Sustainability Careers and Salary Outlook

Sustainability refers to creating and maintaining conditions under which humans and nature can meet current demands without compromising the needs of future generations. It’s a concept many businesses and organizations take into account today. Not only is sustainability good for the environment and for communities, but it may also help businesses become more profitable as corporate sustainability becomes increasingly important to younger generations. If you’re interested in a job in sustainability, there are a variety of different paths you can take. Keep reading to learn about various careers in sustainability.

What Is a Sustainability Career?

Working in sustainability, you may be involved in addressing organizational issues such as energy usage, green building practices and green procurement plans within corporations, nonprofit organizations and government entities. One career path is a sustainability specialist. Others who work in sustainability careers may have job titles such as:

  • Campus energy coordinator
  • Energy and sustainability strategic advisor
  • Sustainability consultant/advisor/coordinator/champion
  • Sustainable design expert

Some of the tasks professionals in sustainability jobs might do include:

  • Create sustainability goals and strategies
  • Track sustainability data and indicators such as recycling, waste generation and energy use
  • Research sustainability issues
  • Advise on sustainability communications
  • Secure funding for sustainability projects

One path to getting a sustainability consulting job may be to pursue a sustainability degree program or short online sustainability courses that may help you learn more about sustainability strategies and initiatives. Online short courses are less time intensive than a degree program. They may not guarantee employment in sustainability-focused roles, but they could help you apply a sustainability mindset to your work.

Where Does a Sustainability Specialist Work?

A sustainability specialist may work in a variety of settings as many types of organizations and businesses consider sustainability a priority. According to a Lloyds Bank 2020 study of 1,200 U.K. companies, 54% of companies say becoming more sustainable is important to their business [PDF, 125 KB]. About 52% had already taken steps to improve their sustainability efforts in the past 12 months.

Possible sustainability job settings may include:

  • Government
  • Research and academia
  • Businesses
  • Nonprofits
  • Environmental sector
  • Healthcare
  • Marketing and advertising firms
  • Military
  • Insurance

There may also be a greater demand for sustainability careers as individuals, communities and organizations become more focused on sustainability. A recent Southern Cross University environmental study of more than 900 people found that 93% of respondents indicated general concern for the environment while 87% said they made an effort to live an eco-friendly lifestyle.

What Career Paths Are Possible as a Sustainability Consultant?

Careers in sustainability are diverse. Large corporations might have whole departments dedicated to sustainability while smaller organizations may work with sustainability consultants who have multiple clients. Whether you want to work in-house for a specific type of organization or provide sustainability guidance to a variety of businesses as a consultant, you may find a sustainability job for you.

Sustainability Jobs at Nonprofits

Sustainability jobs in nonprofit work settings are generally dedicated to protecting the environment and advancing sustainability concepts. For example, Earthjustice is a nonprofit public interest environmental law organization working to combat climate change and preserve wildlife. North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems is an organization focused on promoting indigenous foodways education and facilitating indigenous food access.

Sustainability specialists might seek out roles at nonprofits that focus on sustainable issues. They may also work for nonprofits that seek to develop more sustainable missions and practices. As a sustainability specialist at a nonprofit, you might fill a role like director of sustainability, in which you likely lead the strategy and execution of sustainability initiatives for the organization.

Sustainability Jobs in Government

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employs scientists, lawyers and researchers in a variety of roles related to sustainability. These sustainability jobs may include titles like life scientist, toxicologist, engineer, program analyst and chemist.

Various government agencies also employ sustainability specialists, even if the agency isn’t entirely devoted to environmental efforts. For example, energy and sustainability researchers may collaborate with government clients to implement sustainable programs. Environmental planning and natural resources specialists may work with government air, water and waste projects to ensure environmental compliance.

These sustainability careers may be found in government work settings at all levels. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), local, state and federal governments are top employers of both environmental scientists and specialists and environmental engineers.

Sustainability Jobs in Business

In business work settings, a sustainability specialist may fill roles such as a chief sustainability officer. Chief sustainability officers manage a corporate sustainability strategy and may address business sustainability issues with executives, management and customers. They might also supervise other employees who are working on business sustainability projects.

There may also be roles in sustainability consulting for businesses, where sustainability specialists meet with business leadership to identify opportunities to improve sustainability and recommend best practices for implementation. For companies that don’t have full-time sustainability specialists in-house, working with a consultant may be an option for advancing sustainability initiatives in operational areas like supply chain management.

Sustainability Jobs in the Environmental Sector

In the BLS report of the fastest growing occupations from 2019 to 2029, two of the top three were green jobs. Wind turbine service technicians topped the list with solar photovoltaic installers as the third-fastest growing occupation. While this role may have its own specific education requirements, a sustainability course can help teach you about this occupation. Sustainability experts may also be needed to support environmental sustainability in industries like wind and solar.

Some common duties of environmental scientists and specialists, as reported by the BLS, include:

  • Advise organizations and individuals on how to preserve and protect natural resources
  • Determine data collection methods for research projects
  • Develop plans to deal with environmental problems
  • Prepare reports and presentations on sustainability research and findings

Environmental sustainability jobs may be found in federal, state and local governments as well as in the business sector and with consulting firms. Sustainability specialists who specialize in the environmental sector may help ensure organizations comply with environmental policies and regulations.

Sustainability Jobs in Other Industries

Sustainability specialists may also work in settings like the military, research, education, think tanks, insurance and healthcare. Some of these sustainability jobs are detailed below.

