Getting paid to contribute to a cause you believe in is the dream, as evidenced by the ever growing number of young people who say they'd take a pay cut to work at a sustainable company or one that cares about the environment. But that widespread interest means there's a lot of competition for "green" jobs.
So how do you land a gig saving the world while also earning a living? There are options whether you're a graduate, currently in school, or just want to jump right into a career. Here are some tips on how to find the right role for you.
Defining a "green" job
There are two categories of "green" jobs according to the definition established by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first type creates goods and services that benefit the environment. The second helps make a company's production process more environmentally friendly.
Working for an employer that manufactures electric cars is an example of the first type of green job. These cars are goods that benefit the environment by burning less fossil fuels and creating less pollution. Someone with a "director of sustainability" title would be an example of the second category. A person with this job might be looking and advising the company executives on sustainable supply sources and logistics. They can help the company make sustainable decisions to lower its impact on the local environment.
"These jobs exist in emerging green sectors and in traditional sectors such as manufacturing, technology, insurance, and state and federal government," according to the University of Washington's Career and Internship Center. This makes "the world of sustainability/conservation/energy one that is both deeply rooted in our day-to-day life and the subject of much innovation and research."
You can find postings for green jobs on online career boards such as:
Green jobs that require a four-year degree (or more)
Frankly, a lot of green jobs ask for a four-year degree or higher. If you're at a point in your life where you're still choosing a major, can switch your major, are going back to school for a career change, or already have a four-year or advanced degree, try doing a bit of job searching first. Take a look at what the job descriptions say, what types of education requirements they expect, and what kind of experience they’re looking for.
"As with any field, make sure you do your homework before you start applying for green jobs," Kiran Bhatraju, CEO and founder of Arcadia, a clean energy service, tells Mic. "You don't need to be an expert before you start applying, but doing your research will help you ask smarter questions and find a position that’s right for you."
Some positions that may require a four-year or advanced degree are:
- Agricultural Scientists (Salary range: $44k - $88k)
- Environmental Engineers (Salary range: $66k - $90k)
- Conservation Biologists (Salary range: $50k - $62k)
- Water Quality Scientists (Salary range: $65k - $100k)
- Sustainability Engineers (Salary range: $50k - $100k)
As you research the field, one thing you might notice is that many positions don't always specify what kind of degree you need. This is because almost any degree or work experience can be applied to environmental work. Of course, for certain jobs, it helps to have a BA/BS in fields like environmental science, geology, civil engineering, or natural resources management. But not having one of those degrees doesn't mean you’re shut out of the conservation field.
"Many professional skills from the private sector are transferable to non-profit or agency environmental work," Chase Gunnell, communications director for Conservation Northwest, tells Mic. "Project managers, strategists, public affairs staff, and others will recognize many of the processes that conservationists must go through to analyze available data or science, define particular objectives, and pursue those goals using a specific set of tactics[.]"
Instead of worrying about having the 'right' degree, these "[p]rospective candidates should consider ways their job experience can be applied to conservation work" as "even the most grassroots of environmental groups are looking for skilled professional candidates to effectively advance their mission."
Green jobs without four-year degrees
Believe it or not, there are green jobs that don't require a four-year degree — although you might be asked to have at least a two-year or technical degree, experience equivalent to one, or certain certifications. Depending on the company, you might also be expected to have prior experience in a similar or related field as well.
Jobs like these include:
- Forest and Conservation Workers (Salary range: $27k - $43k)
- Recycling Technicians (Salary range: $30k - $47k)
- Solar Power Technicians (Salary range: $31k - $55k)
- Electric Car Production Assemblers (Salary range: $42k - $55k)
While they don't come with fancy 'director' titles, these positions are integral to an organization's sustainability mission. So employers like to see applicants with a passion for making the world go green. "[S]how the company that you care about their mission," says Bhatraju. "Employers want to know that you're invested in what they do."
One way to do this, he recommends, is by acknowledging how climate change has already impacted your life. Whether you're driven by a concern for the future, a desire to fight against harmful policies, or the loss of your childhood home, a green employer will appreciate seeing your personal connection to the cause. "Telling a story about why you're passionate about a sustainable mission will always be more memorable than just saying you are," he adds.
Let's be honest: volunteering isn't an option for everyone. It's always better to be paid to devote your time toward a cause without worrying about your livelihood. But if you're fortunate enough to be in a position where you'd like to contribute sans compensation, there are plenty of ways you can volunteer to better your local environment.
Some ideas include: trash cleanup, removing invasive plants, planting trees, educating the public, caring for rescued animals, and providing administrative support to environmental organizations.
Not only can volunteering help the environment, it can also help you establish a network among conservationists in your local area. "Practical experience and connections to local staff or environmental issues can often be the deciding factor when hiring new conservation staffers," Gunnell says, "especially as we often look for applicants with at least a baseline of experience. Regardless of your skillset, volunteering, interning or even serving as a Board Member can be great ways to gain familiarity with local environmental issues and causes.
"Not only can this help qualified candidates speak directly to the issues at hand and common processes like Environmental Impact Statements, but it can also give you a start in building out your network in the frequently tight-knit conservation community."
Sustainability is weaving its way into our lives through our careers, the services we use, and the products we purchase. By picking up a green job or volunteering for a green cause, you might get a chance to peek into a future where humans will be known for helping, not hurting, our home.