If you’ve always been the type who votes on the side of Mother Earth, you don’t have to limit your activities to taking part in the local Earth Day demonstrations, or volunteering your time going door to door taking up collections. These days, tree huggers have lots of other options for making money. In fact, a lot of companies have high-flying positions in sustainability, such as the "Chief Sustainability Officer" you’ll find even at Fortune 500 companies.
Sure, you may still have time to chain yourself to a vulnerable Douglas Fir on the weekends, but with these careers, you may also have some money to spare for things like hybrid-electric cars and solar panels for your crib.
1. Environmental Science
With a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, you could be the person who collects samples from the air, water and soil, and analyzes them for contaminants and other threats to human health and the health of the environment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental scientists earned a median income of $63,570 per year as of 2012, with a job growth at 15 percent through 2022 -- faster than the average. A bachelor’s degree will get your foot in the door in this field, though a master’s may be necessary to keep moving up the ladder.
If the thought of helping to create fuels that are alternatives to the traditional gas-powered vehicles is exciting to you, there’s a big market for your skills and enthusiasm. The renewable fuels industry employs biochemists and biophysicists (occupations that typically require a master’s degree) to study the chemical makeup of fuels. According to BLS, biochemists and biophysicists earned a median income of $63,530 as of 2011. Chemists, meanwhile help develop more efficient biofuels. They earned a median income of $49,920 as of 2011, according to BLS.
Soil and plant scientists, meanwhile, do research on the living materials that can be used for biofuels. They earned a median income of $58,940 as of 2011. Meanwhile, chemical engineers help to develop the machines that turn materials into fuel, while mechanical engineers create the devices that actually convert materials into fuel. Chemical engineers earned a median income of $96,870 as of May 2011, while mechanical engineers earned a median of $88,320 during that same time frame.
3. Alternative Energy
Careers in alternative energy are another promising field for tree huggers, as the industries hold the promise of moving humanity away from the use of materials that create greenhouse gases. Among the options out there are jobs in solar, wind and geothermal energy.
Instead of relying on coal or other combustible materials, geothermal energy, taps the Earth’s heat to provide electricity to the masses. The industry relies on environmental scientists, geologists and hydrologists to develop geothermal power plants. All of those jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, and often a master’s or doctoral degree. According to the BLS, geologists earned a median income of $77,460 as of May 2011, while hydrologists earned a median income of $75,680.
If you’re interested in working in the solar industry, many of the same science and engineering-related degrees will give you the background necessary for creating and improving solar panels, as well as researching new materials for use in the solar industry.
Another big part of the solar -- and wind -- industries is the construction part. The industries need construction managers to oversee the construction of wind and solar facilities, as well as laborers to do the work and civil engineers to design the facilities. Becoming a construction manager or civil engineer requires a bachelor’s degree, while working as a construction laborer may only require some working experience in the construction industry. Construction managers earned a median income of $83,170 as of 2011, while civil engineers earned $74,620. Construction laborers earned a median income of $29,600, according to BLS.
4. Advocacy and Marketing
If a career in a science or construction-related field is not so appealing to you, you do have other options for working to support and improve Mother Earth. The green power, research and environmental industries need advocates who are on their side, working to chance public perception and to raise funds for their causes. If you’re good at public speaking, writing, or interpersonal communication, then working as a public relations professional or a fundraising manager in a non-profit agency, may be your way of helping out. According to BLS, public relations and fundraising managers earned a median income of $95,450 as of 2012, typically holding a bachelor’s degree. While that’s a management salary, you can get your start by working as a lower-level public relations specialist or fundraising professional.
5. Organic Food and Products
The food that people consume can also be a geo-political statement -- and you can do your part by producing organic foods for the masses. Start your own organic produce farm, for example, or go to work for someone else who already has one established. Another way to make an impact is through the sale of organic, sustainable, or planet-friendly products, which can include anything from clothing to cars to green burials. The good part about these jobs is, many of them are limited only by your own creativity. Start your own small product line and then sell it on your own, or find a small company who is in need of your unique talents and go to work for them, learning the ropes of that industry.
6. Green in Any Career
If going back to school in order to launch a whole new career seems pretty daunting, you do have another way to use your tree-hugging tendencies for a job: be the resident sustainability person. If you’re working in a company that doesn’t already have a person who handles recycling or other sustainability practices in the workplace, offer to be that person. Offering to do extra duties on top of your regular job description will usually win you points among your bosses -- not to mention that you’ll be gaining experience in a facet of sustainability and environmentalism that can help you get other jobs in the future.
You might start by simply offering to be the person who collects recycled items around the workplace and then ensures that they get to the right place. You could also look for business sustainability trainings that might be offered by your city, county or regional governments. Many government entities offer this type of training for businesses, as part of a wider initiative. If the trainings cost money, ask your employer to foot the bill and share why it’s important. That little bit of extra training may be just the thing that helps you gain another sustainability coordinator job in the future, at another company.
From science-related jobs to those in retail, the list of jobs that you can do that will serve to benefit the planet, could be nearly endless. Hopefully, something on this list has sparked your interest enough to get you going on a new, exciting career.
Are you a tree hugger? Would you change your career by going green? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.