Co-authored by Neha Bhalla
Looking to enter the environmental field, but don’t have an environmental degree? Or maybe you don’t have a degree at all. Even though your path into sustainability might look different, you can still do your part to save the planet!
There are many valid reasons why someone might want to pursue a career without getting a degree first. They may feel it’s too late in their career to go back to school, they may not be able to afford it, or they simply may not have an affinity for academia. Regardless of your reasoning, in this article, we will cover what you need to know to break into the environmental field.
If you have any degree at all — whether you studied computer science, marketing, or even film — those skills can almost definitely help our planet. A relatively seamless way to transition into the environmental field is to apply for roles that you were already applying to before, but at environmental companies. With this method, you can learn the skills that you will need on the job and transition into more environmentally-focused roles within this company if desired.
If you have no degree and prefer not to get a degree, there are still paths available to you. Keep in mind, circumventing college isn’t an easier path, it’s just a different path; one where you will have to focus heavily on gaining experience, building credibility, and fostering relationships.
Where to Apply for Jobs:
If you come from a technical background (something along the lines of computer science, engineering, data science, mathematics, or similar fields), there are plenty of exciting opportunities in green technology that will likely align well with your previous experience. Specifically, look into up-and-coming technology surrounding clean energy, transportation, sustainable farming, and waste reduction.
If you come from a business background, a great place to start out is environmental consulting! Environmental consulting combines technical environmental knowledge with many soft skills you can acquire in any client-facing role. Beyond that, if you have a finance or accounting background, look into entering fundraising or accounting roles at environmental nonprofits and charities. If you have a marketing background, consider how your experience can transfer to brand management for companies in environmental technology, sustainable living, sustainable fashion, or environmental nonprofits.
If you come from a creative background, I recommend channeling your efforts into environmental activism. Some of the most important work in the environmental field is raising awareness about harmful environmental actions or environmental policies through art, writing, television, and social media. Unite your creative side and passion for environmental issues to create compelling content for companies in media, environmental justice, and environmental charities.
Get a Certification:
The path into an environmental career is different for everyone, so there isn’t one set of certifications I can recommend — it heavily depends on your background and the sector of the environmental field you wish to enter.
Here is the Environmental Career Coach’s full list of environmental certifications to get you started! There are overarching certifications that cover all the basics of sustainability, as well as specific ones made for prospective foresters, wildlife rehabilitators, environmental engineers, etc.
I cannot overstate the importance of networking as you make this transition. Network, network, network! It is the single fastest way to get consideration for a position at an environmental company, even if you have no science background.
Networking goes much further than sending out LinkedIn connection requests and liking your college friends’ posts (though that is certainly part of it)! If you’re networking to get a job, you need to consistently put yourself in digital and in-person spaces for green professionals. Attend networking events, join (and participate in!!) local green organizations, and remember that it takes time to build trust in these one-on-one relationships.
I know networking can be daunting for many, so if you want some tips on how to make it a little less intimidating, check out our networking guide.
Join an Association:
One of the most effective ways to network is becoming a member of an industry or topic-focused organization. This can help with building relationships, credibility, and gaining experience; all the things we mentioned at the beginning of this article.
A quick Google search will reveal a plethora of environmental professional organizations in your state or county. One of the most prominent organizations is the National Association of Environmental Professionals, which has chapters across the country and frequently hosts networking events and educational workshops.
Even if you do not have an environmental degree, do not avoid taking classes altogether! There are many reputable low-cost courses available online. MIT even has a repository of open-source degrees. Additionally, there are many MOOCs available, including a few from ESRI. Beyond this, do not overlook your local community college for starting or continuing your education.
Focus on Trades:
Not all environmental work is conducted by scientists. Once scientists and policymakers determine what work is needed and what it will entail, skilled people are needed to build equipment, sell equipment and services, run construction crews, manage projects, and perform other specialties that don’t require a degree.
If You’re Feeling Stuck:
I hope you will find these suggestions helpful, but I will not lie — making this transition is by no means easy. But not easy doesn’t mean impossible! As a career coach, I have seen many individuals without a sustainability background embark on this difficult journey and find the light at the end of the tunnel.
If you find yourself stuck, which almost always happens to people on this challenging journey, try using our career journal, which will help you stay motivated and challenge you to persist!