What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

Our planet’s past seven years were the warmest on record, NASA reports. Human impact on the environment over the past century threatens to damage our planet. Studying climate change is essential to help ensure humans don’t do irreversible harm to the Earth. This is one key reason why the demand for environmental scientists continues to surge, and why interest in what an environmental scientist does is increasing among job seekers.

Individuals passionate about protecting the environment can consider careers as environmental scientists.  The process of becoming a qualified environmental scientist often begins with earning a degree in the field, such as an online bachelor’s in sustainability.

Two environmental scientists stand side by side in a forest studying a plant leaf while looking at a clipboard.

Environmental Scientist Job Description

What does an environmental scientist do? The answer varies. Some environmental scientists work as specialists in a chosen field, serving in any number of positions, including the following:

  • Climate change analysts
  • Environmental health and safety specialists
  • Industrial ecologists
  • Environmental chemists
  • Restoration planners

Overall, an environmental scientist job description revolves around conducting theoretical research and field research regarding environmental and health hazards. Environmental scientists identify risks pertaining to an array of issues and conditions, including:

  • Waste soil
  • Air quality
  • Carbon emissions
  • Water pollution

Additionally, environmental scientists assume a variety of tasks:

  • Collecting data from studies
  • Creating plans to prevent and fix environmental issues
  • Writing reports about their plans
  • Informing organizations or government agencies about the plans

Environmental scientists play an essential role in today’s world. For instance, they may determine whether soil and water have been contaminated by a local power plant. After analyzing soil and water samples, environmental scientists can pinpoint whether the plant is a threat to the environment. They can then present their findings to officials, organizations, and the public to preserve the environment and protect community health.

Environmental Scientist Skills

To succeed as environmental scientists, individuals should develop a certain skill set. This includes effective written and verbal communication. This is especially important when writing and sharing technical documents and reports about environmental risks, such as the toll of ocean pollution on people and marine life.

Whether working in the field or a lab, environmental scientists should demonstrate critical thinking and analytical skills when addressing problems, gathering data samples, and developing solutions. Another essential skill is motivation, as many environmental scientists devote weeks or months to a single project.

How to Become an Environmental Scientist

Individuals can become environmental scientists in a number of ways. However, they should meet certain requirements regarding education and experience.

Step #1: Earn a Degree

The curriculum for a bachelor’s in sustainability program with an environmental science concentration can help  .

Undergraduate students can also earn a degree in a science-related field, such as biology, chemistry, or physics. Gaining a strong foundation in mathematics and scientific principles can prepare them for research-oriented careers. Students can select from courses in environmental management, waste management, and other topics.

Step #2: Gain Experience

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, individuals can apply for internships or entry-level jobs with a number of employers, including:

  • Government agencies
  • Businesses
  • Consulting firms
  • Organizations
  • Engineering services providers

By working in an organization, entry-level environmental scientists gain experience in specialty areas, whether it’s water management or environmental law. After entry-level experience, professionals often earn a master’s degree in a field such as environmental science or sustainability to pursue advancement in the field.

Step #3: Obtain Certification

Some employers require environmental scientists to earn specific certifications to work in certain environments, such as sites harmed by natural disasters, high-energy events, explosions, or fires. Certification can also help make job candidates more competitive. One such credential is the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response certification from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In addition to general certification, technological certification can help make environmental scientists more competitive in the job market. Such a credential demonstrates an understanding of how to use computer modeling, data analysis, and geographic information systems (GIS).

Environmental Scientist Salary and Job Outlook

Some of the settings in which environmental scientists primarily work include the following:

  • Manufacturing
  • Professional services
  • Scientific services
  • Consulting services
  • State and local government

The median annual salary associated with the role is $71,360, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Salaries range from $42,810 to $124,760 between the lowest 10% and highest 10% of earners. Factors that can affect compensation levels include job location, the specific organization, education, credentials, and experience.

According to the BLS, 90,900 environmental scientists and specialists currently work in the U.S. The job outlook for environmental scientists is projected to grow by 8%, or 7,100 positions, between 2019 and 2029. This is faster than the national average growth rate for all positions (4%).

As global temperatures continue to increase, sea levels rise, and polar ice caps melt, the demand for informed and qualified environmental scientists continues to grow. The globally averaged temperature for 2020 “was 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the baseline 1951-1980 mean,” according to NASA data as reported by ScienceDaily. In January 2021, NASA declared that 2020 and 2016 tied as the two warmest years on record.

Earn Your Degree in Sustainability

As environmental concerns mount, the need for environmental scientists becomes greater than ever. If you’re interested in learning more about what an environmental scientist does, consider earning an online bachelor’s in sustainability degree.

The program at Maryville University offers courses such as Environmental Science and Health, Nature and Humanity, Energy and Our World, Climate Science, and Ecosystem Studies.

Learn more about how the program can help you pursue your professional goals by becoming an environmental scientist. Make a brave decision to help preserve our world.

Recommended Reading

Ecology vs. Environmental Science

Sustainability vs. Sustainable Development

What Is Sustainable Living?


The Balance Careers, Environmental Scientist Job Description

NASA, “GISS Surface Temperature Analysis” 

ONET, Environmental Scientists and Specialists

OSHA, “Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response” 

Peterson’s “Environmental Science Jobs on the Rise”

Science Daily, Environmental Science News

Science Daily, “2020 Tied for Warmest Year on Record, NASA Analysis Shows”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists and Specialists

U.S. Department of Labor OSHA, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response

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