Environmentalist: Career Profile

Sep 14, 2019

Environmentalists share a mission to protect the environment. They interact and design with nature as their teacher. Within this passion, there are different paths to follow depending on the skills one is best at and enjoys using.

Essential Information

Individuals interested in protecting natural resources may want to consider a career in environmentalism. Although an environmentalist is not a career per se, individuals who want to pursue a career in environmentalism can work as environmental scientists, environmental lobbyists or environmental educators. All of these positions require some postsecondary education, although most demand at least a master's degree.

Career Environmental Scientists Environmental Lobbyists Postsecondary Environmental Educators
Education Requirements Bachelor's degrees required for some entry-level positions; many employers may expect graduate degrees Bachelor's degree; most lobbyists also have a law degree A doctoral degree is usually required, although a master's degree may suffice for some positions
Other Requirements Knowledge of computer and information systems is highly valued Prior experience working for a non-profit organization or political campaign is recommended Most teachers at the postsecondary level are expected to perform research and publish studies
Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% (for all environmental scientists and specialists)* N/A 6% (for all postsecondary environmental science teachers)*
Median Salary $71,130 (2018)* $112,236 (2019)** $79,910 (2018)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

Career Options

An environmentalist's job is to help the public make decisions about how we use natural resources and interact with our surroundings. Through research, publications and lobbying, these professionals distribute information on the current and future condition of our environment.

The typical duties of an environmentalist will depend greatly on the individual's chosen career; some environmentalists are scientists who measure contamination, decay or depletion of resources, while others are environmental lobbyists who help make decisions on environmental law. Here is information on three careers for budding environmentalists.

Environmental Scientists

Environmental scientists study the best ways to preserve the environment and protect it from pollution and other contaminants. Entry-level environmental scientists are typically required to have a bachelor's degree; however, employers may prefer candidates who have graduate degrees. Colleges and universities offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in environmental science, but prospective environmental scientists can also major in other sciences like biology, physics or chemistry. The curricula for environmental science programs may include such courses as plant biology, organic chemistry, statistics, ecology and environmental policy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental scientists are expected to see a job growth, which is faster than the average through 2028 (www.bls.gov). In May 2018, the BLS reported that workers in the 90th percentile or higher earned $124,620 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $42,520 or less per year.

Environmental Lobbyists

Environmental lobbyists work on behalf of organizations and interest groups to persuade legislators on environmental issues and policy. While most jobs in politics require at least a bachelor's degree, lobbyists often have a law degree as well. As undergraduates, they may choose to study environmental science or a related major to have a firm understanding of the environmental issues they will be discussing in the future. Prospective lobbyists may want to consider volunteering for an environmental organization or political campaign to gain a foot in the door for their future career in politics.

Environmental Educators

Environmental educators teach college students environmental science and related subjects. In order to be qualified to teach at the college level, educators must typically have earned a doctoral degree in the field that they will be teaching. Although aspiring environmental educators may often hold doctoral degrees in environmental science, they may also be qualified to teach in the environmental science department of a university if they have earned a graduate degree in a related science major, such as geosciences or biology. According to the BLS, employment opportunities in the field are expected to grow faster than the national average between 2018-2028. In May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $158,230 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $42,930 or less per year.

Individuals interested in working in environmental science have several career paths from which to choose. Environmental scientists focus on technical aspects, environmental lobbyists are persuasive and enterprising, while postsecondary environmental educators teach and conduct research. With each career option comes variances in salary, job outlook and educational requirements.

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