Top 10 Degrees for Green Industries

An image of horticulture students for our ranking of Top 10 Degrees for Green Industries

We’re all familiar with global warming. Alternative energy industries are digging deep into a marketplace dominated by fossil fuels. The shift toward environmental energy sources has created a number of new industries. They offer more than just solutions to the global warming crisis. The growth in green industries represents many job opportunities that have appeared. New ideas about creating and sustaining our environment are put into action. These are viable alternatives to the way we used to think about architecture and manufacturing. To address the environmental crisis and align with goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, many colleges and universities are preparing people skilled in:

  • conservation
  • environmental sciences,
  • sustainability

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “green” jobs produce either goods or services that:

Featured Programs

  • conserve natural resources,
  • benefit the environment
  • make environmentally friendly production processes

In many green occupations, above-average job growth and favorable job prospects are expected over the next decade.

The following are 10 sustainability and environmentally friendly degrees that prepare you for careers in “green” industries.

1. Biology

Biology degrees show up on almost every list of best degrees for emerging industries for a reason. A degree in this field simply offers versatility. Most emerging industries have a vested interest in people who understand all aspects of organic science. The current greening of our marketplace is in part the result of a better scientific understanding of ourselves, nature, and the way we are affected by our environment. Most green industries started with someone in a laboratory tinkering with the basic elements of organic life. This connection between environmental science and biology should continue to be a driving force in this job market.

The Degree Program:

The standard biology degree is a good place to start. This initial experience will help you to explore the right specialized graduate school options. In biology programs, coursework covers topics like:

  • biochemistry
  • ecology
  • human anatomy
  • marine biology
  • physiology

You are also required to take a series of math courses.

2. Business Management

When we talk about green industries, we discuss ideas and products that have become valuable commodities in the marketplace. These ideas and services are only valuable when people with business experience can handle the financial aspect of making them commercially available. There is a lot of money to be had in the environmental business. There’s a pile of investment capital on the table for people who know how to leverage this growing market.

The Degree Program:

Go get that business degree, whether a BBA or MBA. There are few, if any, replacements for the standard business school curriculum. In business programs, you take classes in:

  • economics
  • finance
  • marketing

These classes lay a foundation for a career in all facets of green tech and environmental business.

An image of an environmental engineer for our FAQ about the Top 10 Degrees for Green Industries

3. Conservation

There is a wide array of options available to the conservation science graduate. Fish and wildlife management is a traditional career path in conservation. It involves tracking and managing wildlife in local, natural habitats. But, given the growing awareness of environmental issues, the conservation degree now leads to careers in:

  • waste management
  • pollution control
  • a variety of policy- or compliance-related roles

The Degree Program:

If you want to earn a conservation degree, spend some time looking at schools with the best programs. Accredited programs will grant you access to the widest range of career options after graduation. Also, in conservation programs, you may be able to specialize or focus your attention on a niche area of conservation. Some popular concentrations for this degree are environmental conservation and wildlife conservation.

4. Environmental Chemistry

Over the last several decades, the new has been filled with:

  • images of oil spills
  • flooded nuclear facilities
  • natural disasters

Environmental chemists are our first line of defense in the recovery of ecosystems from these tragedies. Also, chemists are involved with creating ways to handle pollution and the fallout of manufacturing industries. Much of what we now see offered as alternatives to fossil fuels began in the environmental chemistry lab. This career is to green industry as biotechnology is to the healthcare industry. It will most likely  become a core future profession.

The Degree Program:

Coursework in an environmental chemistry program include:

  • general chemistry
  • inorganic chemistry
  • organic chemistry,

In grad school, you will focus on more in-depth and specialized topics.

5. Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineers are a key part of the movement in architecture toward green building. These  require alternative resources to operate. From insulation to HVAC to innovating building materials, these skilled engineers are changing the way our living spaces work. Environmental engineering students learn how to improve environmental and human health. They take this knowledge into green industries where they can help make a social impact.

The Degree Program:

The study of environmental engineering begins at the undergraduate level.  You learn the basics, exploring topics like:

  • environmental restoration
  • science engineering
  • sustainability

A degree in environmental engineering can be used in a variety of green jobs. These include include environmental project manager and a hydrologist.

Grad school in this area only increases your chances of landing that first job.

6. Horticulture

Working as a horticulturist means being responsible for improving the size, taste, and vigor of plants. Horticulturists also help improve production and increase the yield of selective crops. As a horticulturist, you must have extensive knowledge of fruits, trees, and vegetables. A post-secondary education is usually required, especially for those in management roles. Horticulturists are usually employed by:

  • homeowners
  • municipalities
  • plant and food production businesses
  • research firms
An image of environmental engineers for our FAQ about Top 10 Degrees for Green Industries

The Degree Program:

Earning a horticulture degree can lead to a long list of environmentally-related jobs. Horticulture jobs include:

  • food science
  • landscape design
  • plant breeding
  • nursery production, to name a few

Few stand-alone degree programs exist. However, horticulture specializations or concentrations may be earned alongside another degree in:

  • botany
  • genetics
  • soil science

Horticulture courses explore topics like the science behind:

  • cultivating gardens
  • landscaping
  • plant breeding

Some horticulture majors dig deep into the chemistry of soil and how it impacts plant production.

