Green Careers: Different Types of Environmental Organizations
Governmental and nongovernmental organizations
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the environmental industry comprises more than 80,000 private companies in the United States. In addition to such for-profit outfits, there are many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies and departments on the federal, local, state and tribal levels, and countless scientific and academic entities. NGOs range from large national groups, such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and The Nature Conservancy, to regional, state and local advocacy groups, land trusts, watershed protection groups, environmental education centers and community organizations focused on sustainable energy, building, food and transportation.
The federal government runs many agencies and initiatives that address environmental concerns. Some of these are regulatory, while others focus on research and education. They include:
- --Environmental Protection Agency
- --U.S. Forest Service
- --Commission for Environmental Cooperation
- --Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- --Office of Environmental Management
- --National Renewable Energy Laboratory
- --Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)
Some government agencies, such as the EERE, work in partnership with the private sector, state and local government agencies, national laboratories and universities. The EERE is organized around 10 energy programs:
- --Building Technologies
- --Federal Energy Management
- --Geothermal Technologies
- --Hydrogen, Fuel Cells and Infrastructure Technologies
- --Industrial Technologies
- --Wind and Hydropower Technologies
- --Weatherization and Intergovernmental
(To obtain detailed information on the above programs, visit the agency’s website.)
Some of these jobs require advanced education and/or experience, but others provide on-the-job training. Salaries for these positions range greatly: The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, listed more than 100 jobs on its website as of June 2009, with pay ranging from $39,687 for a secretarial position to $120,830 for a geologist. There are also student programs, summer jobs for students, and job openings aimed at college and graduate school graduates.
The federal government has established a website for jobs created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that lists positions by department. Environmental jobs can be found under the following headings, among others: U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Visit www.usajobs.org to peruse the job listings.
State and local governmental organizations
Almost every state has environmental organizations that address concerns ranging from zoning density to the control of invasive species to the regulation of hunting and fishing. The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, for example, is tasked with enforcing hunting and fishing laws, overseeing aquifer protection, pesticide control, emergency response and spill prevention efforts, and managing all state parks and forests. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources also regulates state parks and forests, and water rights, and issues burn permits. Both departments have ongoing educational programs. Most state environmental agencies also have to work cooperatively with local land use agencies and citizen committees that are concerned with the day-to-day use and protection of natural resources.
Local land use organizations
Many small towns throughout the United States have local environmental organizations—some of which can pass laws regarding use and protection, and others that serve as watchdog groups. Local planning and zoning commissions and inland wetlands commissions are often staffed by volunteers, but some land use officials are paid a salary. These commissions can pass ordinances to regulate development, farming practices, water usage and other rights within their town jurisdiction. They review proposals for permits and approve or reject such proposals based on town ordinances. Municipal building inspectors make about $46,000 a year. Some local grassroots organizations are lobbying groups who attend land use meetings, trying to influence the land use commissioners. They often work in concert with local land use officials to implement smart growth laws or to assess proposed development projects. Often, these grassroots organizations will have a paid executive director and an advisory board consisting of volunteers. Salaries for these executive directors vary widely depending upon the size, membership and fund-raising capabilities of the organization.
For example, the Rocky Mountain Institute, based in Boulder and Snowmass, Colo., is a nonprofit organization working with governments, communities and citizens to help them find the most environmentally and economically sound ways to solve their problems. The Energy and Resources Team provides expertise in energy markets, technology and policy. The Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth, in Sun Valley, Idaho, is a small, community-based nonprofit advocacy group addressing growth issues in the region. Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit with offices in New York and Connecticut, works to identify important environmental issues in the two states, and to inform and mobilize the public through education, organizing and public outreach.
The private sector—for-profits and nonprofits
Many companies, like those manufacturing solar panels or conducting hazardous waste remediation, specialize in environmental work. But a lot of other outfits that don’t focus primarily on environmental work—such as oil, timber and chemical companies—must employ environmental management staff to ensure compliance with various regulations that govern their businesses. Additionally, many companies producing environmentally friendly products must employ non-environmental employees, such as bookkeepers and administrative assistants, further expanding the roster of those who work in the environmental sector. Environmental manufacturers may specialize in selling environmental technologies, such as solar panels or energy-efficient parts; rendering services, such as restoration or remediation of land and water; crafting products, such as recycled or nontoxic consumer goods; or providing information in the form of expert reports and consultant capabilities, focused on such environmental concerns as pollution prevention, air and water quality, hazardous waste, industrial hygiene, energy efficiency, alternative agriculture, environmental health, sustainable building, forestry, fishing practices and more.
