What is Environmental Education?

Environmental education is the study of how the earth works—its systems, biospheres and resident life—and how human activity affects it. This is an extremely broad topic, and most environmental education degrees come at the subject from a certain perspective—anything from science and engineering to health care or public policy.

Environmental education also involves certifications, licensures and continuing education that covers environmental topics relevant to the workplace—including compliance with Clean Air and Clean Water regulations, EPA training, RCRA training online, TSCA training, LEED certification online, and green infrastructure.

What Kinds of Degrees Are Out There?

Environmental education is a broad field. It’s possible to earn an environmentally focused degree as a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral student, and many jobs within the sector require a Master’s degree or higher. Many schools, in addition to offering environmental science degrees, allow students to customize degrees in other fields with a concentration in environmental studies.

Here are a few perspectives colleges and degree programs take on environmental education.

The Science Perspective. The most obvious choice for many looking to go into environmental education is an Environmental Science degree. These degrees sometimes have a hard-science focus that looks at ecological studies, how human interference affects environmental systems, and aspects of biology. Other degree programs may have a more broad approach that includes social sciences and the humanities.

The Engineering Perspective. Environmental engineering degrees teach you how to create and engineer infrastructures, packaging and products that are environmentally sound. Environmental engineers also work on wastewater management, air quality and water quality control, soil engineering and more. Most environmental engineering degrees are found at the Master’s level or above.

The Policy Perspective. This degree prepares you to work in the government in a public policy position that affects environmental issues. Degrees in this area of environmental study can be expected to provide you with a broad understanding of the science behind sustainability, as well as economical, ethical, business, legal and cultural issues surrounding environmental issues.

The Health Care Perspective. There are a few schools that offer a degree in environmental health care studies. These degrees differ by school, but often cover how environmental factors affect human health, with an introduction to medical ethics and law as well. Some degrees of this type focus primarily on health care, but with an environmental slant—and some are primarily environmental degrees with a healthcare concentration.

The Social Science Perspective. Some environmental science degrees have a social science perspective—focusing on how environmental issues affect individuals, families, and entire cultures. Some colleges administer these degrees as Social Science degrees augmented by environmental science classes, allowing for a concentration in environmental studies.

The Business Perspective. Green business degrees teach you how to manage a business sustainably and with minimum environmental impact. Courses you can expect include a combination of business and environmental science classes, with possible focuses on economics, management, organizational ethics and social sustainability, environmental laws and regulations pertaining to business, and the standards sustainable businesses are held to.

The Agriculture Perspective. Agricultural degrees may or may not be advertised as environmental degrees in some schools, but the relevance is obvious. Students in agriculture programs generally learn about sustainable agricultural practices, soil management, animal sciences, and more. Some schools offer specialized agricultural degrees related to subjects such as fisheries management, agribusiness, crop engineering, and natural resource development.

What Jobs Are Available?

The green sector is growing—there’s no question. According to a Pew Charitable Trusts study from 2009, jobs in environmental fields have grown at over twice the national average—including jobs at solar and wind-powered energy companies, makers of efficient light bulbs, and environmental engineering firms.

In another decade, there may be jobs and careers available that we can’t conceive of now. But if you’re looking to make a difference now, here are a few career opportunities.

Environmental scientist. These scientists work to find solutions to environmental problems using their extensive knowledge of environmental sciences. These scientists need a solid understanding of the science behind conservation, recycling, renewable resources, and pollution cleanup. An environmental scientist might design a waste disposal site, work to reclaim polluted land and bodies of water, or assess the potential environmental impact of construction and other projects. Average earnings in this career range from $45,340 to $78,980.

Environmental engineer. These professionals use engineering technology and science education to help organizations and societies use biological resources efficiently. These scientists design machinery and equipment, and help farmers get the most out of their soil, companies monitor their environmental impact, and create ecologically sound processes and products. Some engineers have specific specialties in subjects such as structural engineering, bioprocesses, or machinery design. Median earnings for agricultural engineers are around $68,730.

Urban planner. Urban planners help design communities to promote growth and revitalization. They’re specialists in how land should be used, helping regions improve social, economic and environmental problems through better land and resource use. Urban planners recommend road, school and other infrastructure locations, help design zoning regulations, and predict the community’s growing needs. These professionals typically earn an average wage of about $60,000.

Lawyer. Environmental lawyers may fight for the rights of communities against developers, but they also work with developers to prepare and file for licenses and applications for new construction projects. They may represent waste disposal companies, construction firms or people and communities looking to put right environmental wrongs. Lawyers typically earn between $75,000 and $150,000 per year, with the highest earners employed by companies and the lowest by the government.

Environmental auditor. These professionals perform assessments of companies to check their environmental policies, procedures and effects. They help companies comply with legislation, identify ways to save money, check up on supplier and contractor policies, and for many other reasons. Auditors in this field typically check out what impact the company’s production process has, the way its products are used and how they decompose—as well as how the company’s general operations, such as electrical use and waste disposal, impact the environment.

Green jobs are growing—and with them, hopefully the innovations that will help us solve our century’s most pressing environmental problems. Earn a green degree, and hopefully you can be a part of the solution.