7. Renewable Energy Management

As soon as advances in renewable energy technology hit the marketplace, someone needs to know how to make them work. A renewable energy manager monitors the technology that makes things like solar, wind, or hydraulic power a viable alternative to more environmentally costly fuel sources. Renewable energy managers also help improve the efficiency of water systems.

The Degree Program:

Few undergraduate programs in renewable energy management exist on their own. They are seen as part of the more common environmental engineering programs. Most of the existing renewable energy management programs are offered as master’s degrees. These programs equip you with the knowledge required to increase the production of renewable energy. They teach you skills necessary to advocate for and participate in solving the world’s current energy crisis.

8. Sustainability

Sustainability is a multidisciplinary field that is made up of various industry professionals, including:

  • business experts
  • educators
  • engineers
  • scientists
  • social activists

Sustainability specialists use their diverse skillset to improve development for an organization. They do this  in a manner that respects and preserves the natural environment. Companies and organizations are coming up with sustainable business plans. The plans adhere to government regulations and appeal to consumers.

Consumers are increasingly demanding environmentally conscious:

  • services
  • practices
  • goods.

The Degree Program:

An undergraduate sustainability degree covers diverse topics. You learn core theories and practical skills needed to gain entry-level positions as sustainability officers and others. Degrees in sustainability may lead to jobs as:

  • business consultants
  • engineers
  • science experts

Some sustainability jobs may require a master’s degree or MBA. With an advanced degree in sustainability, you can pursue work as:

  • compliance officer
  • human resource administrator
  • logistician

Some more specialized roles available to those with master’s degrees or MBAs include:

  • conservation scientists
  • environmental engineers
  • urban planners

Not all schools offer sustainability degrees. Some accredited institutions offer more broad disciplines, such as environmental science degrees with classes in sustainability. Others offer niche disciplines like sustainable agriculture.

An image of urban planners for our FAQ about the Top 10 Degrees for Green Industries

9. Urban Planning or Design

Urban planning is not simply a form of civil engineering. This is a growing industry. It uses advances in our understanding of urban living spaces and ecosystems to create better standards of living in urban environments. This career is an intersection of many of the jobs on this list. It will appeal to people  interested in solving practical environmental issues. In addition, urban planning is a good future career option for people looking for a more creative line of work in the STEM industry.

The Degree Program:

This career was once only accessible through degrees in:

  • architecture
  • civil engineering
  • environmental engineering

The industry has grown over the years to a point that degrees in urban planning are now available at several respected universities. While enrolled in an urban planning or urban design program, you will take courses that cover topics like:

  • community development
  • environmental planning
  • geographic information systems
  • historic preservation

10. Wildlife Ecology

As a wildlife ecologist, you will apply both science and management to your work in conserving wildlife populations and their habitats. Career options for wildlife ecology majors include various conservation roles.

In fact, many graduates go on to law school to study environmental law. Some pursue scientific or administrative roles in wildlife management. Beyond the core of basic sciences covered in most undergraduate wildlife ecology programs, you generally have flexibility to customize your electives toward areas of specialty and interest. Some programs offer different tracks of completion, like pathways to focus on natural sciences or natural resources.

The Degree Program

Several universities and colleges offer wildlife ecology degrees. Curricula focus on wildlife conservation and management. Courses may spill over into other disciplines, such as environmental science and ecology. Some of the courses you can take while enrolled in a wildlife ecology program include:

  • conservation biology
  • mammalogy
  • ornithology
  • wildlife management
  • wildlife policy and administration
  • wildlife research techniques

Field work is an important aspect of the degree requirements. Undergraduates often conduct research on conservation and wildlife habitats. You learn through a mix of:

  • classroom
  • laboratory
  • field instruction

There are a limited number of job opportunities To be  competitive, you should seek an advanced degree and/or certification as a wildlife biologist or ecologist by The Wildlife Society.

Resources for Green Jobs

Once you’ve graduated, or likely before you have, you’ll shift your attention from schooling to  your career options. Green degrees offer a number of career choices for recent college graduates. Below are two green job resources that will help with your search in finding a potential career path and favorable job.

Green America
Green America is a national nonprofit organization that serves:

  • environmental professionals
  • nonprofit agencies
  • students across the country

It is a membership organization that provides knowledge and insight on initiatives and green topics such as:

  • food
  • green labor
  • green living
  • social justice.

The organization can guide you on finding ways to assist your search for a green job. Green America offers a clean tech report that lists pertinent information regarding the job market.

Green Jobs Network
Green Jobs Network is a networking site that lists environmental and social impact jobs for those seeking careers with green industries and clean tech companies. The site offers a global community of professionals dedicated to improving the environment. In addition to job prospects, the site offers:

  • a jobs blog
  • newsletter,
  • webinars with links to job boards and job fairs

Here, students will find resources to help with their green job search.

Related Resources:

This concludes our article on the top 10 degrees for green industries.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris