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Energizing “Green Jobs” for Young Environmentalists

Fifty years after the first Earth Day, opportunities in climate and sustainability careers offer a way for students to change the world

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which many consider to be the birth of the modern environmental movement. That event was led by teachers, scientists, concerned citizens, and especially, students. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, a half century later, young people around the world who increasingly feel “ecological anxiety” are again leading the climate charge. “We are striking because we have done our homework, and they have not,” Greta Thunberg, teen activist, leader of the school strike for climate, and 2019 Time Person of the Year, said at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit in March 2019.

While global strikes have been the most publicized way young people have advocated for action on climate change, there are other ways students can get involved with environmentalism. And teachers, parents, and caregivers have a role to play.

According to Reuters, psychologists from the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA) said adults can help by acknowledging young people’s concerns and supporting them in taking positive action. One way is to help students understand how they can drive change by pursuing academic studies and careers in sustainability, conservation, and environmental innovation. (It helps that many jobs related to environmental protection earn above the median annual wage for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).)

To celebrate Earth Day, here are 8 “green jobs” that students can explore as potential careers or simply to help guide their interest in the environment. This list is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, BigFutureTM, Environmentalscience.org, and Payscale.com

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Agricultural and Food Scientist

Median Annual Wage: $64,020
Job Demand: An increasing population, higher demand for large food outputs, and an interest in food safety will stimulate growth in the industry.

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products, and find farming methods that won’t harm the environment. There may also be opportunities to help find energy sources from plants.

Architectural and Building Sciences

Median Annual Wage: $76,000
Job Demand: As the environment changes, architects with knowledge of sustainability will be in greater demand. New technologies in CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) and BIM (building information modeling) could lead to a reduction in job posts with improved efficiency of production.

Building scientists focus on environmental responsibility, covering such topics as solar and energy-conscious design

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Conservation Scientist and Forester

Median Annual Wage: $61,310
Job Demand: The continued need for wildfire prevention will help drive demand for these roles.

Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.

Environmental Engineer

Median Annual Wage: $87,620
Job Demand: State and local governments’ concerns regarding water availability and quality should lead to efforts to increase the efficiency of water use, and thus demand for environmental engineers.

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.

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Environmental Lawyer

Median Annual Wage: Entry level: $45,000; five years of experience: $56,300; 11–15 years of experience: $75,000 (according to 2012 data from the National Association for Law Placement)
Job Demand: Demand for legal work is expected to continue as individuals, businesses, and all levels of government require legal services in many areas.

Environmental lawyers may make up a large portion of the overall growth rate in the legal profession, as there is a growing demand to meet sustainable goals and ensure compliance with laws and regulations.


Median Annual Wage: $79,370
Job Demand: Population growth and environmental concerns are expected to increase demand for hydrologists.

Hydrologists work in offices and in the field. In offices, hydrologists spend much of their time using computers to analyze data and model their findings. In the field, hydrologists have to wade into lakes and streams to collect samples or to read and inspect monitoring equipment.

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Sustainability Specialist

Median Annual Wage: $72,819
Job Demand: If BLS estimate of demand for Management Analysts is correct, then prospective sustainability specialists can enjoy a 12% growth in demand for their services between now and 2026.

A sustainability specialist is responsible for encouraging organizations to think about and implement sustainability issues on a company-wide basis. They have become a vital part of a business organization and planning due to their potential for considerable cost savings and vital links between organization and regulation.

Urban and Regional Planning

Median Annual Wage: $73,050
Job Demand: As the population increases, opportunities will increase in urban, suburban, and newly developing communities. Population growth and an emphasis on developing “smart cities” with improved sustainability and technology will drive employment growth.

Urban and regional planners help communities decide on the best use of land. They find places to build homes and businesses, deal with transportation issues, and study the environmental effects of possible projects.