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Careers in Sustainability

Sustainability is a growing field, with job opportunities in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “although their specific career paths might differ, sustainability professionals promote environmental protection, social responsibility, and profitability.”

Sustainability professionals may help their employers conserve resources (from energy to water to dollars) and improve efficiency; create new, more environmentally and socially responsible technologies or services; educate stakeholders about environmental and social issues and engage them in planning and programming accordingly and more. Regardless of job title, the work of all sustainability professionals focuses on the intersection of environment, economics and social and cultural issues: what’s referred to in the business world as the "triple bottom line" of people, profits and planet.

According to May 2011 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest median salaries in sustainability are in areas of management and engineering.

Engineers usually have a bachelor’s degree in an engineering field (such as environmental or chemical engineering), and often need to be licensed as professional engineers. Managers can come from a variety of backgrounds, including business administration, environmental sciences, law and more. Higher-level (and higher-paying) jobs in each area require at least a bachelor’s degree (and, many times, also a graduate degree) and years of experience in the field. 

  • Chief sustainability executives: $166,910
  • Natural sciences managers: $114,770
  • General and operations managers: $95,150
  • Chemical engineers: $92,930
  • Atmospheric and space scientists: $89,790
  • Industrial production managers: $88,190
  • Environmental engineers: $79,050
  • Civil engineers: $77,990
  • Health and safety engineers (excluding mining safety engineers and inspectors): $75,470
  • Industrial engineers: $77,240 

Because sustainability is so interdisciplinary, there is no set career path in this field, though sustainability jobs in scientific and engineering fields have certain degree and certification requirements. Those interested in sustainability can pursue careers in clean energy, technology, education, management, political science, business and more. One great source for information on green jobs is the U.S. Department of Labor report, “Why Green Is Your Color: A Woman’s Guide to a Sustainable Career.” This guide is helpful for both men and women, discussing a number of green occupations, their educational requirements and where to find jobs.

You may also be interested in learning about sustainability degrees.