Sustainability-Related Jobs for the College Grad

By Collin Shepard

photo of Collin Shepard sitting at his desk
Collin Shepard worked on LEED Consulting and Corporate Sustainability Reporting at SIG.

I graduated this May from the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University. I double majored in Environmental Science and Music. This non-conventional combination coalesced as I decided early on that I would need to pursue both of my passions throughout my time at Emory. My understanding of the current job marketplace for college graduates interested in pursuing environmental science/sustainability is that it is constantly evolving to keep up with laws, standards, and technological advancements that are continuously shifting. One thing I have noticed, though, is that it is generally a great field to pursue in college because the industry is expanding and new jobs and job types are being added every year to keep up with consumer demand and stricter government/environmental stipulations.

The amazing and exciting aspect of environmentally-focused jobs relating to sustainability is that as the “Green” movement spreads to new markets and industries, so do new job opportunities and specializations. You can pursue any conventional career at a company, government agency, or non-profit and place an environmental focus on the position, which will make a difference and also differentiate your organization and yourself from others. The main categories within the green industry and environmental science field includes careers within Public Health & Environmental Engineering, Renewable Energy jobs & Field-based positions, Traditional & Corporate jobs with Sustainability/Environmental focuses, and Compliance & Policy/Grant writing jobs. Within each of these jobs, responsibilities may include research, educational development and outreach, consulting, and maintenance related requirements.

The Public Health and Environmental Engineer and the Renewable Energy/Field-based path is typically suited for those adept and interested in research and analytics, but also for those interested in getting out into the field to run tests or fix parts relating to the built environment and renewable energy systems and products. This is also a great cross-over or specialty field for pre-med students. A B.S. or Master’s degree in the sciences, public health, or engineering will qualify you for many positions within this field. The Field-based positions tend to be centered on environmental research, park/land maintenance and testing, and educational programs and outreach while the Renewable Energy jobs tend to be more focused around the same skill sets an Environmental Engineer might utilize.

Traditional and corporate jobs relating to sustainability cover a large sector within the green jobs industry. The traditional jobs may involve construction or manufacturing teams and suppliers with an environmental focus or credibility. Corporate jobs within sustainability tend to involve project managers, analysts, and corporate sustainability reporters within a specialized firm, or within the Sustainability Department at a major company, university, or organization.

Compliance & Policy/Grant writing jobs are suited to those with strong skills in research, reading, and writing. An English, Law, or Social/Environmental policy degree will suit those interested in this career path. Typically, most of these jobs will be involved with government and non-profit entities, but may also include corporate settings within industries with constantly modified regulations and legal codes.

Here are some examples I have come across relating to these main categories:

  • Ecologists
  • Park Ranger
  • Aquarium/Zoo staff or Zoologist
  • Environmental Educator
  • Communicable Disease Specialist
  • Water Quality Engineer
  • Mechanical or Automotive Engineer
  • Management Policy Advisor
  • Public Health Lawyer
  • Municipal Engineer
  • Solar Panel Installer
  • Sustainable/Organic Farmer
  • Wind-farm Developer
  • Geothermal Installer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Architect
  • Interior Designer
  • Custodial Supervisor
  • Sustainability Consultant
  • Sustainability Analyst
  • Construction Project Manager
  • Energy Efficiency Analyst
  • Carbon Footprint Analyst
  • Urban Designer
  • Solid Waste Manager
  • Any profession with a focus on being environmentally friendly and sustainable in the long-term

No matter your degree, credentials and your professional/academic experiences are you greatest assets when it comes to being a competitive candidate for the job (no surprise there!). Be sure to seek out internationally acclaimed credentials and degrees that directly relate to the fields of sustainability that most interest you. For college undergraduates, try and intern at two or more companies across different aspects of sustainability. This field is vast and rapid developing, so the well-rounded yet experienced candidate brings the most to the table.

Here are some great resources for those looking to find jobs relating to their field of choice within the green industry:

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