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Green futures: Environmental careers

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Beneath the swell of the Pacific Ocean lies a silent environmental catastrophe: an area of marine plastic debris spanning three times the size of France, suffocating marine life and disrupting fragile ecosystems.

This isn’t the opening scene of a dystopian novel but a harsh reality we face today. As the world grapples with the consequences of overfishing, pollution and climate change, the urgency for environmental stewardship and the need for green skills has never been greater.

It’s been more than 35 years since James Hansen sounded the alarm on climate change in the US senate, with climate scientists facing a symphony of sceptics stretching over two decades. Now, thanks to factors including grassroots activism, public awareness campaigns, a smattering of global summits and the efforts of high-profile voices such as Al Gore, Greta Thunberg and those from the IPCC, the world has sat up and taken notice.

We’ve entered an age of environmental awareness, industry responsibility, carbon footprints, and the six ‘r’s of sustainability: rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle. We’ve removed the CFCs from aerosols, swapped plastic bags for linen totes, and, increasingly, bolted solar panels onto the north sides of our roofs.

But we’ve only tickled the surface. Making a real difference to the environment requires unfettered progress and innovation, and an abundance of ideas. It means forging a path to reindustrialisation, generating a circular economy, decarbonisation, energy transition and low-emission technologies. It means planning and constructing green environments in which we can live and work. It means creating sustainable products, cleaning up oceans and rivers, and restoring native flora and fauna.

And all that points to a boom in green futures – careers and industries that improve sustainability and protect the environment, through their core business or through environmentally responsible practices. As governments invest, industries adjust and new businesses emerge, the sector will prosper across a realm of disciplines, from a surge in renewables to regenerative agriculture, and green transportation to innovative water management.

We’ll see an increase in jobs and careers that – for an overdetermination of reasons – strike a balance between the environment, the economy and the social aspects of human existence. There are sensible solutions to the problems we’ve created – solutions that you can be paid to invent or implement. If you choose a career in green futures, you’ll make a difference in both the short and the long term, literally making the world a better place, while gaining a sense of purpose and challenge.

And not only that, you’ll also find environmental job roles and careers to be abundant and varied, innovative and impactful, from helping remove the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to designing organic, self-cleaning clothes. If this piques your interest, read on, and discover more about green skills, careers and study pathways – and some surprising environmental job roles you may never have thought of!

What’s the current demand for people with green skills?

Green skills are defined as the knowledge, abilities, values and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society.”

United Nations Organization

According to LinkedIn, the most popular ‘green skills’ in Australia include sustainability, environmental awareness, environmental science, environmental management systems and environmental impact assessment.

Their Global Green Skills Report 2023 revealed that between February 2022 and February 2023, job postings requiring at least one green skill grew by 15%, yet only one in eight workers even had a green skill. The report also disclosed that, of roles filled through the LinkedIn platform, the hiring rate for workers with at least one green skill was almost 30% higher than the workforce average.

Internationally, green skills are recognised by the United Nations Organization as essential for attaining their sustainable development goals. At the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit in 2021, it was estimated that 24 million jobs worldwide would be created by the green economy by 2030.

What’s a typical environmental career salary?

Undoubtedly, you’ll be curious about the value of these green skills. Incomes can fluctuate depending on the region, making it worthwhile exploring online job listings to gauge approximate salaries in your area or country. But to give you an indication, here are some average* salaries in Australia for environmental careers:

*As of February 2024

What kinds of environmental careers are out there?

It will come as no surprise that there are too many environmental job roles to list. As a professional in this field, you could specialise in areas such as conservation, renewable energy, policy development or biodiversity. You could actively promote sustainable practices, or tackle global issues like climate change, pollution and habitat destruction. Be guided by your interests and passions to find the right career path for you.

Below are five environmental careers you may have heard of – and five that may astonish you!

  1. Environmental scientist

Environmental scientists play a vital role in researching and analysing environmental issues, from pollution to climate change. You’ll contribute to policy development, conservation efforts, and sustainable resource management.

