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Environmental science degree jobs: All your options

Environmental science degree jobs are multiplying. Check out this guide if you're considering environmental science study or have already enrolled in a program.
maura-deering
Written by Maura Deering on
Reviewed by Sierra Gawlowski, PE
A leaf drips over its reflection in water.
kertlis / Getty

Environmental science degree jobs involve seeking science-based solutions for environmental problems.

Environmental scientists plan mitigation and protection strategies for sensitive areas, contaminated sites, and human and environmental health risks.

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. 

What is it like to work in an environmental science job?

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

They typically work in offices and labs. They may also work remotely or outdoors in the field. Jobs may also involve travel to meet with clients and attend conferences.

Environmental science degree 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 like soil science, waste management, and water resources.

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

Is environmental science a good career fit for you?

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

Strengths:

  • Communication and collaboration 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Scientific and data analysis

Interests:

  • Science and computers
  • Lab work and outdoor fieldwork
  • Mitigating environmental degradation

Career goals:

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

Environmental science degree jobs: Our picks

Consultants to 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 about their operations' risks, not only to the environment but also to employees and the public. 

Job tasks include:

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

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


SEE: 15 tips to improve your public speaking skills


Environmental science education roles

Environmental science education takes place at elementary and secondary schools, community organizations, and businesses. 

Educators help local governments curb greenhouse gas emissions, nonprofits inform citizen science groups, businesses employ 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 introduce the public to environmental risks to habitats. Sustainability analysts work with businesses, homeowners, schools, and governments to reduce their environmental impacts.

Potential positions include:

  • Environmental outreach specialist
  • Naturalist
  • Outdoor/environmental educator
  • Scientific programmer and educator
  • Sustainability analyst/specialist 

Environmental engineering roles

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

They also test air and water pollution. Environmental engineers model projections, inspect facilities and construction projects, and advise on contaminated site clean-up. They may serve as expert witnesses in environmental litigation and develop 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 employment at management, scientific, and technical consulting firms and government agencies.

Day-to-day activities include:

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

Farming, agriculture, conservation, and wildlife roles

Environmental scientists work on farming, 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 habitats. 

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

Potential roles include:

  • Conservation planner
  • Field technician
  • Fish and wildlife biologist
  • Soil conservation technician
  • Sustainability analyst

Government and policymaking roles

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

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

In these roles, you should be skilled in drafting and interpreting policies and legislation, understanding and analyzing environmental regulations, and writing position papers. You also need to be an effective communicator — both written and oral. 

These professionals work on local, state, and federal laws and policies concerning 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 regulatory advisor

Research and academia roles

Universities hire environmental scientists as instructors and researchers. Government agencies, non-profit 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 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 specialization areas. Non-academic jobs may only require a master's degree.

  • Associate/assistant professor
  • Data analyst/researcher
  • Lecturer
  • Professor
  • Environmental scientist
  • Research associate

How much money can you make in environmental science 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 doctoral or professional degree.Roles paying more than $100,000 a year tend to be at private companies in industries like petroleum. 

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


SEE: Best online colleges and universities


This article was reviewed by Sierra Gawlowski, PE

A headshot of Sierra Gawlowski, a smiling brunette woman.

Sierra Gawlowski, PE, earned her BS 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 reviewed May 20, 2022.

Unless otherwise noted, job growth and salary data is drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of July 11, 2022.

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