What are green careers?

Are you passionate about the environment? If the answer to that question is ‘yes’, then a ‘green’ career might be the right choice for you. There are many different job opportunities that will allow you to work towards protecting the environment and helping to lessen humanity’s impact on the planet. You can choose to specialise in a career where your work will be directly related to environmental concerns, or you can find an employer in any sector that is working to be more sustainable. Not only will you be helping the environment with a green career, if you are passionate about what you are doing, you’ll be motivated to succeed and you’re more likely to enjoy the work you will be doing every day.

What are green careers?

Green careers are focused on sustainability, ecology and the protection of the environment. Climate change and other ecological concerns are pressing political issues, and there is a global push by governments, charities and other organisations to increase investment in this ‘green economy’.

The green economy is not just made up of renewable energy companies; green roles can be found with a huge array of employers. There is also a rapidly developing area of technology called clean technology that relates to sustainability and finding new ways to improve energy efficiency and protect the environment.

What degree do I need for a green career?

Any degree can lead to a graduate career that will help to protect the environment. However, some green graduate jobs, especially those in ecological and conservation-related areas, will require you to have studied a specific degree subject. The following degree subjects are particularly sought-after for graduate environmental jobs:

  • environmental science
  • ecology
  • geography
  • environmental engineering
  • renewable energy or renewable energy engineering
  • botanical sciences or plant sciences
  • zoology or conservation
  • sciences (such as chemistry, biology and physics)
  • geology or geosciences

Even if a job role does not require you to have one of the above degrees, these subjects will be greatly beneficial in developing the specific technical knowledge that you will need for a job in the green economy. If you’ve done an unrelated degree course, you may also be able to develop this knowledge through a postgraduate course.

Green graduate jobs in education

Environmental education officers are employed by charities, local authorities, wildlife trusts, conservation groups and government organisations to educate and publicise environmental conservation and sustainability concerns. This can involve preparing and distributing materials, reports and educational resources. There may be quite a lot of competition for roles, so a degree in an environmentally related subject and work experience will be beneficial.

Working as an environmental officer

There are several officer roles that involve monitoring the status of the environment and making sure that environmental regulations are followed. There are a number of different environmental and conservation areas in which you will be able to specialise. These positions may also involve developing policies, keeping records, monitoring budgets and working with contractors.

These roles tend to be competitive. Relevant work experience is highly beneficial and a genuine interest in environmental matters is a must. Many of the roles accept applications from candidates with any degree. However, employers of energy conservation officers will ask for a degree or a HND (Higher National Diploma) in environmental engineering, environmental sciences, surveying or a similar subject. Environmental officers are hired by charities, energy partnerships/agencies, environmental agencies, conservation groups, government organisations, private organisations and local authorities.

Environmental officer roles include:

  • energy conservation officer
  • environmental health officer
  • fisheries officer
  • nature conservation officer
  • recycling officer
  • water conservation officer

Environmental manager jobs for graduates

Environmental managers work within organisations to oversee their impact on the environment and to develop and implement strategies in response to this. The exact details of the role will depend on the type of employer the environmental manager works for. They may be responsible for creating strategies, setting targets, ensuring that legislation is followed, managing budgets and liaising with regulatory bodies. Employers of environmental managers include: local government, manufacturing companies, universities, utility companies and construction firms. A degree or a HND (Higher National Diploma) in an environment-related subject is usually necessary.

Environmental jobs in science and research

Environmental scientists study the effects of human action on the environment, as well as developing new methods to lessen this. This role may involve conducting field research and collecting and analysing data (such as water and soil samples).

As well as local governments, environmental agencies, research institutes, universities and conservation groups, environmental scientists are hired by manufacturing companies seeking ways to lessen the impact of the processes. A science degree is a necessity, preferably in a related discipline such as environmental science, environmental engineering or environmental biosciences. If you have an unrelated science degree, a postgraduate qualification may be necessary to progress further in environmental science.

Green engineering jobs

Within the engineering sector it is possible to tailor your work to focus on environmental concerns in a number of ways. Graduates can work for energy companies in the energy sector, which focuses on developing low cost, low carbon and reliable ways to generate energy. Engineers in this sector may be maintaining and improving existing power generation infrastructure or working on new energy projects, such as wind farms or nuclear power stations.

Read our advice on how you can get an engineering graduate job to find out how you can start your career in this sector

It is also possible to become an environmental engineer. Environmental engineers can work for employers in several sectors and industries, including construction firms, automotive manufacturers, energy companies, governments and utility companies.

Engineers specialising in energy (power generation) and utilities can work on projects that help lessen humans’ impact on the environment.

Green careers in law

Lawyers can specialise in practising environmental law or energy law. These are relatively niche areas of practice. Environmental and energy lawyers will advise on requirements of the law for the protection of the environment and management of resources. To become a lawyer, you need to have completed a law degree or a law conversion course, after which you will be able to choose to do a training contract at a firm with environmental or energy law teams.

Find out more about a career in law here.

Professional bodies: where can I find out more about green careers?

Professional bodies are organisations that act as the voice of a profession. They are a good source of information about different career areas, as many of them will provide specific careers advice about how students and graduates can get started. As well as careers advice, you may also be able to find out about work experience opportunities or networking events on the professional bodies’ websites.

Here are some of the professional bodies involved in green or ecological issues:

Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment

An Taisce

Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland) (EPA)

National Trust

Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG)

BirdWatch Ireland

Green Sod Ireland

Tramore Eco Group

National Parks and Wildlife Service (Ireland)

Northern Ireland Environment Agency

How do I find an environmentally friendly employer?

Many employers have environmentally friendly policies, whether they are directly involved in working on green issues or not. If you have already decided on your career path, but want to make an environmentally conscious choice of job, look to see if employers run similar schemes to the following:

Cycle-to-work schemes: Some employers offer part- or wholly subsidised bicycles to employees to encourage cycling to work. Not only is cycling a good way to get exercise, more people cycling means fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less pollution cause by people driving or taking public transport to work.

Paperless offices: some offices are moving towards replacing paper with electronic alternatives in order to reduce waste. This is being introduced by employers in many sectors such as engineering, management and development consultancy.

Sustainability goals/plans: many employers have targets to reduce their environmental impact by a certain date. One notable example is Unilever, the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company, which aims to half its impact on the environment by 2030. In order to do so, it is taking a range of actions including introducing new recyclable packaging and sourcing goods from sustainable sources. Unilever CEO Paul Polman was awarded a Champion of the Earth Award by the United Nations to acknowledge the company’s commitment to green issues.

Environmentally friendly offices: newer offices are often designed and built to lessen the organisation’s impact on the environment – offices may have more effective insulation or solar panels. For example, technology companies Google and Apple have both announced that their facilities are powered entirely by energy from renewable sources.

Take a look at Inside Buzz reviews to read first-hand accounts of the green initiatives that organisations are involved in and to find out what graduates really think about their employers.