Get Matched With Environmental Science Programs

The reality of global climate change is sinking in for many Americans, prompting a rise in demand for green policy leaders. These positions require professionals to have a working knowledge of public administration, environmental issues, and technologies that can be implemented to solve ecological and environmental problems.

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Careers Overview for Green Policy and Direction Managers

Not everyone can launch to the global green policy stage like Greta Thunberg, so you must start at the beginning. Your journey will commence when you decide that environmental issues are your passion. This might result from following science news or from witnessing the impact of pollution. You might even be involved in clean-up efforts in your local area. From there, you can become involved in political activism or campaigns.

To launch a full career in green policy, however, and have the opportunity to effect real change, you will need a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy. A double-major or minor in Environmental Science will also help. If your college doesn't have a Public Policy major, consider Political Science. From there, you can land an entry-level job and then later return for a graduate degree. You may soon become the leader of a major political organization and write policies that change the world.

  • Step 1: Find Your Passion

  • Step 2: Bachelor's Degree

  • Step 3: Gain Experience

  • Step 4: Graduate Degree

Step 1: Find Your Passion

No matter what area of public policy you pursue, it must be a passion of yours. For some, this may mean that they are constantly posting about the environment on social media or otherwise being vocal and emotional about the issue. However, you might find that your passion is of a quieter nature. When you take an inventory of your activities you could find that you prefer regular recycling, taking the bus or riding a bike rather than driving, or your charitable giving might all go to environmental causes.

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Once you've determined that green policy is your calling, you can begin to take steps towards making that your life's work. Your next step is college, but prior to that you can become involved with environmental activism or work with a political campaign that supports the environment as part of its platform.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Public Policy or Environmental Science

To enter the realm of public policy you will certainly need a college degree. Since you've established a passion for green policy, you should consider a degree in public policy, political science, or environmental science. In fact, you might want to prioritize the humanities but augment that major with a minor or double-major in environmental science to make sure you have the proper skills for the job you are aiming for.

It will be vital to have a background in environmental science so that you can inform your political acumen with relevant knowledge of the underlying issues. Not only will a science background help you write better policy papers, but it will help you when you venture into the field to interview the scientists who are on the front lines of environmental issues. They are likely to be more receptive and forthcoming with in-depth information when you demonstrate a working knowledge of their field.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Once you've earned your bachelor’s degree, it's time to find your first job. You could work on policy issues for an elected official, a lobby group, or a political consultancy. Many also dive into activism and make a name for themselves by organizing and energizing grassroots activities. For instance, you could organize local people do cleanup your local parks, rivers, or forests.

Another way to seek out experience is to work as an intern. You can even begin this process before you finish your baccalaureate degree. Throughout the political world, there are opportunities for interns to gain experience, network, and begin to build a professional foundation. You could work in D.C. for legislative leaders, environmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, or even agencies within the Department of Agriculture, among others.

No matter when or how you begin your working life, make sure that you are working on policies that matter the most to you. Even if you can't seem to find a position that focuses on your specific area, keep in mind that where the environment is concerned, everything is connected. You might have passion for rivers but if you work to improve transportation systems your work can do a lot to protect the nation's rivers and other waterways.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree

Once you have established yourself in the field, you should start considering a graduate degree. At this point in your work, you should certainly look at a master’s degree in public policy that focuses on environmental issues. There are opportunities to study both online and at traditional campuses. There are also programs that offer dual degrees. For instance, you could earn Juris Doctor and a Master of Public Policy degrees in the time it takes to earn one of those degrees.

Another popular pairing would be to earn an MPP alongside an MBA. This dual degree would enable you to rise into management of your policy think tank or consultancy. There are also degrees that pair environmental science with policy coursework either as a dual degree or a single blended degree program.

No matter what your ultimate choice is, graduate school is a necessity if you wish to take your career to new heights. This is because most employers wish to see advanced degrees when they hire upper-tier employees. Further, if you are working for a government agency, you’ll likely see an immediate salary increase when you complete a graduate degree. Some government positions even have strict requirements that insist on master-level diplomas.

What Does a Green Policy Leader Do?

Policy leaders spend a lot of time in their offices reviewing data, discussing issues with colleagues, and writing new position papers. To gather data, you might order studies from environmental scientists at universities or government agencies. Your firm might also be able to commission studies to learn more about a specific ecosystem. For instance, you could work on a state policy to govern highway runoff, so you'd want to have environmental scientists study the impact of runoff at various sites throughout the state. Then, you can integrate the scientific findings with other data and vital political points to formulate a firm policy document.

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As a green policy expert, you might oversee a team of policy professionals who are charged with gathering data. Your experience in the field will inform your leadership. You might be in charge of finalizing the policy documents and then presenting them to governmental or even industry leaders.

On the other hand, you could work for a private organization that is impacted by public policies. Your job would then be to determine how your organization works within governmental regulation. You could be in charge of influencing politicians or formulating an adversarial response to policies that are seen as harmful to your organization.

Skills to Acquire

This career is one that asks that you wear a number of hats. You need to be part scientist, part politician, part administrator, and part attorney. It is vital to fully understand the science that goes into green policies. Whether you are working for or against green policies, a full understanding of the fundamental premises behind these regulations is vital if you are to support or negate them.

