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 www.usajobs.opm.gov, 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.
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.