ERIC Identifier: ED359064
Publication Date: 1993-07-00
Author: Heimlich, Joe E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Environmental Studies and Environmental Careers. ERIC/CSMEE
Environmental careers could be defined as those jobs "involved with the
protection and conservation of nature, natural resources and inhabitants of our
land" (Hendrix & Cegiel, 1990). Over the past few decades, there has been
increasing concern with the environment, reflected in the increasing general
awareness of environmental concerns. As concern has increased, opportunities in
the environmental job market have also increased (Dalaney & Gaylord, 1991).
These positions have been given labels ranging from "tree hugger" and
"environmental expert" to "environmentalist." What are these careers and how do
students prepare for them?
Harper and Stein (1983) distinguish between environmental experts such as
biologists, ecologists, chemists, and engineers, versus environmentalists who
work in professions that include a moral position "to protect the rights of
persons to an environment that allows them to pursue their goals" (p. 31).
Professionals in the environment are those whose work focuses on the human or
natural environment. They have mastered a particular body of knowledge and are
dedicated to the ethical application of that knowledge in all their work
This digest will briefly examine trends in environmental employment, present
ways in which careers can be identified within the environmental arena, and then
discuss the preparation needed for a successful career in the environmental
TRENDS IN ENVIRONMENTAL EMPLOYMENT
Wobbe (1992) suggests
that the future "will be marked by a growing demand for processes which involve
the lowest possible release of eco-impacting materials to the environment"
(p.75). He continues to identify the movement as production that is oriented
toward new forms of materials, new forms of production, and new products to
facilitate repair, recycling, and refurbishment of products. The development of
these technologies will require a wide array of professionals in many fields,
all of whom are trained in environmental issues and management. In a listing of
"hot tracks" for future employment, five of the 20 hot track professions were
environmental positions (U.S. News, 1991).
Not all careers in the environment are growing fields. Positions as foresters
and conservation scientists, for example, are expected to increase at a lower
than average rate, with most of the jobs coming through retirements and
vacancies, not new positions (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 1992). Many of the
new jobs in the environmental field are the highly specialized professions, such
as specialties within biology, geology, civil engineering, and chemistry (Branch
& Luciano, 1992). New jobs in the environmental fields are being created
primarily from either remedial actions (Superfund clean ups, regulatory action)
or from minimization and prevention activities (rethinking manufacturing,
pollution prevention), both of which require a strong science focus. Whether it
is the basic science, or the technology to apply the science, part of the
movement toward environmental occupations is seeking the "solution of common
problems of people, such as global environmental disruption...exhaustion of
non-renewable energy and other resources" (Zaitsev, 1992, p.86).
WHAT ARE THESE JOBS?
In examining environment-related
employment opportunities, it is possible to explore career options either by "content" or by "position." Content refers to employment opportunities that
directly relate to certain areas of study, focus, or preparation, such as water,
air, or solid waste. Position relates more specifically to the type of position,
such as educator, toxicologist, or geophysicist, and the setting in which the
work occurs including public, private, not for profit organization, or
and the formal preparation for those careers, can be identified by the subject
matter focus of the work. One listing of content organized employment
opportunities (Environmental Communications, 1990) includes:
Hazardous Waste Management and Reduction.
Solid Waste Management and Recycling.
Land Use and Preservation.
Housing and Community Development.
Fish and Wildlife Management.
Fund Raising and Foundation Work.
Another classification [Resource Control (Hendrix & Cegiel, 1990)]
separates careers into:
Pollution Prevention and Control.
These approaches suggest that to identify a career interest, one identifies
first the particular subject or content which appeals and explore the content.
From exploring the content, opportunities for using the content will emerge.
Erhardt (1990) recommends that an individual choose a favorite aspect of the
natural or human environment, and it will likely have a career aspect related to
more traditional approach to career identification is through a position
approach. In this approach, types of positions that relate to the subject are
identified. We can identify positions for working in the environmental arena as:
Research & Development (laboratory technicians; packaging scientists;
chemists; biologists; toxicologists)
Technical (civil engineering; transportation engineers; environmental health)
Regulator (health regulation; environmental regulation; natural resource
Regulated Industry (Risk assessment; environmental compliance officers;
environmental health officers OSHA compliance, Environmental Impact Assessor)
Policy Analysis (environmental economists; consulting firms; lobbyists;
Education (elementary, secondary, post-secondary teachers; parks; nature
centers; hands-on science museums or centers; outdoor education)
Communications (newspapers; mass media; communications for environmental
concerns for private industry; information officers for public agencies)
Interpretation (parks; nature centers; hands-on centers; exhibition halls;
zoological gardens; tourist centers)
Of course, many careers can fit within many different areas. A marine
biologist, for example, can be in research, or in the technical application of
the science, or be working for the government in a regulatory capacity, or be
teaching within a formal or non-formal setting.
Delaney and Gaylord (1991) observed that "Environmental careers are diverse and dynamic...opportunities range from media
driven research work...to site specific challenges. One site project may require
the professional services of a cadre of professionals such as engineers,
hydrologists, toxicologists, heavy equipment operators and administrative
support. Moreover, these opportunities will exist in all employment
sectors--corporate, consultant, government and nonprofit" (p.87).
What does it take to have a career in these fields? Whether it is a position
as an environmental lawyer, a park ranger, or a marine scientist, "saving the
environment most likely requires a degree in chemistry...or engineering...or
communications. Anyway you go about it, science--and math--are eventually
required" (Martin, 1992, p.26). Environmental science is an interdisciplinary
arena, and working toward an environmental career requires an understanding of
biology, chemistry, and the physics of the environment (Posnick, 1989).
A career in the environment also calls for reasoning and problem-solving,
involving math, geometry, and simple algebra skills. Yet, less than half of
twelfth graders currently have these skills. Furthermore, only 5% of high school
seniors operate with knowledge of beginning statistics and probability
(Kutscher, 1992). Day, Astin and Korn (1991) note that less than 35 percent of
high school students are meeting the recommended two years of biological
sciences and less than 50% are receiving the recommended two years of physical
sciences. A well-grounded preparation in mathematics as well as science is
needed for many if not most careers in the environment. Whatever the career
choice, basic mathematics and science preparation along with skills for applying
these concepts is important for success.
Preparation for a career in an environmental field includes focusing on a
specific area of interest, while developing highly transferable skills. Martin
(1992) called this a balance between well-rounded generalism and marketable
specialization. The person who achieves this will have a successful and highly
rewarding career in the growing environmental field.
As we continue to discover the relationship of the environment in all aspects
of our society, the need for well-prepared professionals and technicians in the
many environmental science, education, and policy careers also grows. Whether
public or private, regulator or regulated, policy maker or policy analyst, the
expanding opportunities in environmentally related occupations are ever
changing, ever challenging, and ever increasing.
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