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Careers in Environmentalism Now Embrace Many Sectors

By Charles Kapelke

No matter what your talents or interests, there's an environmental career out there to suit you.

Nearly any career--from farmer to fry-flipper, writer to wrangler--can be approached from an environmental perspective.
The environmental movement is relatively young, but already has filtered through almost every profession; today, nearly any career--from farmer to fry-flipper, writer to wrangler--can be approached from an environmental perspective. No matter what your talents or interests, there's an environmental career out there to suit you.

Before choosing an environmental job, however, you'll need to decide which "sector" you want to work for: the public sector, which includes jobs paid for by the local, state, or federal government; the non-profit, or grass roots sector; or the private, for-profit sector. Each sector has an array of jobs. Here are some of the major employers:

The Environmental Careers Organization reports that government jobs have decreased in recent years, with work being farmed out to contractors and federal programs being transferred to the state and local levels. Still, the Federal government and local and state governmental organizations are big employers. Just decide which arena best suits you (local efforts are more "hands on"; you'll map out a new national park as a federal employee, but build a bike path as a local worker), and suitable jobs should always be available. A good place to start your search is at the web site, a listing of all federal government jobs available.

Consulting and Research Firms
Environmental consulting and research jobs offer a range of experiences, from mind-numbingly tedious paper-pushing to exciting on-site fieldwork. Both divisions share a high demand for specialists and an increasing reliance on private sector contracts. In addition, long-term careers are being built around diverse short-term jobs. Hone in on an under-supplied niche of expertise within compliance, site investigation, or remediation (clean-up), and a fruitful career should follow.

Corporate World
Many large companies have their own "environment, health, and safety" (EHS) departments to ensure that their pollution levels meet federal standards. Oil companies, hospitals, manufacturers, food producers, and utilities are all likely to staff engineers, toxicologists, chemists, and hygienists to keep their businesses clean. An EHS job lets you reap the benefits of a corporation (e.g., big-time money) while enabling you to help the environment. The downside, of course, is that in most corporations, the bottom line rules; you may be expected to help companies get away with as much polluting as the law allows.

Smaller businesses, on the other hand, are more likely to rely on contracted engineers and consultants to provide these services, which leaves consultants to form their own "corporate world," a little like an EHS department servicing several companies at once. These companies, too, are often called upon only to help maximize profits.

Grass Roots Organizations
"Grass roots" describes any organization whose primary purpose is to inform and organize citizens to take action and promote change. Grass roots organizations rely heavily on volunteer support, and they're always in need of a helping hand, regardless of skills or experience. Fundraising, education, and lobbying comprise only part of the effort to raise eco-consciousness. If you choose to work for a grass roots environmental organization, you'll be exposed to all sides of the movement (from lobbying to active, in-field clean up). Your services, whether as web site designer, teacher, or truck driver, will be highly valued. The downside of these jobs are low pay and the sometimes frustrating lack of power and influence.

If you're still in college, you've probably seen first-hand the advantages of promoting environmentalism in an academic environment. First and foremost, there's access to the efforts of students, who are usually eager, idealistic, easily organized, and unencumbered by economic realities. Furthermore, professors have the chance to initiate research in comfortable, well-funded environs.

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