Table of Contents
- Wind Turbine Technician
- Solar Installer
- Civil Engineer
- Chief Sustainability Officer
- Environmental Scientist
- Conservation Scientist
- Agricultural Engineer
- Agricultural and Food Scientist
Some 93% of business leaders expected consumers to hold them accountable for their environmental impact as of 2019, up 12% from 2018, according to a survey by the Environmental Defense Fund. An organization’s awareness of environmental issues and ability to address them has become an essential aspect of what experts are calling the Fourth Wave of Environmentalism, which focuses on market-based and technological solutions to environmental issues.
As a result, job prospects are strong in the renewable energy, environmental science, and agricultural sectors. Sustainability-related and green careers are becoming more important than ever across a wide variety of industries.
Those who are interested in pursuing a career in renewable energy, environmental science, or agriculture should consider earning a bachelor’s in sustainability degree to learn how their contributions can have a positive impact on their employers and the environment.
What Are Green Careers?
The field of sustainability focuses on creating cleaner environments, using renewable resources, increasing political awareness, and supporting healthier populations. Green careers focus on environmental preservation, pollution reduction, energy conservation, alternative energy creation, and recycling.
Professionals in green careers work in different industries, including:
They understand the importance of efficiency, sustainability, and renewability across different fields. Within these distinct industries, individuals can pursue specific renewable energy, environmental, and agricultural occupations.
Rewarding Renewable Energy Careers: Job Description and Salaries
The number of renewable energy careers has seen a steady increase in the past several years. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), most U.S. renewable energy jobs are in the biofuels, solar, and wind power industries. Professionals also work in zero-emission technology industries.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors entails working with “energy-efficient equipment, appliances, buildings, and vehicles, as well as products and services that improve the energy efficiency of buildings and the efficiency of energy storage and distribution.”
Some rewarding green careers in the renewable energy sector include:
1. Wind Turbine Technician
Wind turbine technicians typically work outdoors in electric power generation, system construction, and wind turbine maintenance. In pairs or teams, they install wind turbines that convert wind energy into electricity. Wind turbines comprise:
- A tower
- Three blades
- A nacelle (made of an outer case, generator, gearbox, and brakes)
Wind turbine technicians can help build wind turbines, but they typically are responsible for inspecting or maintaining the structures. Maintaining wind turbines, particularly the equipment in nacelles, is one of the primary responsibilities of wind turbine technicians. Some other job duties include:
- Regularly inspecting and troubleshooting issues with wind turbines
- Repairing mechanical, electrical, and hydraulic systems
- Climbing wind turbine towers to perform maintenance
- Collecting and analyzing data for research studies about renewable energy
The median annual salary associated with the role is $52,910, according to the BLS. Salaries can vary based on an individual’s job location, education level, years of experience, and organization. These technicians typically gain education from technical schools, but individuals can also benefit from earning a degree in sustainability or a related field.
The BLS projects the employment of wind turbine technicians to grow 61% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average career growth (4%). Innovation in the field has lowered the cost of wind power generation, thereby increasing its popularity as a renewable energy option.
2. Solar Installer
Another green career in the renewable energy field is solar installer. Professionals in this career assemble solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that convert sunlight into energy.
Solar installers can be electrical contractors or self-employed workers who install PV systems for companies or in residential areas. Some job duties include:
- Surveying sites, such as houses or buildings
- Creating PV system plans based on the condition and size of a site
- Ensuring equipment coincides with regulations
- Installing PV system, solar panels, and supporting structures to the roof of the site and connecting them with the electrical system
- Running tests on the PV system and troubleshooting any problems
- Conducting ongoing maintenance
Having an educational background in sustainability and renewable energy can prepare an individual for a career as a solar installer. Essential skills include being comfortable working at heights, having stamina and strength, and being a strong verbal communicator.
The median annual salary for solar installers is $44,890, according to the BLS. The salary can vary based on a person’s years of experience, education level, skills, job location, and other factors. Individuals can advance in the field by becoming project managers or supervisors.
