fields, such as biochemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering, and apply their knowledge and skill to environmental efforts. For example, agricultural engineers might function as environmental engineers by evaluating a region’s soils and devising systems to return its composition to natural levels.
You can function as an environmental engineer with nearly any bachelor degree in engineering, but by obtaining an online master’s degree in engineering, you can qualify for more impactful positions. The annual median pay for environmental engineers is over $84,560, but with greater credentials, you boost your earning potential.
To some, it might seem odd that a primary professional pathway to environmentalism concerns designing cities. However, organizing urban environments, as an urban planner does, is an excellent way to impact how people interact with the natural environment. Urban planners understand how to optimize land use, and they often work with other environmental professionals — including engineers and lawyers — to ensure that a city does not substantially detriment the surrounding environment.
Though it is possible to work as an urban planner with just a bachelor degree, most impactful positions require a master’s or higher. Fortunately, the median salary for urban planning is about $68,220.
The first profession on this list that few readers will recognize, a hydrologist is an expert in water. Usually, hydrologists study water movement; thus, they can assist municipalities, corporations, researchers, and others in understanding water availability and quality. Though hydrologists might take occasional trips to natural water sources, including rivers and lakes, most of their work is performed in laboratories, analyzing samples and developing models that predict future water systems.
To work as a hydrologist, you need a strong background in natural sciences as well as a master’s degree in hydrology — and some states require appropriate licenses. You stand to earn roughly $80,000 per year by studying water.
Perhaps the most obviously impactful career in sustainability and environmentalism, conservation science monitor the health of different natural regions and endeavor to protect these regions with a variety of efforts. Like hydrologists for land, conservation scientists often work alongside organizations and governments to optimize land use. Some common duties of conservation scientists include enhancing animal habitats, facilitating public recreation, and recognizing threats to environmental safety.
A bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as forestry, agriculture, ecology, biology, or natural resource management, is the minimum requirement for work in this field, but most professionals continue their education to the master’s degree and doctorate levels. Pay for conservation science varies wildly from state to state, but the median salary around the country is higher than $61,810.
For those with backgrounds in business but deep-seated interests in saving the environment, becoming a sustainability director might be an ideal career move. These professionals guide organizations toward more sustainable activity, be it cultivating paperless offices or implementing largescale recycling and renewable energy efforts. The objective for sustainability directors is to develop policies that benefit both their employers (or clients) and the environment. On one hand, this bolsters the organization’s brand, improving sales; on the other, it also saves the environment from unnecessary devastation.
Sustainability directors are relatively new, and generally, only large organizations have sustainability staff. You need experience in management — perhaps even an MBA — as well as appropriate credentials in sustainability. Then, you can qualify for sustainability directors’ average $142,000 salary.
Environmental Protection Technician
Though the name of the profession might be a mouthful, these workers are essentially environmental police. Working closely with other environmental professionals, including hydrologists and conservation scientists, environmental protection techs monitor the environment for sources of contamination and pollution. If contamination is identified, techs investigate and pursue violators to prevent further detriment to the environment.
Considering the relatively low level of education and experience required for this job — you only need an associate degree — the pay and positive impacts are astounding. You can expect to earn a medial salary upwards of $43,030.
Hazardous Materials Removal Worker
The environment is under threat from all sorts of toxic contaminants, and the proper disposal of those contaminants is vital. Hazardous materials removal workers are experienced with cleaning up dangerous substances like asbestos, arsenic, lead, and even radioactive waste to ensure that these toxins do not leech into the environment to poison and kill plants, animals, and people. It might not be a glamorous job, but fighting for the environment rarely is, and removing hazardous materials is utterly essential for safe and healthy environments.
To become a hazardous materials removal worker, you don’t need any kind of degree — just 40 hours of OSHA training. Some positions do require licensing, which may demand additional training. Still, in such little time, you can qualify for a median $40,640 in salary and a satisfying and essential career.
Solar Panel Installation or Wind Turbine Tech
As the costs of fossil fuels climb, more and more individuals and organizations are becoming interested in options for renewable energy. Solar and wind are the two top contenders, so the demand for professionals skilled with solar panels and wind turbines is growing fast. Solar and wind technicians are responsible for installing and maintaining these progressive technologies — and continuing to understand their installation and maintenance as the technologies develop. Indeed, because solar and wind tech is hardly at peak efficiency, it is likely that the tools that harness these energies will continue to change in the coming decades. Thus, solar and wind technicians will likely need to be willing to adapt with the tech.
Training at a technical school is likely all you need to secure employment with a solar or wind energy provider, but you will likely need to engage with continuing education efforts in the future. You will likely earn an hourly wage of about $15.72 per hour, but some advanced technicians can earn salaries upwards of about $51,000.