Since politics is an inherent part of all public policy, you must understand the political systems and processes that form the context for your work. That is, you need to know which politicians to meet in order to have your positions heard. You should also be persuasive and be able to create dynamite presentations that will sway even the most hardened legislator.

When you become a policy director, you will need to have excellent powers of administration. You will need to motivate and inspire the policy professionals that work for you. Full working knowledge of the issues and goals at stake will go far toward inspiring your colleagues.

Ultimately, to become the very best policy director you must acquire strong communication skills. You should be able to write policy documents that speak directly to your audience. You should also be capable of delivering a public presentation of your findings. Along with these things, you must have the scientific understanding required to give your messages the authority necessary to sway your audience.

Alternative Paths

While some begin their careers in green policy as undergraduates seeking a worthwhile major, others take a less traditional route. This field is one that allows you to gain many of the requisite skills and knowledge without necessarily needing a degree. If you want to learn about the scientific aspects of environmental policy, you can start reading relevant books and even land a position as a research assistant for an environmental scientist.

That knowledge could help you work as a paralegal for an environmental attorney or bolster your standing as an environmental activist. As you become more involved as an activist, you can begin putting together policy proposals that you can present to politicians or use as strong arguments when lobbying for a local company to change its practices.

Though a degree is often thought of as the best route to success, if you are knowledgeable and have strong communication skills you can go far without one. After all, in the world of politics, it's often more important to be a recognized authority or to have a high enough profile to garner attention to your cause than it is to have done well in school. Consider how many policy influencers are in the clergy or come from the world of entertainment.

Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Green policy professionals can be found in a variety of contexts. Many work in government agencies, but others work for legislators or other politicians. You can also work for political consultancies or for private organizations, whether non-profit or otherwise.

Ultimately you are likely to spend your career working in offices. The organizations that are open to your profession vary in size from small, five-person policy firms to the federal government itself. On the other hand, you could also work on your own as an independent political consultant. Regardless of the size or nature of your organization, you are sure to spend many hours doing research and writing papers. You might also be called to visit sites so that you can integrate certain physical realities into your policy papers. Some policy makers even work as activists and thus spend a lot of time interacting with the media or even conducting marches, organizing speaking events, and otherwise spreading your message to the public.

Potential Career Paths

There are many career paths for passionate policy professionals. Your work will not only provide you with great benefits but will also benefit your organization and the wider society, as well. Consider that, even if you are working on policy in the context of a small town, your work might be noticed at the state or federal level. Thus, you could produce changes that impact the entire world.

  • Compliance Analyst:
    This is a position you're more likely to find with a private company, often one that intersects with environmental issues. For instance, you could work with a construction company and ensure that the company's practices align with state and federal regulations.

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  • Policy Research Assistant:
    If you have an undergraduate degree, you might get a start as a research assistant. In this position you might spend time going into the field to collect environmental data. You might also work in the library collecting data for use in larger policy documents.
  • Government Relations:
    Large corporations often need to establish an ongoing relationship with legislators or governmental agencies. If you are an environmental policy expert, you could seek to collaborate with relevant government workers to help create policies that meet your company's objectives as well as those of the relevant laws.
  • Community Relations:
    This position might also fall under the heading of public relations. You could do this job from either a government position, such as a legislative aide, or from corporate offices. The job will still entail maintaining a positive relationship between your organization and the public.
  • City Manager:
    As a city manager you will oversee the operations of your municipality. As such, you will talk to the workers and even conduct studies to test various ideas. You will then take your findings and present your policy proposals to the city council or the mayor. Once the council votes on various issues you will then be in charge of seeing that those policies are realized throughout the city.

Career Outlook

No matter which specific path you take in the field of environmental policy, you are sure to find growth and a healthy professional field. For instance, if you focus your work on urban and regional planning, your field is growing at 11%, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows is much faster than average. Planners earned a median salary of over $73,000 in 2018.

Another path to follow is that of the political scientist. These professionals most often need a PhD and/or a law degree. They earn over $117,000 and will see their field growing at an average rate of 5% for years to come. You could also work in public relations, where professionals earned a median salary of $60,000 in 2018.

If you pursue the field of green policy, your future is set to be bright. There is a lot of work that needs to be done if we are to address our future environmental problems. While it may seem inappropriate to benefit from such problems, it is also true that our world needs to find lasting solutions, and those must become part of our public policies. That's your job.

Advancing from Here

There is so much potential in this field. You could find work in the private sector and help companies manage their relationship to government regulations. In that context, you could rise up the corporate ladder and maintain a high salary and status. On the other hand, you could work in politics and discover endless opportunities for work as a consultant for lobby groups or as an independent policy professional.

You could also decide to write books that both advance your positions in the public mind and help elevate your status as a policy expert. Once you're in the public eye you may find many detractors but, with strong policies and arguments, you can win over the public to your views.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the environmental policy process?

The environmental policy process starts with measuring and identifying the problem, finding its root cause, and creating solutions.

Who sets environmental policy?

Federal and state governments set environmental policy.

What can you do with an associate's degree in sustainability?

  • Conservation Worker
  • Environmental Science and Protection Technician

What can you do with a bachelor's degree in sustainability?

  • Environmental Consultant
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Environmental Health and Safety Analyst
  • Ecologist
  • Geoscientist

What can you do with a master's degree in sustainability?

  • Sustainability Director
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Zoologist or Wildlife Biologist

Green Career Paths