What could your future look like if you choose to make a difference in fighting the Earth’s biggest problems? The environment is something that many students are passionate about, and climate change affects many people’s lives—and everyone’s future. Incorporating environmentally friendly steps into our everyday lives can be easy or difficult depending on where you live and what resources you can access. But for Earth lovers who want to make a bigger impact, these changes in our lives aren’t enough. If the environment is your passion, consider making it your future with these Earth-based majors and career paths.
Environmentally friendly majors
If you’re interested in STEM fields, there are various ways to specialize in different aspects of the environment. Check out these degree options that you can find at colleges and universities across the country.
Environmental programs vary from college to college, with some leaning more toward laboratory science and others leaning toward social science. Environmental Studies is considered an interdisciplinary field of study because it interacts with so many other academic disciplines and connects with many aspects of our lives. Williams College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, is extremely proud of its Environmental Studies program, which was established in the 1960s and was among the first of its kind in the country. As Director of the Environmental Studies program and professor Nick Howe explains, Williams’ program is broad and diverse, allowing students to specialize in various areas of Environmental Studies, including Social, Economic, and Political.
Environmental Science is considered more of a “hard science” view of the environment, with more focus on laboratory research and ecological scientific drivers. The University of Michigan describes its Earth and Environmental Sciences major as a program that provides “a foundation in the natural sciences, to understand how the Earth system works, and to tackle grand challenges facing our planet and society.” These types of programs involve more field research and education in the scientific processes of the environment. There’s generally less focus on the intersectionality of society and the environment.
Many colleges have programs of study for Sustainability. They often comes in the form of a minor-only program or concentration, which Colorado State University defines as “a specific field of study related to a major.” College Board’s Big Future website describes Sustainability Studies as combining interdisciplinary ideas and methods to take advantage of Earth’s natural resources and protect them for future generations. These programs integrate well into many fields, such as business, economics, urban planning, anthropology, and more.
Biology, or the study of life, isn’t just cells and humans—it also includes ecosystems and environments. Biology might be overlooked due to its popularity as a pre-med undergraduate major, but the biological sciences cannot be dismissed. Specialization in Environmental Biology, Marine Biology, Zoology, or Microbiology, among others, allows for intense work with the natural world. Rachel Carson studied Marine Biology and Zoology and used those studies to build the foundation of her work as an ecologist.
Ecology is the study of the relationships between living organisms, humans, and the physical environment—a perfect for those looking for careers in environmentalism. Those majoring in Ecology gain an understanding of ecosystems and ways to use natural resources while keeping the Earth healthy. As in the many other fields of studies previously mentioned, students have opportunities to specialize in many areas, from Public Health, Biomedicine, Endangered Species, Agriculture, and more. This major’s versatility in many industries allows graduates to use their knowledge and passion for the environment in various sectors with the potential to champion for change in various areas from research to policy.
Related: The Many Branches of Ecology Majors
Environmentally friendly careers
Careers in the environment aren’t just limited to STEM majors. Studying Communications, Business, Law, Journalism, Political Science, and more can also bring you down an environment-based career path. There are many job possibilities that could not be covered in this guide, but here are a few examples to get you started.
According to the BJS Occupational Outlook Handbook, environmental scientists and specialists “use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and public health.” These people may work in various settings: environmental agencies and organizations to clean up areas and conduct research, governmental and legislative sectors to advise and lobby policy, corporations and private industries to reduce waste from production processes, and more. Their work and research may focus on protecting public health, restoring ecosystems, or analyzing climate change.
Political organizers, also known as community organizers, are those who work in the political atmosphere raising awareness and advocating for certain issues. Environmentalists who don’t see themselves majoring in the STEM field may choose this career path. Organizers who work at environmental organizations and grassroots initiatives have one main goal: to reach out to and educate the community, encourage the public to take action, and hold elected officials accountable. For example, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (MLCV) has a team of political organizers. They have many responsibilities from recruiting volunteers; coordinating phone banks, town halls, and other events; keeping the public updated on environmental issues in Michigan; and more. Organizers play a large, important role in environmental advocacy, helping communities better understand the critical environmental concerns facing them and ensuring elected officials hear the voices of public members about environmental issues they are prioritizing.
Environmental lawyers are needed in law firms, corporate legal teams, public interest and advocacy groups, governments, and other work settings. Georgetown University defines environmental lawyers as those who represent clients in legal issues such as clean technology, water, climate change, and management of land subject to native title and other public land. Attorneys have a comprehensive understanding of both the administrative law and applicable regulations established by governmental environment agencies. Depending on where they work, they may push for enforcement, defend client actions, provide counsel to legislative bodies, and more. With increased attention on the environment, these attorneys may choose to focus on specific areas, including but not limited to water, energy, land, air, waste disposal, agriculture, insurance, and real estate.
Many scientists are employed by the public sector: environmental scientists, biologists, zoologists, atmospheric scientists, and more. Several US governmental agencies’ works involve the environment. In the public sector, individuals conduct research, write reports, design projects, and shape environmental policy. Careers may be found at all levels of government, from local and state to federal. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Park Service (NPS), US Forest Service, US Geological Survey (USGS), and more employ ecologists, biologists, geologists, lawyers, and others.
For those who want to work in advocacy, the nonprofit sector is full of opportunities for employment. Major employers include the World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservatory, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and more. These nonprofits exist at international spheres as well as on smaller, local scales.
Following your passion for the environment allows you to explore many college majors and career paths in all employment sectors. Now that you have an idea of the possibilities and opportunities, you can explore how you would like to incorporate the environment into your future plans. Would you like to be in labs conducting research? Do you want to help write policy? Do you have a desire to help communities become more educated on the environment? Do you want to help corporations become more environmentally friendly? There are so many choices—and this is just a starting place. Knowing how you want to use your passion for the environment in your career is the next step to a brighter future.