So you want to save the planet?
With climate change getting worse, more species threatened with extinction than ever before in history, and increasing numbers of nuclear weapons, it’s no wonder that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ doomsday clock is set to just 100 seconds to midnight.
Saving the planet is clearly a big job that needs many hands.
There are plenty of ways we can all contribute to a more sustainable world in our daily lives – such as ditching your car and walking or cycling to work, installing solar panels or eating less meat and dairy foods.
But if you’re inspired to spend all your working hours helping to protect our increasingly-fragile environment, there are also many options – including some you might not have ever considered.
So here are five common types of environmental jobs you’ll see on EthicalJobs.com.au, and some tips on how to you can make the cut.
Environmental campaigners work to push governments and corporations to change their policies and practices on all kinds of environmental issues.
From huge international issues like climate change and marine and wildlife conservation, through to local issues like saving a park from development or encouraging more recycling, there are literally a million issues that need campaigners out front and centre.
Campaigners work using the media, public events, protests or digital marketing tools to shift public attitudes, effect behaviour and lobby those in power for change.
Though the life of a campaigner can varied and exciting, it can also be stressful, busy and prone to burnout. From long-term strategic thinking to engaging with people and communities through protests, petitions, social media campaigns, research and media outreach, there’s always more to do than there are hours in the day.
How to get there:
Passion! Passion is the first thing you’ll need to be a successful campaigner. You need to really care about the environment and particularly the issue you’re campaigning for (or against). You will need to be able to convince others that they should care too.
The great news is that most campaigner roles don’t require particular qualifications, but you will need experience. If you don’t already have campaigning experience, the best way to get it is through volunteering with an environmental organisation you love.
In addition, project management and strategic planning skills will be highly valued for most campaigner roles.
2. Sustainability Officer
Sustainability officers are employed by just about all organisations over a certain size, including large companies, universities and local, state and federal government departments.
They’re responsible for identifying ways for their organisation to reduce its environmental impacts and increase its benefit to the community.
Sustainability officers put most of their focus on internal communications and behaviour change initiatives, but they may also need to be able to communicate to the general public about sustainability.
For instance, a local council sustainability officer might want to encourage ratepayers and other stakeholders to get involved with environmental projects in areas like renewable energy, water conservation, waste and recycling.
How to get there:
A degree in Environmental Science or Marketing would be handy though not necessarily essential. You’ll also need some research skills so that you can work out how to improve sustainability programs within your organisation.
Most of all, an understanding of current sustainability best-practices and resources is a must for getting a job as a Sustainability Officer. Depending on the organisation, you may also need some experience finding and applying for grants to secure funding opportunities for your projects.
3. Environmental Lawyer
The passionate, 1980s campaign to save the Franklin River in Tasmania from being dammed led to the formation of The Wilderness Society, and was one of many high profile environmental legal cases to have divided communities over the years. In this landmark case, the High Court ruled that “There shall be no dam on the Franklin River.”
Since that time, many lawyers have carried the torch of environmental justice, acting on behalf of people and community organisations to protect our precious forests, rivers and wildlife from development and mining.
Environmental lawyers also advise organisations and governments on aspects of environmental law, dealing with issues from climate change to mining to waste management.
How to get there:
First, you need a law degree. Many law courses allow you to specialise in Environmental Law, though you may need a Masters Degree, which requires extra years of study.
While this sounds daunting, if the environment is where your heart lies, don’t rule environmental law out. Hubert Algie who was awarded the 2020 Young Environmental Lawyer of the Year award describes his journey to the role:
“I was lucky to secure an administrative job at Kellehers Australia after completing my first degree of fine arts (painting). During this time, through administrative work, minor law clerk work and generally being a helper within the office and taking any opportunity thrown at me, I developed a greater self-belief that I could complete a law degree. As I am dyslexic my high school experience didn’t allow me to believe I could be a lawyer.”
4. Environmental Policy Specialist
Environmental policy specialists or analysts research and try to understand changes to laws and regulations affecting environmental challenges at local, state, or federal government levels, and make recommendations about how to improve them.
Think research, data, and lots of writing – they are likely to be highly analytical people.
Environmental policy specialists or analysts might be employed within state or federal government, or they might be in a not-for-profit organisation or think-tank that wants to influence government decisions from the outside.
How to get there:
A degree either in law, public policy or in environmental science would be a good start to a career as an environmental policy specialist. Or if you don’t have a degree but want to get started in understanding and influencing environmental policy, volunteering with an environmental organisation that works on environmental policy is a good way to get your foot in the door.
5. Community Organiser
Community organisers exists to support and mobilise community members on various issues. Probably the most famous person to work as a community organiser was Barack Obama, who spent much of the 1980s organising in disadvantaged black communities in Chicago.
Community organisers also work with communities affected by environmental issues, supporting them to have their voices heard and advocating for solutions that benefit people instead of corporations.
While community organisers are usually employed by a not-for-profit organisation, the role is more focused on supporting community members who want to drive change.
A day in the life of a community organiser could include outreach to potential supporters and community groups, mentoring activists to strengthen member groups, organising and facilitating meetings, recruiting volunteers and more.
How to get there:
Since organising is more of a mentoring role than an activist one, you’ll need to be an excellent communicator, listener and motivator, with great problem-solving skills.
As society wakes up to the reality of climate change and more people take to the streets to force governments to take urgent action, there are more emerging career opportunities in environment and sustainability than ever before. So if you have already been trying to live more sustainably but you want to become a professional planet-saver, now might be a good time to start on your journey.
Other articles you may be interested in:
- Ally Murray on her journey to Director – Membership & Fundraising at The Wilderness Society
- Want to help the environment? First fix your work-life balance
- “You are working with the most amazing, passionate and hardworking people who want to improve the lives of others” – Nell Macdonald on what it’s like to work for Planet Ark