In private industry, engineers, waste management technicians, pollution prevention experts, public relations specialists and community liaisons work to help companies forge solutions to—and communications plans for—environmental challenges. Such job opportunities include working with a firm intent on developing a more efficient solar cell, advising an oil company on how to conduct drilling in the least destructive manner, and working for an automobile manufacturer that builds hybrid or biodiesel-fueled cars. Some companies, such as Vesta, a wind-turbine manufacturer, offer on-the-job-training. Vesta maintains a graduate program in which participants are paid a salary while they learn about high-tech wind power solutions. Private industry and government both require an army of consultants to conduct environmental impact analyses and to collect data for projects; these consultants are charged with researching the pros and cons of a proposed project—building a new highway through a fragile desert ecosystem, for example. The consultants collect all of the biological, cultural and sociological data pertinent to the project, and then deliver a report. As part of their research, the consultants might review all scientific data on desert tortoises and other rare or endangered animal and plant species living in the area; they may also collect information on historic and/or Native American cultural sites, then outline the potential impact of the proposed project on those. The consultants would also review data showing why the new road is necessary to handle traffic, and would also consider whether alternatives to the proposed road exist. Environmental consultants gather all this data and synthesize it into a report that the public and various officials then use to determine if the new highway should be built.
EcoEmploy.com lists current environmental and conservation career opportunities, and links directly to pages on employer websites. Some jobs that were listed at the time of publication are:
- --Director, Research and Education Programs – The Consortium of Ocean Leadership
- --Sustainability Program Specialist – The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
- --Project Manager, Site Assessment – TechLaw
- --Director, Climate Change – World Wildlife Fund
- --Senior GIS Specialist – URS Corporation
- --Environmental Health and Safety Compliance Specialist – Natural Resource Group, LLC
- --Executive Director – Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies
- --Teacher/Naturalist – Puddlestompers Nature Exploration
- --Oakland Energy Analyst – Opinion Dynamics Corporation
- --Regional Director – National Forest Foundation
- --Head of Field Management, United States – Earthwatch
Additionally, there are typically many positions open for interns in various environment-centric fields.
The Nonprofit Sector
In the nonprofit sector, environmental careers can fall under the broad categories of education, outreach, policy, politics, advocacy, community organization, science and law. Environmental organizations may specialize in one area, such as groundwater quality, or address a multitude of issues concurrently. For example, the Washington Environmental Council, an advocacy organization based in Seattle, has formed the Environmental Priorities Coalition, which brings together more than 20 environmental agencies to address four items of particular concern every year; such priorities can range from global warming to organic farming. Local grassroots organizations, conversely, often address one pressing concern, such as lake or creek protection, invasive species control or density. Such small, localized organizations may work together as watchdog groups on regional issues like commercial development. Most of these nonprofits use education as a means of raising awareness, recruiting volunteers and fund raising. Some also turn their attention to lobbying. Environmental educators, meanwhile, can be found in a wide array of posts, as well as in both indoor and outdoor settings. They work in schools and universities, state and national forests, zoos and wildlife parks, and as corporate consultants. Environmental lawyers represent people harmed by pollution, and protect wildlife and watersheds, among other specialties. Some work with local land use committees, and still others help draft state or federal legislation. Policy and advocacy specialists track developments in environmental policy and science, and develop and promote new regulations to protect the environment.
Large U.S. nonprofits include the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, Earth First!, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and The Sierra Club. The NRCD’s website (www.nrdc.org) is of particular use, as it lists about 50 environmental nonprofits, with a brief description of each.
Many schools are now combining science education with environmental information, teaching students about global climate change and the need to protect the Earth’s resources. Some bring in experts on recycling, composting and water waste to educate students about changing their habits to include environmentally friendly alternatives. Other schools may have their science curriculums updated to include experiments on solar and wind power, as well as lessons on clean technology development.
In addition to teaching environmental science, geology and other related fields, colleges and universities often run environmental research centers. For example, Yale University has a School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where faculty and students engage in all types of research, both in laboratories and out in the field. The School of Forestry and Environmental Science, meanwhile, conducts research in the following broad areas of environmental concern:
- --Global climate
- --Law and economics
- --Urban systems
- --Social ecology
In the school’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, “Research is performed on five continents and supported by a network of university and faculty laboratories, 11,000 acres of research forests, the Yale University Library, and many international partner organizations.” The Center for Green Chemistry and Engineering, meanwhile, “conducts projects in developing new science, technology, educational opportunities and policies … for a more sustainable world.” Two of the center’s current projects center on researching safer chemicals and better water treatment technologies. Finally, the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry studies such issues as forest regeneration, plant succession, soil sustainability and changes in leaf structure as a measure of environmental factors.