A woman draws graphs on two computer monitors

A sustainability specialist could...

Reduce a corporation's carbon output by ensuring that a company's fleet of cars be electric vehicles. An electric vehicle plugged into a charging station Organize environmental volunteer activities, like a beach cleaning day, for employees company-wide. Volunteers cleaning trash from a beach
Save millions of dollars in operating costs by reducing the water and electricity needed to run a factory. A pile of one hundred dollar bills Redesign a company's production line using recyclable materials for all of its packaging. A production line in a manufacturing plant
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Are you passionate about the environment? Do you like developing and implementing new ideas? Do you enjoy talking with people about how humans impact nature? If these things are true about you, then you may be the ideal candidate for a job as a sustainability specialist. Sustainability specialists work in large and small corporations and universities to design and execute energy and resource conservation programs that reduce their employers' impact on the environment. This is a great career for people who enjoy working on teams, are socially responsible, and like to get things done!
Key Requirements Passion for environmental issues, good teamwork skills, ability to manage and direct teams, diplomatic personality, excellent public-speaking and problem-solving skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Environmental science, biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry; if available, statistics, public speaking
Median Salary
Sustainability Specialist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

In addition to a scientific background in environmental science or engineering, employers sometimes look for LEED (or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation. The credentialing is administered by the Green Building Certification Institute under the supervision of the U.S. Green Building Council. There are several types of certification, depending on what students plan to do in their careers. However, credentialing involves coursework, working on green building projects, and taking an exam. To learn more, check out the U.S. Green Building Council website.

Education and Training

The minimum degree required for entry-level sustainability specialists is a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences, environmental engineering, or a related field. While a graduate degree is not required for entry-level positions, many employers find it desirable, because students with graduate-school experience have the opportunity to work in-depth on sustainability projects.

Classes or work experience in marketing, finance, and business are also valuable for job placement as a sustainability specialist.

Nature of the Work

Sustainability specialists support and implement programs that focus on improving the environment, saving money for their employer, and helping their local community. They conduct research and analysis and identify opportunities for new programs as well as improvements in current programs. Sustainability programs include monitoring and improving energy and natural resource usage, waste-generation management, recycling, water-usage reduction, and assessing carbon footprint. Once enough information has been compiled from these programs, the sustainability specialist will report on progress and act on the information. As part of educating and informing their employers and clients, they must promote and advertise their environmental programs.

Watch this video to see how two students from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana made a big difference by implementing sustainability programs in the administration buildings at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park.

Sustainability specialists assist in strategic policy planning. In corporate settings they are part of the team that develops the corporate social responsibility (or CSR) document. This document describes how a company will operate in a business setting while being mindful of the social impacts of their actions. When working with clients in a corporate setting, they must prepare action plans to improve the sustainability of the clients' products and operations. They must know how to perform product and market analysis in order to understand what the clients' customers want. To do their job effectively, sustainability specialists must be familiar with relevant energy and environmental legislation.

Sustainability specialists work on a variety of projects and can manage teams where the members come from a variety of disciplines. They can be part of a team that works on greening buildings; as such, they must have experience with various "green" practices and standards, including: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or LEED), ISO 14001 (an international standard that specifies a method for controlling and improving a company's environmental performance), or the EPA's Environmental Management System.

Work Environment

Most sustainability specialists work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. They may spend time outdoors, where they monitor or direct operations, or solve on-site problems.

On the Job

  • Develop sustainability project goals, objectives, initiatives, or strategies in collaboration with other sustainability professionals.
  • Monitor or track sustainability indicators, such as energy and natural-resource usage, waste generation, and recycling.
  • Assess or propose sustainability initiatives, considering factors such as cost effectiveness, technical feasibility, and acceptance.
  • Collect information about waste-stream management or green building practices to inform decision-makers.
  • Create marketing or outreach media, such as brochures or websites, to communicate sustainability issues, procedures, or objectives.
  • Create or maintain plans or other documents related to sustainability projects.
  • Develop reports or presentations to communicate the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives.
  • Identify or procure needed resources to implement sustainability programs or projects.
  • Provide technical or administrative support for sustainability programs or issues.
  • Write grant applications, rebate applications, or project proposals to secure funding for sustainability projects.
  • Identify or create new sustainability indicators.
  • Identify or investigate violations of natural-resource use, waste management, recycling, or other environmental policies.
  • Research or review regulatory, technical, or market issues related to sustainability.
  • Review and revise sustainability proposals or policies.

Companies That Hire Sustainability Specialists

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Additional Information

These organizations can provide you with more information about the field of sustainability:


Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Chevron
  • Intel Foundation
  • Symantec Foundation
Free science fair projects.