  • Military: Enlisted sustainability experts may help their departments reduce waste, pollution and environmental impacts.
  • Education: In research and academia, specialists may conduct studies on sustainability and publish their findings to inform sustainable practices. Sustainability specialists may also teach in university professor roles or run college research centers and think tanks.
  • Healthcare: Sustainability specialists may advise organizations on how to incorporate sustainable design into facilities and improve sustainable healthcare practices.
  • Insurance: Sustainability specialists may advise insurance actuaries on how to calculate risks and set insurance rates based on environmental factors such as climate change, flooding, wildfires and hurricanes.

Whatever type of industry you want to work in, you may be able to work in that industry as a full-time employee or as a consultant who advises organizations regarding sustainability in that industry. As organizations and businesses continue to become more sustainability-minded, sustainability careers may arise across diverse industries.

How Much Do Sustainability Specialists Make?

Sustainability pay varies depending on your role, industry and organization. The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $73,230 in 2020, according to the BLS. Environmental engineers had a median annual pay of $92,120 in 2020, the BLS reports.

If you see yourself in more of a business or operations role, let’s compare other salaries. For example, the median annual wage for sustainability specialists was $77,420 in 2020.

For sustainability leaders in roles like chief sustainability officer, the sustainability salary earning potential may be higher. The 2020 median pay for chief sustainability officers was $185,950 per year. For management occupations as a whole, the 2020 median annual wage was $109,760. Ultimately, your sustainability pay depends on the type of sustainability job you pursue.

What Can Affect Sustainability Consultant Salary?

Factors that may affect sustainability salaries could include:

  • Geographic location of your job
  • Job title
  • Industry demand
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Cost of living

Education may also affect your sustainability salary. These were the 2020 median usual weekly earnings based on education, according to the BLS:

  • High school diploma: $781
  • Some college, no degree: $877
  • Associate degree: $938
  • Bachelor’s degree: $1,305
  • Master’s degree: $1,545
  • Professional degree: $1,893
  • Doctoral degree: $1,885

Generally, the higher your education degree, the more earning potential you have.

Sustainability Job Outlook

The BLS reports job growth for various green careers. Below we detail the projected job growth for specific sustainability careers, as reported by the BLS. Sustainability specialists are included in the “Project management specialists and business operations specialists, all other” group, while chief sustainability officers are included in the “top executives” group.

Sustainability jobProjected employment growth rate from 2019 to 2029Employment in 2019Projected employment change from 2019 to 2029

Discover These Cities for Sustainability Jobs

If you’re interested in high-paying sustainability jobs, check out related jobs in the following cities, along with their 2020 annual mean salaries.

This list was developed by choosing top-paying metropolitan areas for project management specialists and business operations specialists and top-paying metropolitan areas for environmental scientists and specialists, as reported by the BLS.

CityJob TitleAnnual Mean Wage
Santa Rosa, Calif.
Environmental Scientist and Specialist, Including Health
California-Lexington Park, Md.
Project Management Specialist and Business Operation Specialist, All Other
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.
Environmental Scientist and Specialist, Including Health
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-Va.-Md.-W.Va.
Environmental Scientist and Specialist, Including Health / Project Management Specialist and Business Operation Specialist, All Other
$107,320 / $105,850

The Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Maryland areas are notable in annual mean wages for sustainability-related jobs as well as for concentration of these types of positions. Many federal government operations, and possibly their sustainability positions, are based in this area.

Explore These States for Sustainability Jobs

Some states that may have a favorable sustainability salary include the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, California and New York. These were also chosen based on BLS data regarding the top-paying states for environmental scientists and specialists.

StateJob TitleAnnual Mean Wage
District of Columbia
Environmental Scientist and Specialist, Including Health
Environmental Scientist and Specialist, Including Health

Sustainability Alternative Jobs

Not sure if sustainability is right for you? Wondering about alternative jobs in sustainability? Explore the below degrees that may provide other career opportunities in government, nonprofits, business and law.

  • Master’s in Public Administration (MPA): An MPA degree helps prepare students to work in nonprofit management or public service. Possible MPA careers may include working as a public administrator overseeing agencies in government service, community management, nonprofits and education.
  • Master’s in Urban Planning: A master’s in urban planning helps prepare students to work as urban planners who design regions and cities. An urban planning career may encompass fields such as architecture, natural environment, urban policy and economics.
  • Master’s in International Relations and Business: With a master’s in international relations, you may consider working for organizations that have global relationships. International relations jobs may be found in government, nonprofit and corporate sectors. Roles may include that of a lobbyist, business executive or nonprofit executive.
  • Master’s in Business Administration (MBA): An MBA program helps prepare students for leadership positions in business settings. Some MBA programs have specializations such as finance or business analytics. An MBA may be worth it to a graduate who wants to grow their career, take on more responsibilities or move into a more advanced role. An MBA career may look like graduates starting their own business or pursuing a different career in business.
  • Juris Doctor (JD): A JD career helps prepare graduates for law careers. Lawyers may work for businesses, governments or individuals.
  • Master’s in Legal Studies (MLS): An MLS degree helps professionals whose work has legal-facing components in areas such as contracts, work compliance, human resources and negotiations. An MLS may be worth it if you want to move into a role that has a legal focus, or if you want to increase your legal studies knowledge to advance your current career.

Is a Career in Sustainability Right for You?

If you care about helping the environment, communities and people be more sustainable today and for future generations, a career in sustainability may be for you. By studying sustainability and related issues, you may apply a sustainable lens to a wide variety of careers. As a sustainability specialist, you might work as a consultant or for an organization as an in-house expert. You might pursue an environmentally-focused job or work for a nonprofit that focuses on sustainability. With growing demand for sustainable careers, there are many options.

Last Updated April 2021