  1. Renewable energy specialist

With the global shift towards renewable energy sources, renewable energy specialists are in high demand. From designing solar arrays to optimising wind farms, you’ll contribute to reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change.

Three students examining a solar panel in Curtin’s Green Electric Park (GEEP) facility.
Students learning about solar energy in Curtin’s Green Electric Park (GEEP) facility.
  1. Water resource manager

In Australia, where water scarcity is a pressing issue, water resource managers are vital to ensure the efficient use and conservation of this precious resource. You may develop and implement management strategies such as rainwater harvesting, desalination, greywater recycling and aquifer recharge; or implement water-saving technologies.

  1. Climate change analyst

Climate change analysts assess the impact of climate change on ecosystems, communities, and economies. You’ll design mitigation and adaptation strategies to minimise risks, and build resilience to climate-related hazards.

  1. Urban planner

Urban planners play a crucial role in creating sustainable, resilient cities. You’ll develop land-use plans, design transportation systems, and integrate green infrastructure to promote liveability and environmental quality.

  1. Wild bee ecologist

Like Curtin’s Kit Prendergast, a wild bee ecologist is a specialist in the study of wild bees and their ecosystems. You’ll investigate the ecology and behaviour of wild bee species, enhance and restore bee habitats, and develop conservation strategies to mitigate threats such as habitat loss, pesticides and climate change.

A native bee inspecting a bee hotel nesting hole in a bushland tree.
A native bee inspecting a bee hotel nesting hole. Image credit: Kit Prendergast
  1. Cryoconservationist

These professionals are dedicated to preserving the genetic diversity of plants, animals, and microorganisms by storing their genetic material at extremely low temperatures. You’ll employ techniques such as cryopreservation to safeguard endangered species and ensure their survival for future generations.

  1. Biophilic designer

This role combines the skills of a landscape architect and an interior designer. You’ll incorporate plants and nature into architecture and interior design to enhance human wellbeing, and introduce features such as indoor gardens, living walls, water elements and views of nature.

  1. Aerofarmer

These green-fingered farmers grow crops on structures such as skyscrapers, shipping containers, or indoor facilities using hydroponic, aeroponic, or aquaponic systems to maximise space and resource efficiency. In this role, you’ll contribute to sustainable food production by reducing land use, water consumption and transport emissions.

A female aerofarmer inspecting leaves on a wall of vertical crops.
An aerofarmer monitoring plant health.
  1. Algae technician

Algae technicians ensure commercially-developed algae have a clean and safe environment. You’ll feed and care for algae, including monitoring, sorting, inspection under a microscope, weighing and data analysis. Algae is utilised in multiple industries including jet fuel, cattle feed, vegan eggs and even running shoes.

But what about the threat of AI replacing environmental job roles?

Don’t worry, humans remain indispensable in environmental careers. However, AI is augmenting parts of these roles, particularly in tasks related to data collection, analysis and monitoring. Green AI is also a growing trend, where eco-friendly algorithms are being developed to optimise energy usage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are some areas where green AI could complement your role:

  • measuring environmental footprints
  • real-time analyses, providing insights into environmental phenomena like glacier mass changes and air quality
  • biodiversity monitoring
  • AI-driven supply chain management
  • electric vehicle systems.

What qualifications do I need for an environmental career?

Most environmental careers require a tertiary qualification such as a bachelor degree from a recognised university. In addition to green skills, soft skills in design thinking, creativity, adaptability, resilience and empathy are increasingly important.

Here at Curtin University, we offer bachelor degrees in Environmental Science; Coastal and Marine Science; Agricultural Science; Agribusiness; Architectural Science; Interior Architecture; Energy Engineering; Innovation; Earth Sciences; Geography; and Urban and Regional Planning, providing opportunities to springboard your career into green industries.

