Working with an Environmental Science Degree: All Your Options

A leaf drips on its reflection in water.

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Working with an environmental science degree involves finding science-based solutions to environmental problems.

Environmentalists plan strategies to mitigate and protect sensitive areas, contaminated sites, and risks to human health and the environment.

Positions include climate change analyst, environmental engineer, hydrologist, and industrial ecologist. This guide describes environmental science careers, salaries, and work environments to help you determine the direction you want to go.

Environmental scientists often enter the field because they are concerned about environmental and ecological degradation and are drawn to finding science-based solutions.

They usually work in offices and laboratories. They can also work remotely or outdoors in the field. The job may also involve traveling to meet with clients and attend conferences.

Environmental science jobs require technical skills in computer modeling, data analysis and management, and geographic information systems (GIS).

Professionals need a broad knowledge of biology, chemistry, geology and physics. They also master specializations such as soil science, waste management and water resources.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the largest employers of environmental scientists are management, scientific and technical consulting firms, followed by state governments.

The following strengths, interests, and career goals indicate that a career in environmental science may be for you.

Strengths:

  • Communication and collaboration
  • Solving a problem
  • Scientific analysis and data analysis

interests:

  • Science and computers
  • Laboratory work and outdoor work
  • Mitigation of environmental degradation

Professional goals:

  • Helping governments and businesses understand the science behind environmental regulations
  • Finding solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change
  • Working or leading collaborative teams

Environmental Science Jobs: Our Picks

Consultants to companies and corporations from the private sector

Environmental consultants assess the environmental impact of companies’ and corporations’ processes or products, including those involving hazardous materials. They advise companies on the risks associated with their operations, not only to the environment but also to employees and the public.

Work tasks include:

  • Analyzing samples
  • Conducting tests
  • Creating projection models
  • Documenting data and processes
  • Writing reports
  • Presentation of findings and recommendations for improvements

Environmental consultants need skills in written and verbal communication, sample collection and testing, understanding of laws and regulations, and technical analysis.


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Educational roles in environmental science

Environmental science education takes place in primary and secondary schools, public organizations and enterprises.

Educators help local governments limit greenhouse gas emissions, nonprofits inform citizen science groups, businesses use environmental health best practices, and school districts implement education and sustainability programs.

Education often uses interdisciplinary and experiential learning covering sustainability, environmental justice, bioregionalism and scientific principles.

Naturalists educate the public about ecological risks to habitats. Sustainability analysts work with businesses, homeowners, schools and governments to reduce their impact on the environment.

Potential positions include:

  • Environmental protection specialist
  • Naturalist
  • Outdoor/Environmental Educator
  • Scientific programmer and teacher
  • Sustainability Analyst/Specialist

Roles in Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineers use technology to design solutions for erosion, agricultural runoff, hazardous waste disposal, and wastewater treatment.

They also test air and water pollution. Environmental engineers model forecasts, inspect facilities and construction projects, and advise on cleanup of a contaminated site. They can serve as experts in environmental litigation and draft regulations.

Important skills include imaginative thinking, writing and communication, project management and data modeling.

Nearly a third of environmental engineers work for engineering firms. Others find work in management, scientific and technical consulting firms and government agencies.

Daily activities include:

  • Conducting inspections and writing investigative reports
  • Design and technical support
  • Updating and maintaining permits and operating procedures

Agriculture, agriculture, conservation and the role of wildlife

Environmental scientists work on agriculture, agriculture, conservation, and wildlife.

They focus on sustainable practices on farms, ranches and forest lands. These practices protect wildlife, soil health, plant diversity and water quality.

These professionals work for government agencies, consulting firms, and conservation organizations. They partner with farmers and ranchers on projects that control erosion, use integrated pest management, manage animal waste, and implement grazing plans that prevent overgrazing and protect wildlife habitat.

Other conservation projects include habitat protection, wetland restoration and prescribed burns to reduce wildfire risk.

Potential roles include:

  • Conservation Planner
  • Field technician
  • Fish and Wildlife Biologist
  • Soil Conservation Technician
  • Resilience Analyzer

Governmental and political roles

Government and policy roles include lawyers, lobbyists, planners and policy analysts.

Some may work for government agencies advising policymakers, developing compliance strategies, staffing legal departments, and drafting regulations. Others find work in lobbying firms or non-profit organizations influencing legislation and policy.

In these roles, you must have skills in drafting and interpreting policy and legislation, understanding and analyzing environmental regulations, and writing position papers. You must also be an effective communicator – both written and verbal.

These professionals work on local, state, and federal laws and policies regarding land use, transportation, clean air and water, environmental justice, environmental health, and similar issues.

Jobs include:

  • Environmental lawyer
  • Environmental lobbyist
  • Environmental Policy Analyst
  • Land Use Planner
  • Stormwater Regulation Advisor

Research and academic roles

Universities employ environmental scientists as instructors and researchers. Government agencies, non-profit organizations and corporations hire researchers.

Professors, assistant professors, and lecturers teach undergraduate and graduate courses and conduct independent and institutional research, publish their findings, and present at conferences. They may also lead academic departments, schools and colleges.

Researchers outside of academia may model and analyze data or work in policy research. Issues may include environmental health, environmental justice, regulatory compliance, and climate change.

Most professionals at this level need a Ph.D. and areas of specialization. Non-academic jobs may only require a master’s degree.

  • Associate Professor/Assistant
  • Data Analyst/Researcher
  • Lecturer
  • professor
  • Environmental scientist
  • Fellow

How Much Money Can You Make in Environmental Careers?

The BLS reports a median annual salary of $76,530 for environmental scientists and specialists and $96,820 for environmental engineers as of May 2021.

The highest paid environmental scientists work for government agencies or hold a PhD or professional degree. Roles paying over $100,000 a year are usually in private companies in industries such as oil.

You can increase your environmental science salary by earning advanced degrees or certifications, including Registered Environmental Professional, Geographic Information Systems, and the Environmental Society of America.


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This article was reviewed by Sierra Gawlowski, PE

Featured photo of Sierra Gavlowski, a smiling brunette.

Sierra Gawlowski, PE, earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Washington. She has worked for a private engineering consulting firm as well as for public agencies.

Sierra enjoys mentoring engineering students and junior staff. She also leads a project team for Engineers Without Borders and is currently on the board of directors for Kilowatts for Humanity.

Gawlowski is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Last reviewed: May 20, 2022

Unless otherwise noted, data on job growth and wages are derived from US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of July 11, 2022

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