Sustainable Living Scientist: Job Outlook and Career Information

Learn what a sustainable living scientist does. Get the details about required education and training. Read on for career prospects and earning potential, too.

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Career Definition for a Sustainable Living Scientist

Sustainable living science is a new field with an evolving and changing definition that generally incorporates interpretation of the impact of human actions and developing strategies for restoring ecosystems. Sustainable living scientists typically help urban and city planners develop and construct buildings and utilities that protect natural resources and reflect efficient, beneficial land use. They study diverse issues such as climate change, conservation, biodiversity, water quality, use of natural resources, and pollution of all types. Due to environmental science's interdisciplinary nature, teams of professionals often work together to conduct environmental impact studies. As governmental policies are developed to regulate the use of natural resources, sustainable living professionals will be needed to draft and implement these new controls, according to a recent New York Times (www.nytimes.com) article.

Education Bachelor's degree in environmental science
Job Skills Strong scientific interest in earth science, systems thinking
Median Salary (2015)* $67,460 (all environmental scientists and specialists)
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 11% (all environmental scientists and specialists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A bachelor's degree in environmental science is the most practical degree program for those interested in contributing to the field of sustainable living. This is an interdisciplinary major where students study biology, chemistry, and physics in addition to history, economics, and philosophy. Students should seek to become ecologically literate and understand the principles of organization developed by nature to sustain the web of life. This is accomplished by a thorough study of atmospheric science, ecology, and geosciences.

Skills Required

The basic skills required to be a successful sustainable living scientist are a love for the planet and an interest in the science that affects it. It's also useful to have an understanding of a unique approach to science, known as systems thinking. This philosophy recognizes that all living systems are integrated wholes, and their properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller parts.

Career and Economic Outlook

With his emphasis on green jobs and renewable energy, President Barack Obama has made sustainable living, renewable resources, and environmental issues a top priority and has given favorable tax treatment to industries that support these issues. Increases in employment will be spurred largely by the increasing demands that will be placed on the environment by population growth. Further demands should result from the need to comply with complex environmental laws. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that environmental scientists and specialists, such as industrial ecologists, earned a median annual income of $67,460. Employment for environmental scientist is expected to grow by 11% from 2014 through 2024.

Alternate Career Options

Individuals pursuing degrees in environmental science may also be interested in related occupations, including chief sustainability officer and environmental economist.

Chief Sustainability Officer

A chief sustainability officer coordinates the development and implementation of a company or organization's policies, procedures or projects related to responsible resource management. Chief sustainability officers ensure that companies meet federal, state or local environmental regulations, whether they're related to energy consumption, recycling, transportation or manufacturing, for example. It's common for jobs in this field to require a graduate degree; O*NET OnLine reported in 2015 that of those chief sustainability officers interviewed, nearly a third held master's degrees (www.onetonline.org). The organization reports that the number of jobs in this field is expected to have little growth from 2014 to 2024; chief sustainability officers earned median pay of $175,110 in 2015.

Environmental Economist

An environmental economist evaluates costs and benefits of adopting 'green' or sustainable practices. Their research can include measurement, analysis, and forecasts related to wildlife conservation, energy efficiency, and natural resource management, for example. A graduate degree is typically required for employment; according to O*NET OnLine, as of 2013, roughly two-thirds of environmental economists held a doctoral or professional degree. O*NET OnLine predicts that jobs in this field will increase 5%-8% from 2014-2024, and environmental economists earned median pay of $99,180 in 2015.

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