Get Paid to Help the Environment: 7 Green Jobs With Salaries Up to $120,000
Maybe you feel strongly about protecting the environment. You might even participate in Earth Day cleanups and other volunteer activities. Of course, if you spend a lot of time at work, there’s only so much you can do.
On the other hand, the two activities are not mutually exclusive. Why not find a way to do good for the planet and for your bank account?
7 Sustainability Careers That Pay Really Well
Here are some of the best green jobs to consider; ones that allow you to make a decent wage and feel good about your work.
1. Environmental Engineer
You might design better waste disposal systems, or you could work on construction sites, on recycling projects or in urban planning.
Wherever you work and whatever your specific tasks, you’ll develop solutions to environmental problems.
The median annual wage for environmental engineers is $84,890, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a related field, like chemical or general engineering. You might also require licensing for some specialties.
You can make even more money if you manage a team. The median annual income for environmental engineering managers is $100,737, and 25% of people in this position make more than $130,000 per year, according to Payscale. You need about five years of experience to land this job.
In this role, you might visit lakes and rivers to take water samples or inspect monitoring equipment.
But you’ll spend much of your time in an office, analyzing data and making predictive models. Generally you'll work to solve problems of water quality and availability.
The BLS says the median annual wage for hydrologists is $80,480. You need a master’s degree, a background in the natural sciences and, in some states, a license.
3. Sustainability Director
"The majority of Sustainability Directors claim high levels of job satisfaction," says Payscale.
It's not difficult to see why. You might feel enjoy designing and implementing policies and programs to protect the environment and boost profits, such as energy-saving and recycling measures.
The median annual income of sustainability directors is more than $108,000, and good benefits are the norm. To get the job, it helps to have management experience and to work well as part of a team. Often you’ll need a master’s degree in engineering or architecture.
4. LEED Accredited Construction Manager
In this position you "plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from development to completion."
You might be able to become a construction manager without the usual bachelor's degree, according to the BLS, if you have enough years of experience in construction.
With or without the degree, to make it a green job, you need LEED accreditation. A designation created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design." If you study well, pay about $250 and pass a 100-question certification exam, you're good to go.
Payscale.com surveyed 478 salaries for construction project managers who are LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED AP). The annual salaries ranged from $65,000 to $156,354.
5. LEED Accredited HVAC Mechanical Engineer
HVAC stands for "heating, ventilation and air conditioning," which are often combined in one system.
As an HVAC engineer you design those systems and oversee installation. You’ll earn between $50,072 and $91,193 annually ($63,494 median), according to Payscale.com, which also reports job satisfaction is high.
If you study and pass the exam to get LEED accreditation, you will be working to design more environmentally friendly systems, and you might make a higher wage.
6. Hazardous Materials Removal Workers
Cleaning up hazardous materials like asbestos, arsenic, lead and even radioactive and nuclear waste is not a glamorous job, but it is a necessary one.
While no college degree is needed, the BLS says most hazmat workers need 40 hours of training to become familiar with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. You may need to be licensed for some positions.
The median annual wage for hazmat workers is $40,640
7. Solar Installation Technician
A quick search of "solar installation" on Indeed turns up many jobs involving solar panels and related field work. Most of the job postings do not mention wages, but it’s clear you won’t need a college degree. However, you may need a year of roofing experience, according to many job postings.
"A Solar Energy System Installer earns an average wage of $15.72 per hour," says Payscale. If you work full-time, that works out to $32,698 a year.
More Green Jobs
Some jobs are not normally "green," but could be.
And, of course, there are too many other green (or potentially green) jobs to cover them all in detail here. But here is a list of other possibilities, pulled from Forbes, CareerBuilder, and Greentech Media:
- Climate consultant
- Environmental nonprofit program director
- Zoo education program instructor
- Environmental Lobbyist
- Community bike ambassador
- Conservation biologist
- Science teacher
- Pollution control technician
- Fundraising director
- Camp counselor
- Environmental attorney
- Community affairs manager
- Landscape architect
- Waste disposal manager
- Environmental chemist
- Corporate waste compliance coordinator
- Urban and regional planner
- Agricultural inspector
- Wastewater operator
- Wildlife biologist
- Pollution control engineer
- Land use planner
- Garbage consultant
- Interior designer
- Building operations manager
- Food scientist
What if You Have No Experience or Degree?
Many of the best green jobs require a bachelor's degree, or even a master's degree. But even if you have a degree, it may not be one that qualifies you for these positions. And even the jobs you can get with a high school diploma often require some experience.
So what can you do if you have no relevant experience or qualifications? Get training.
You might be eligible for free training for some positions. Federal government agencies provide grant money to various organizations for this purpose.
For example, there is the U.S. EPA Environmental Workforce Development & Job Training Program, run by Florida State College and the City of Jacksonville. The 300 hours of free training (over 11 weeks) is most for hazmat and environmental clean-up work, but includes classes on the following:
- Hazardous Waste Operator and Emergency Responder (HAZWOPER)
- Florida DEP Stormwater, Erosion, Sedimentation Control Inspector
- Environmental Sampling & Analysis
- OSHA Construction Safety
- OSHA General Industry Certification
- FEMA: Introduction to Incident Command System IS100 Certificate
- Asbestos Worker Certification
- Environmental Justice Overview
- Environmental Math & Chemical Safety
- Green Technology Industry: Urban Agriculture
- Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST)
Funding for these programs comes and goes. To locate the closest ones, Google any or all of the following (and similar) search terms:
- free environmental training
- free environmental jobs training
- green jobs training
- free green employment training
Each of those queries pulled several good results. Add the name of your state or community to the search to narrow it down to opportunities closer to you, but also try the broader searches in case there’s training worth attending in the next town over.
Your Turn: Would you like to make a living helping to protect our environment? If you have a green job that’s not on the list, we’d love to hear about it!
Steve Gillman is the author of "101 Weird Ways to Make Money" and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He's been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).