10 Jobs in Sustainability That Can Help Change the World
Whether you're figuring out your career path or want to make a switch, these jobs in sustainability help make the world a better place.
There’s an expression that says "if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life." This may or may not be true, but regardless, wanting your work to be something you can feel proud of and fulfilled by is something we can all relate to. That's where these jobs in sustainability come in.
If contributing to environmental well-being and sustainability is that source of fulfillment, looking into jobs in sustainability could be the best career move for you.
"There are so many careers in climate now and a huge demand for experts in the field,” Dr. Lisa Allyn Dale, who teaches at Columbia Climate School in New York City, said in a recent episode of Good Together. “As a starting point, every major company now has a sustainability office, and every major company is now working to capture climate goals in the way they do business and to report on their progress in a variety of ways.”
We rounded up options across industries that promote the green economy, support natural habitats and wildlife, and address some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems. With that being said, almost any job can be oriented toward greater sustainability.
Whether that's getting rid of single-use plastics at the office coffee station or finding ways to make your workplace more energy-efficient, there are tons of small changes we can make every day to have a cumulatively positive impact—especially if you make it a collective effort by getting colleagues and friends involved, too.
10 Jobs in Sustainability That Make an Impact
1. Climate Communications
According to Dr. Dale, the possibilities in climate communications—which she says involves "how to communicate climate science in ways that are appropriate for different types of audiences"—are endless.
"Say you want to be a teacher, say you want to be a public broadcaster, say you want to run a podcast," she says. "You can learn ways to talk about climate, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Those are also professional skill sets that we find a lot of employers are looking for."
2. Sustainability Director
This one can go by many names: sustainability director, manager, officer, and so on. But the gist of it is that this role is designed to help a company envision and enact more sustainable business practices, as well as advise on how to adhere to existing environmental protection rules.
The day-to-day duties of any corporate director of sustainability will vary by the company and its needs, but its essential function is that of an in-house advisor—helping to analyze sustainability problems or areas of weakness, then design practical solutions. The professional background of a sustainability officer might vary, sometimes coming from a career or educational background in business, and sometimes from a more specific environmental background.
With an increasing corporate emphasis on sustainability in recent years, the director of sustainability job type is seeing increased demand—8% as opposed to the roughly 6% that's the average across occupations.
3. Landscape Architect
If you’re interested in design, architecture, or urban planning, this one’s for you. Landscape architects plan and design outdoor public projects like parks, gardens, school campuses, residential developments, landmarks, and more.
The job of designing a functional and attractive built environment in the natural world means the landscape architect must design with both the natural and social worlds in mind. It marries environmental considerations with urban ones, and takes care not to harm local ecosystems in the process.
In their line of work, landscape designers can do good by optimizing their projects to be as sustainable as possible, in terms of both materials used and how their design concept interacts with the natural environment.
4. Marine Conservationist
The importance of marine conservation is growing increasingly visible as more and more people realize our role as ocean stewards. And as a marine conservationist, ocean stewardship could be your full-time job.
Marine conservationists work to protect and preserve ocean ecosystems and prevent overexploitation of marine species and resources. They might work in conservation organizations, educational institutions, or even in politics or political organizing. And good news: You don’t necessarily need a degree in marine biology to work to promote marine conservation.
Conservation organizations need people from an array of professional backgrounds. That includes accountants, fundraisers, researchers, grant writers, policy analysts, IT specialists, and more.
5. Wildlife Biologist
This is an ideal job for the passionate learner or lover of animals. Wildlife biologists are tasked with studying animals, their behaviors, and their habitats—from blue whales to koalas—as well as what role their population plays in the natural environment and how they interact with other aspects of the ecosystem.
Wildlife biologists conduct research studies and fieldwork, which might include census projects, data analysis, and other quantitative work. Sometimes, they may track and relocate animals for conservation purposes or population management. Or, they could work primarily in a lab, pursuing a specific research inquiry and publishing their findings.
As professionals in this active and passion-driven field, wildlife biologists can advocate for policies that promote habitat well-being, disseminate valuable research on animal species, and advise against commercial ventures that could harm animal populations and habitats.
6. Environmental Engineer
Environmental engineers apply engineering expertise—as well as knowledge of biology, chemistry, and environmental science—to control and mitigate potential hazards to the environment.
They're hired on projects to develop solutions to the environmental risks posed by processes such as waste disposal, water treatment, pollution control, recycling, construction, and more. This means environmental engineers work in a wide variety of settings, depending on what the project is.
They're also tasked with ensuring that the given project adheres to government regulations. A degree in engineering is a prerequisite for this career, but it could be civil, chemical, or general engineering, as well as environmental.
7. Urban Grower
If you have a green thumb—or are passionate about supporting equitable food systems and access to fresh food—a job in urban farming might be for you. Urban growers work in urban farms and gardens to grow and produce food in cities or other heavily populated areas, where the food system must support a massive population.
This community-oriented and socially responsible line of work is worthwhile whether you lean more toward agriculturalist or activist. That's because urban agriculture increases access to fresh, locally-grown produce, helps combat food deserts, and often offers communities the chance to learn more about nutrition and local food systems.
In addition, many urban growing organizations serve underprivileged areas or food deserts, meaning they can have a great deal of impact on their local communities.
8. Air Quality Engineer
Air quality engineers or specialists are tasked with ensuring healthy air quality is maintained by assessing and managing air pollutant levels. They may conduct tests to identify and measure hazardous materials or toxins in the air, test emission levels, and advise or develop strategies to reduce air pollution.
They often specialize in either indoor or outdoor air quality, working on projects like optimizing ventilation for indoor spaces or controlling contaminants in the case of outdoor spaces. Air quality engineers can work for the government, performing assessments to see that corporations abide by air quality regulations. Or, they may be hired by individual companies to test, make recommendations, and even develop equipment for pollution control.
Highly versatile and useful across industries, the job title “ecologist” could actually refer to a role in any number of fields. An ecologist could be a teacher or professor, a researcher, or an educator or scientist in places like museums and aquariums.
Ecologists have training in the biological, chemical, and environmental sciences. They apply this knowledge in studying organisms and their interactions with the natural world, as well as ecosystems, their development, and what's impacting or changing an ecological system (such as an invasive species or the introduction of new predators).
Ecologists help to increase our understanding of how the natural world works, and can then advise the public and private sectors on the best decisions to make. This might include anticipating the environmental effects of proposed projects, evaluating underlying problems in a threatened ecosystem, or undertaking habitat restoration efforts.
10. Any Job, Really
You don't need to be a marine conservationist or ecologist in order to make a difference in the world. You can have a more common job—like in design, sales, social media, and public relations—but work for a company or brand that's working to better the world.
Take Brightly, for instance: We're a team of writers, community leads, marketers, editors, graphic designers, social media editors, and more who are all working toward a more sustainable future.
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