The BLS projects solar installation jobs to grow by 51% between 2019 and 2019, indicating a very promising job outlook as corporate and consumer interest in using alternative energy sources rises.
3. Civil Engineer
While civil engineering isn’t exclusively a green career, civil engineers can work for renewable energy organizations. They design plans and oversee infrastructure projects, including:
- Water treatment facilities
- Roads and freeways
Civil engineers conduct research and plan projects for both the private and public sectors. Depending on government policies and protocols, some organizations may hire civil engineers to create survey reports, make plans, and supervise renewable energy projects. Some job duties include:
- Making plans for building infrastructure in response to environmental issues or hazards
- Complying with local, state, and federal building regulations
- Designing transportation systems in energy-efficient ways
- Creating plans for hydraulic systems and dams that can be used in the renewable energy field
Civil engineers can work with environmental engineers to advise government agencies and companies on implementing programs that benefit the environment, such as reducing air pollution and advocating for environmental policies.
Individuals can work toward becoming a civil engineer by earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field. Some graduates also earn a master’s or doctoral degree to qualify for jobs. Those who want higher-level jobs should consider earning a professional engineering (PE) license after gaining experience in the field.
The median annual salary for civil engineers is $87,060, according to the BLS, which projects the employment of these professionals to grow by 2% between 2019 and 2029. Demand for water, wastewater, and renewable energy projects will drive growth in the field.
Job Description and Salaries of Environmental Careers
Environmental careers offer professionals the opportunity to make a positive impact on both their organizations and the planet. Individuals who are interested in environmental science may consider earning a bachelor’s degree in sustainability to develop necessary skills associated with these green careers.
4. Chief Sustainability Officer
The role of a chief sustainability officer is relatively new; however, it is a top-level executive position. Chief sustainability officers work with other C-suite executives to evaluate their organizations’ ecological outlook, carbon footprint, and impact on the environment. Their job duties include:
- Making decisions for the company about complying with government regulations
- Addressing problems such as recycling, conserving energy, cutting waste, and minimizing carbon emissions
- Meeting with other top-level executives and creating a strategic plan to help the environment and also generate a profit
- Establishing long-term plans that value sustainability and address environmental issues in the company or work environment
- Gathering data and creating monthly or quarterly reports
As top-level executives, chief sustainability officers benefit from having a strong background in finance, business, and sustainability. To that end, they should have a bachelor’s degree and potentially a master’s degree in sustainability or business, as well as several years of leadership experience.
The salary for top executives, including chief sustainability officers, is $104,690, according to the BLS, which projects the job category to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029. As more companies work to decrease their carbon footprints, the role of chief sustainability officer will become increasingly important.
5. Environmental Scientist
Individuals who love the excitement of gathering data may be interested in becoming environmental scientists. Working in offices and laboratories, as well as in the field, these professionals use their expertise in natural science and the environment to protect various ecosystems and human health.
Some job duties for this green career include:
- Identifying an environmental problem and conducting surveys
- Working in various weather conditions to collect data samples, such as water, soil, food, or air
- Studying and analyzing samples to understand causes of certain problems and identify potential solutions
- Keeping track of findings by recording observations in reports and documents
- Presenting documents and reports to organizations, government agencies, policymakers, and members of the public
The process of becoming an environmental scientist begins with earning a bachelor’s degree in sustainability, biology, environmental science, geosciences, or engineering. Having a background in the natural sciences, biology, chemistry, geology, and physics prepares individuals for fieldwork.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, gaining experience through an internship or an entry-level job can prepare individuals for a career in environmental science. Individuals often choose to advance their education by earning a master’s degree or a doctorate in a specialized field.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for environmental scientists is $71,360. The job outlook is promising, as the BLS projects employment in this field to grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029. Population growth and heightened awareness of threats to the environment fuel demand for the profession.
