“I became an environmentalist because I wanted a profession that would let me sleep well at night,” wrote one respondent. Nearly all our respondents said their desire to better the world was key in their becoming environmentalists, and many said that even if their jobs didn’t pay, they would still do environmental work. Environmentalists help the public make informed decisions about the use of limited natural resources. They do research, produce reports, write articles, lecture, issue press releases, lobby congress, fundraise, and campaign. The daily routine depends on the specialty. Environmental researchers measure decay and its pace and patterns, including the depletion of the ozone layer in space or contaminated groundwater in suburban communities. Policy-determining environmentalists determine how behavior can be modified in the future to avoid these problems. Other environmental positions involve office work, policy analysis, lab work, or computer analysis.
Some companies sell “environmentally friendly” goods and services such as recyclable products or products with recycled content. Not-for-profit environmentalist companies, account for 70 percent of the industry, engage in more aggressive campaigns to educate the public about environmental causes and often work in education campaigns on college campuses, where much of the scientific work is done. In the private sector, at least 80 percent of the not-for-profit companies have ten or fewer employees. Over 50 percent of the companies in this field rely on non-guaranteed sources of income such as federal grants, private donations or corporate sponsorship.
The occupation can entail long hours, difficult and sometimes severely under-funded work situations, and a sense of frustration that “no one listens, and even if they listen, no one does anything.” But environmentalists are drawn to their work by a sense of satisfaction in doing something they really believe in—even if the warm feelings about their work rarely translates into a strong financial rewards.
Understanding the issues involved in environmentalism—degradation, conservation, recycling, and replenishment—is central to finding work in the environmental care and maintenance industry. An academic background is recommended but not required (some colleges now offer degrees in environmental science). Many entry-level positions are highly competitive and require a rigorous set of interviews. By letting representatives from a range of areas meet and talk with prospective candidates who have majored in anything from psychology to natural science to economics, these companies ensure they get people who can fill a number of roles and who are dedicated to hard work. Entry-level employees use many skills, from interviewing and writing, to organizing events or mailings to raising funds, to scientific testing in a laboratory environment. Continuing education is the norm, since the work deals with a physical, changing system.
Those who leave the profession are most likely to do so out of frustration with the slow pace of progress rather than a repudiation of the environmentalist agenda. They become high school teachers at a faster rate than any other profession we have statistics on. Others become ecological scientists, policy analysts, lobbyists, campaign organizers, advertising executives (the art of persuasion is crucial in both industries), or graphic designers. Most continue environmental policy debates on a local, official or personal level by encouraging recycling and promoting “green”—environmentally friendly—products.