Environmentalist: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become an environmentalist. Learn about jobs available, education needed, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Natural Resources & Conservation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Environmentalist?

Environmental scientists, also known as environmentalists, take scientific measurements of elements within the environment. They conduct various research projects and collect samples of water, air, soil or other substances. Environmental scientists analyze these samples and use the results to develop ways to prevent and correct any pollution that they may find. They sometimes use their results to advise policymakers about regulations they could set in place to prevent negative impacts of human behavior. Their findings are typically available to the public and other interested parties through technical reports and articles. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Biological, geological, environmental and chemical sciences
Key Responsibilities Ensure the safety and preservation of resources, draft policies to mitigate human impact on the environment
Job Growth (2014-2024) 11% for all environmental scientists and specialists*
Median Salary (2015) $67,460 for all environmental scientists and specialists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Environmentalist Jobs Could I Pursue?

Specific positions common for environmental scientists include environmental ecologists, ecological modelers and environmental chemists. Environmental ecologists study how items such as pollutants, rainfall and population size may affect the environment. Ecological modelers use technology, thermodynamics and mathematical models to study ecosystems. Environmental chemists analyze how chemicals shape plant and animal populations.

Where Could I Work?

A large number of environmental scientists work for the government at the local, state or federal level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 19,940 in the field were employed at the state government level, and 20,670 worked for consulting firms as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Other common industries include engineering and architectural firms.

The BLS reported that the number of environmental scientist and specialist positions was expected to increase faster than average, at a rate of 11%, during the 2014-2024 decade. Job opportunities were expected to be strongest in the private sector. Population growth, federal regulations and waste management needs were significant drivers for growth in the field.

What Education Do I Need?

A bachelor's degree is commonly required for entry-level positions in the environmental sciences. Common majors include biology, geosciences, environmental science and chemistry. Students may perform research or obtain work experience in environmental science in order to specialize in the area. Employers sometimes prefer candidates with a master's degree for research or teaching roles.

What Could I Earn?

The middle 50% of environmental scientists earned between $50,640 and $90,210, according to BLS data from May 2015. The median salary was estimated as $67,460. However, salaries vary depending upon industry and location. The BLS also reported that federal employees earned a mean wage of $99,770, while those employed by state governments earned a mean wage of $62,130 as of May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Conservation scientist, forester, hydrologist and geoscientist are closely related careers in the science field that require a bachelor's degree. Conservation scientists and foresters protect and manage the natural resources and land quality in areas like parks. Hydrologists specialize in studying water and its affect on the Earth. They look at how it moves, how it is distributed and its quality. Geoscientists also study the Earth and its resources, but focus on the Earth's physical characteristics to learn about its history.

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