Geoscientists study the Earth’s composition, natural resources, and geologic history. Similar to environmental scientists, they work in laboratories as well as in the field. Geoscientists can locate and study natural resources or contribute knowledge to preservation programs. They can specialize in areas of study, working as:
Professionals in this green career study certain processes, such as rock formation, to learn about the Earth’s history. They conduct research studies to learn about patterns and make predictions. Some job duties include:
- Visiting different sites for field studies
- Logging information through photographs and detailed records
- Collecting samples of natural resources, such as rocks or oil
- Transporting the samples back to the lab and conducting tests on them
- Analyzing the results of tests and creating scientific reports
Geoscientists typically earn a bachelor’s degree in geoscience, environmental science, engineering, or a related area of study. Some also have a master’s degree in a similar field. Geoscientists should have excellent problem-solving and analytical skills, as they identify problems or patterns in the field and seek to understand them.
The median annual salary for geoscientists is $92,040, according to the BLS. This salary can range based on an individual’s educational background, years of experience, job location, and other factors. The BLS projects the employment of geoscientists to grow by 5% between 2019 and 2029. While demand for these professionals in mining, quarrying, and oil and gas industries is slowing, employment growth is expected to rise in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector, including alternative energy fields such as wind and geothermal power.
7. Conservation Scientist
Another rewarding environmental career is in the field of conservation science. Professionals in this occupation usually work for federal, state, or local governments or social advocacy organizations. They are responsible for overseeing conservation efforts of the land and other natural resources.
Some job duties associated with conservation science include:
- Protecting natural resources, such as forests and parks
- Working with landowners and government organizations and planning how to use land without having a negative impact
- Managing forest conservation efforts
- Analyzing damage caused by floods, fires, or logging
- Ensuring different parks and forests follow government regulations for protecting animals, natural resources, and habitats
- Overseeing plans for land use and clearing forests
Conservation scientists should have a background in forestry, ecology, biology, and agricultural science. They usually have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, sustainability, forestry, or a related field.
Some individuals choose to earn a graduate degree in the field and conduct specialized research using geographic information systems (GIS) or remote sensing technology. The median annual salary for conservation scientists is $62,660, according to the BLS, which projects the employment of these professionals to grow by 5% between 2019 and 2029. Increased interest in the suppression and prevention of wildfires will help drive growth in the field.
Agricultural Careers: Job Descriptions and Salaries
Agricultural careers are an essential category of green careers. The following occupations are options for individuals interested in the agricultural aspects of sustainability.
8. Agricultural Engineer
Agricultural engineers primarily work in forestry, farming, and aquaculture. Their job is to address and solve problems pertaining to agricultural products. They work on specific projects in the larger context of animal production, pollution, or other issues. Some job duties include:
- Overseeing the operations of a farm, forest, or food processing plant
- Examining equipment to see if it’s safe for animals and workers
- Working with clients and contractors to create designs for livestock facilities
- Analyzing how environmental factors, such as rain or wind, can have an impact on designs for buildings or structures
- Ensuring projects are complying with government regulations
Individuals who want to become agricultural engineers should have a background in statistics, science, and policy, so earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering, sustainability, or biological engineering can be a good start. Learning how to solve problems by designing plans and building equipment can help students prepare for entry-level jobs in the field.
After gaining hands-on experience, agricultural engineers can take on leadership roles by working as supervisors of engineering project teams. The median annual salary for agricultural engineers is $80,720, according to the BLS. The projected job growth is 2% between 2019 and 2029. Demand for biofuels, improved farming technologies, and sustainable farming techniques will help fuel demand for these professionals.
