Every day, we are experiencing the effects of climate change. Record-breaking heat, unprecedented floods, raging wildfires, drought, and melting ice sheets. If we don’t live it all personally, we certainly see it on the news.
As the world grapples with rising sea levels and more extreme weather, an industry has evolved around mitigating the negative impact that people are having on the environment.
Master’s degree programs in sustainability are now empowering new change agents, equipping them with the skills they need to develop solutions to help stabilize the climate. These programs encompass a variety of specialties, including environmental science, environmental law, natural resource management, renewable energy, environmental justice, and more.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at exactly what a master’s in sustainability entails, why you might consider a “green job,” as well as career paths open to you in this field.
Why Choose a Career in Sustainability?
The short answer: It’s relevant.
If you’re looking for a career where your work can make a difference, where what you do profoundly matters at a critical moment, you could hardly choose better.
As humankind’s harmful impact on the environment plays out, professionals in this field are sure to play an ever-growing, critical role in science, government, and industry. This is likely to be a growing field for decades to come.
Is Sustainability a Good Career?
Not only can a career in sustainability give you the personal satisfaction of doing something meaningful, but it can give you a sense of being part of social and environmental progress.
In addition, a career in sustainability can encompass almost any industry. So you’ll have the freedom to combine an interest in sustainability with almost any other passion. With most companies initiating sustainable practices, sustainability professionals are likely to find roles in such diverse fields as healthcare, tourism, finance, fashion, technology, government, science, and even food and beverage.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental scientists and specialists can expect to see job growth of about five percent between 2020 and 2030. In other careers that revolve around protecting the planet, the BLS projects rapid career growth through 2026.
What Jobs Can I Get with a Master’s in Sustainability?
There are many possibilities open to sustainability master’s degree graduates. A few of the more traditional career paths in this field include the following:
Environmental specialists and consultants advise clients on how best to manage environmental issues. They identify problems and recommend solutions in various environments, ranging from chemical and power plants to hospitals to manufacturing plants and companies. Many work for the government, making sure that companies adhere to regulations on industrial and commercial practices that can affect water, soil, and air.
Environmental consultants evaluate current environmental policy, management systems, and processes through comprehensive audits and measuring environmental contamination inside and outside a client organization’s premises.
Typical salary range: $60k–$80k.
Environmental Policy Analyst
Environmental policy analysts research policy developments, unearthing data around environmental problems that allows them to then propose solutions. They use advanced statistical techniques and analytical models as they work, allowing them to recommend changes in legislation or new directions for awareness campaigns and fundraising. Some environmental policy analysts focus on specific issues such as climate change or environmental health policy. They may work under other job titles such as research associate, advisor, program manager, or regulatory anayst.
Typical salary range: $53k–$65k.
Sustainability directors, also sometimes called sustainability managers or chief sustainability officers, assess practices at their organization for their effect on the environment, especially in regard to the immediate environment. While keeping profitability in mind, they monitor the environmental impact that a firm has, making critical decisions about any changes that may be needed to minimize negative environmental consequences. This is a supervisory position that calls for good leadership skills and the ability to supervise staff and persuade various stakeholders. Public speaking is often a part of the job.
Typical salary range: $88k–$139k.
Environmental lawyers represent clients in legal issues involving the environment. Typical areas under dispute include clean technology, water law, climate change law, and the management of public land.
Environmental lawyers that work for federal agencies can either defend agency actions under environmental regulations or bring enforcement actions based on laws. Attorneys can counsel on drafting policy when they work with federal and state legislatures. Or they might work on behalf of lobbyists when there is pending legislation that could affect a client.
Some attorneys in environmental law work for nonprofit advocacy organizations, environmental justice, and community groups. Other attorneys working in private practice might represent corporations and businesses subject to regulation. Attorneys can also work directly within a corporation where they provide advice on compliance, tax, securities, and real property issues.
Typical salary range: $58k–$80k.
Environmental and climate scientists identify and monitor hazards and develop restoration plans around the environment. They advise lawmakers and other influential public policy figures on what to do regarding environmental hazards. The ultimate goal is to strengthen existing environmental protections and enact new ones.
Environmental scientists can also work with corporations where they provide guidance on minimizing the environmental impact of different businesses and land development. A scientist, for example, might work with a factory owner to plan and implement strategies for reducing and safely managing industrial waste.Some environmental scientists may specialize in climate, modeling climate change in academia or on behalf of governmental organizations. The complicated mathematical models they construct can forecast years into the future. THEY are used to design buildings, plan cities, and create efficient agricultural production.
Typical salary range: $61k–$80k.
What Types of Classes are Required for a Master’s Degree in Sustainability?
Because this is such a broad field that can go in so many directions, there are a a variety of academic programs. The classes you take will depend on whether your degree is offered through a school of business, public affairs, global health, or science. A master of business administration in sustainability management or sustainability systems will be more business-oriented than a master of science in sustainability studies, for example.
Generally, however, students will take courses in management, environmental studies, business operations, ecosystems, waste management, economics, and politics. They will also learn how each of these areas interact with one another while studying theory on building a more environmentally aware society.
To provide such a diverse curriculum, many universities offer an interdisciplinary program in which students take courses from several different university departments ranging from biology and geoscience to political science to economics.
For example, to complete your master’s in sustainability at Harvard Extension School, you can choose courses from departments as diverse as:
- Computer science
- Environmental policy
- Social sciences
Is a Master’s Degree in Sustainability Worth It?
Because of the critical nature of supporting the environment, anyone wielding green credentials is sure to grab the attention of multinational corporations, thinktanks, European and international institutions, NGOs, governments, and more. As sustainability issues continue to grow in importance, more businesses in all sectors—finance, healthcare, manufacturing, construction—will hire sustainability professionals at every level, including environmental consultants, lawyers, and C-suite sustainability chiefs entirely focused on managing a company’s environmental policy.