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Major Focus: Pathways to Careers in Sustainability

Amber Gilsdorf January 03, 2022


There are few issues more pressing these days than conserving our planet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common definition of sustainability comes from a 1987 United Nations (UN) conference, which defined sustainability as "...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Careers with a focus on sustainability have an immense projected growth far into the future. Interested? Great! There are many pathways to reach your destination. 

For the Traditionalist: 

Majors titled Environmental Science or Environmental Studies are the most traditional options in sustainability. While both majors focus on the environment, they are not the same. Environmental Science centers on chemistry, biology, earth science, and geology as they relate to the scientific and quantifiable aspects of environmental issues (picture lots of hands-on work out in the field - e.g. taking soil and water samples, etc.). Environmental Studies is more interdisciplinary when considering humans’ relationship with the environment through science, politics, history, policy, and laws. You’ll still have traditional science classes and field experiences, but it will be balanced out with more broad-ranging areas of study too.

  • Other traditional majors in this field include Natural Resources Conservation, Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Conservation Biology, and Wildlife. If the outdoors, hands-on learning, and science is your thing, any majors in the traditionalist pathways are for you!

For the Businessperson: 

Every aspect of large corporations down to small family-owned businesses have an impact on the environment in terms of the products and services they provide. Amazon houses and ships goods all over the world using natural resources all along the way. Pharmaceutical companies produce waste through manufacturing new medicines. No matter the industry, managers are turning their attention to more sustainable practices. Sustainable Entrepreneurship has become a popular concentration for many business majors as focus turns to the environmental impact business practices have on the planet’s future.

  • Other sustainability-focused business majors include Environmental Economics, Natural Resource Management, Wildlife Management, and Construction Management.

For the Political Person: 

Policy influences law, which influences the way people and businesses behave. Students with an interest in a Political Science major can easily pair their major with a dual degree or concentration in Environmental Policy. Courses in these areas focus on how the environment and climate can be improved with changes to government, law, and policy. Graduates work in government, corporations, law firms, and consulting roles. 

  • Other policy-related fields with an emphasis on sustainability are Urban and Regional Planning wherein students learn how to intentionally design cityscapes with green space, water conservation, and parks in mind.

For the Engineer: 

Environmental Engineering has become an incredibly important field in the past decade. Environmental Engineers design and build technologies to control pollution, improve water resources, harness wind and solar energy, and conserve natural resources. 

  • Other related studies include both Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering (e.g. producing items with more biological compounds), Food Science, and Packaging Science (more environmentally friendly ways to design packaging).

Pathways in sustainability-focused careers are ever-growing and changing. Practically any career field can have a sustainability focus if the student is dedicated to the goal of a better future for generations to come.

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Tagged: engineering, majors, careers, unique majors, major focus, sustainability

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