Hydrologists study the water cycle — precipitation, condensation, evaporation, and transpiration — and water’s impact on the Earth’s different processes. Some job duties of professionals in this green career include:
- Measuring water from rainfall or runoff, as well as the water in lakes and oceans
- Discussing issues of water availability and quality with local or state government officials
- Collecting water samples and testing them for pollution levels, toxicity, or pH properties
- Identifying ways to minimize erosion
- Working with engineers to design hydroelectric plants, dams, or water treatment facilities
- Making plans for minimizing the effects of drought or pollution
Those who are interested in becoming hydrologists can earn a bachelor’s degree in geosciences, engineering, sustainability, or related areas. They can then earn a graduate degree in hydrology, and specializing in a certain aspect of hydrology, such as groundwater or surface water, is common.
Hydrologists primarily work for federal, state, or local governments; consulting firms; or engineering services providers. The median annual salary for hydrologists is $81,270, according to the BLS. The number of hydrologist jobs is projected to grow by 5% between 2019 and 2029, driven by environmental concerns (including water supply and climate change concerns) and increased activities such as construction, mining, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
10. Agricultural and Food Scientist
Another green career that is becoming more essential is that of an agricultural and food scientist. These professionals “research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products,” the BLS explains. Specific job titles include animal scientist, food technologist, plant scientist, and soil scientist.
Job descriptions can vary across these various roles, but core responsibilities include:
- Studying food products, animal genetics, nutrition, reproduction, and diseases
- Conducting research to identify how to make more sustainable and natural food products
- Analyzing soil’s impact on plant and animal growth
- Writing reports about findings and sharing them with food producers, government organizations, other scientists, and the public
Agricultural and food scientists play an important role in helping people understand what’s in their food and how to make food products healthier, more ethical, and more sustainable. Most professionals in this occupation work in the food manufacturing industry. They conduct field research but also spend a lot of time in laboratories.
The median annual salary for agricultural and food scientists is $65,160, according to the BLS. The BLS also projects the employment of these scientists to grow by 6% between 2019 and 2029. Employment is expected to rise as new agricultural and food production methods are explored, driven by changing weather patterns, population growth, and other trends.
Benefits of Working in Green Careers
The number of people working in green careers in renewable energy, environmental science, and agriculture continues to grow as the field of sustainability expands.
- Renewable Energy: IRENA reports that the renewable energy sector employs some 11 million people worldwide, with more than 850,000 of those in the U.S.
- Environmental Science: According to the BLS, approximately 90,900 people worked as environmental scientists and specialists in the U.S. in 2019.
- Agriculture: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agricultural and food sectors held 22.2 million full- and part-time positions in 2019, or some 10.9% of all U.S. employment. Regarding individuals specifically in green careers, in 2019, about 34,800 professionals worked as agricultural and food scientists, 7,000 worked as hydrologists, and 1,700 worked as agricultural engineers, according to the BLS.
One of the trends in the field of sustainability is that organizations in every industry are beginning to focus on the importance of sustainability and renewable energy. Companies are creating new standards and policies to contribute to conservation efforts and sustainability because consumers are starting to care more about buying sustainable products. According to Forbes, 62% of Gen Z individuals prefer to buy from sustainable brands, and 54% are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) states that by adopting sustainable and responsible practices, businesses can achieve positive outcomes including company benefits, environmental benefits, and benefits to the public. Some benefits relate to increasing productivity, establishing a rapport with customers, increasing employee retention, creating better products, and using renewable resources.
Earning a Sustainability Degree
Individuals who earn a degree in sustainability can prepare for a growing number of opportunities in green career fields. Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sustainability degree program offers a curriculum that caters to this growing need for sustainability professionals. Some core courses include:
- Environmental Science and Health
- Nature and Humanity
- Understanding Statistical Inference
Students also can choose from several concentrations, including:
- Environmental Science
Additionally, courses such as Climate Science, Economics of Sustainability, Environmental Law and Policy, Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, and Issues in Sustainable Design help students understand the significance of sustainability in different fields.
Pursue a Career That Helps the Planet
Careers in sustainability span a wide variety of industries, with opportunities to work for businesses, government agencies, and scientific organizations.
If you’re interested in pursuing a green career in renewable energy, environmental science, agriculture, or any number of other areas, learn more about how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Sustainability can help you pursue your professional goals.