Degree work in environmental science involves the search for science-based solutions to environmental problems.
Environmental scientists plan mitigation and protection strategies for sensitive areas, contaminated sites, and human and environmental health hazards.
Job titles 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.
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Consultants of private sector companies and corporations
Environmental consultants assess the impacts of companies and corporations’ processes or products on the environment, including those involving hazardous materials. They advise companies on the risks of their operations, not only to the environment, but also to employees and the public.
Job duties include:
- By analyzing the samples
- Conducting tests
- Creation of projection models
- Documentation of data and processes
- Writing reports
- Presenting findings and making recommendations for improvements
Environmental consultants need skills in written and oral communication, sampling and testing, understanding laws and regulations, and technical analysis.
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Roles of environmental science education
Environmental science education takes place in primary and secondary schools, community organizations and businesses.
Educators help local governments curb greenhouse gas emissions, nonprofits inform citizen science groups, businesses use best practices for environmental health, 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 environmental threats to habitats. Sustainability analysts work with businesses, homeowners, schools and governments to reduce their environmental impacts.
Possible positions include:
- Environmental contact specialist
- Outdoor/environmental educator
- Programmer and scientific educator
- Sustainability analyst/specialist
Roles of environmental engineering
Environmental engineers use technology to design solutions for erosion, agricultural runoff, hazardous waste disposal, and wastewater treatment.
They also test for air and water pollution. Environmental engineers design projections, inspect facilities and construction projects, and advise on the cleanup of contaminated sites. They can serve as expert witnesses 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
- Project design and technical support
- Updating and maintaining permits and operating procedures
The roles of farming, agriculture, conservation and wildlife
Environmental scientists work in agriculture, farming, 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 habitats.
Other conservation projects include habitat preservation, wetland restoration and prescribed burning to reduce fire risk.
Possible roles include:
- Storage Planner
- Field technician
- Fish and Wildlife Biologist
- Soil Conservation Technician
- Sustainability Analyst
Roles of government and policy making
Government and policy-making roles include advocates, 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 with lobbying firms or nonprofit organizations that influence law and policy.
In these roles, you must be skilled in drafting and interpreting policy and legislation, understand and analyze environmental regulations, and write position papers. You must also be an effective communicator – both written and verbal.
These professionals work on local, state, and federal laws and policies related to land use, transportation, clean air and water, environmental justice, environmental health, and related issues.
- Environmental lawyer
- Environmental lobbyist
- Environmental policy analyst
- Land use planner
- Stormwater Regulatory Advisor
Research and academic roles
Universities employ environmental scientists as instructors and researchers. Government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations employ research scientists.
Professors, assistant professors, and lecturers teach undergraduate and graduate classes and conduct independent and institutional research, publish their findings, and present at conferences. They can also lead academic departments, schools and colleges.
Researchers outside academia may model and analyze data or work on 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/Assistant Professor
- Data Analyst/Researcher
- Environmental scientist
- Research Associate
How Much Money Can You Make in an Environmental Science Career?
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 have a doctoral or professional degree. Roles paying more than $100,000 a year tend to be in private companies in industries such as oil.
You can increase your environmental science salary by earning advanced degrees or certifications, including Registered Environmental Professionals, Geographic Information Systems, and the Ecological Society of America.
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This article was reviewed by Sierra Gawlowski, PE
Sierra Gawlowski, PE, earned her 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 currently sits on the board of directors for Kilowatts for Humanity.
Gawlowski is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.
Last revised on May 20, 2022.
Unless otherwise noted, job growth and wage data are derived from US Bureau of Labor Statistics as of July 11, 2022.