In these courses, you’ll learn about sustainable and ethical food production, find ways to conserve land and marine environments, manage risks associated with global warming, and develop your problem-solving skills. You’ll learn in advanced facilities such as our Engineering Pavilion, and Resources and Chemistry Precinct, and grow your expertise through valuable, practical experiences that give you confidence in stepping into an environmental career as soon as you graduate.

Curtin Coastal Marine Science student, Brodie O’Breza undertook fieldwork in the Pilbara, working alongside environmental advisors on dingo management, turtle monitoring and the rehabilitation of native flora and protected species.

Similarly, Geography student Max Rocchi learned skills in sustainability management, mapping technologies, field research and topics like natural hazards, and new and emerging geographical theory – green skills he can apply to many careers.

A head-and shoulders image of Max Rocci wearing a white t-shirt featuring three native plants, and Brodie O’Breza wearing a patterned floral shirt and necklace.
Max Rocchi (L) and Brodie O’Breza.

Architecture students helped design the School of Design and Built Environment building at Curtin Perth, using biophilic design principles. The 6-Star Green Star Design building contains an interior courtyard that connects all five floors and has exposed mechanical, electrical and hydraulic services, including thermostats, glazing and air conditioning units to enable understanding of how buildings function.

A relaxing study space inside the Design and Built Environment building at Curtin Perth showing the use of natural materials such as wood, and natural light.
The interior of the Design and Built Environment building at Curtin Perth is a blend of natural materials and light.

From 2024, you can combine a Bachelor of Innovation with a Bachelor of Science. This double degree opens a wealth of exciting and diverse environmental career opportunities. Think new, sustainable products, green business start-ups or bringing fresh environmental perspectives to existing industries.

Beyond the classroom, avenues like Curtin Volunteers! offer ways to contribute meaningfully to environmental causes while gaining hands-on experience. And through initiatives like the Planet Positive program, all Curtin students have the opportunity to learn green skills and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Research-focused degrees

If you’re attracted to environmental research, take a look at our Bachelor of Advanced Science, which not only trains you to become a highly skilled scientist, but also enables you to apply your specialist knowledge to globally significant challenges. On this course, you’ll undertake several research experiences, including a self-directed honours project where you can add to scientific knowledge in your chosen field.

How do I get into one of Curtin’s degrees?

We offer several entry pathways into Curtin’s degree courses including ATAR, the portfolio entry pathway and through the Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Science, a course that can be used as a stepping stone to engineering and other science-related degrees. Your entry options are based on your current or predicted qualifications.

What environmental research is happening at Curtin?

A close up image of a tropical coral reef.
Coral reefs are a focus of several research projects at Curtin University.

Alongside our degrees we have research programs in agriculture and environment, energy transition and sustainable development.

In these programs, our research scientists and engineers are looking at ways to future-proof food supply chains, and creating a range of novel building materials for homes and roads, such as hybrid ‘green’ composites and biocement. They are protecting coral biodiversity, surveying seafloors, monitoring ocean noise and determining the effects of underwater noise on marine animals. And they are researching future energy production, including hydrogen storage and lithium battery technologies.

To find out more, take a listen to The Future Of, a Curtin podcast where our experts share their vision of the future.

The Future Of podcast episodes that may interest you

Green hydrogen

Is green hydrogen the key to a carbon-free energy future?


Worried about the ever-increasing amount of e-waste going to landfill?  Find out how e-waste is being recycled to remove the rare metals that are worth a fortune.

Black cockatoos

Is it too late to save our iconic black cockatoos, or is there still time to act and protect these majestic birds? 

Marine biodiversity

Discover how ‘fish fingerprints’ are playing a key role in oil spills, and the impact of rising sea temperatures on marine life.

Ecological restoration

How did a simple molecule found in smoke change the way we regenerate native plants?

I’m in! What do I do next?

If you’re interested in an environmental career and studying at Curtin, visit our study pages, see information on how to apply and contact our Future Students Team on 1300 222 888 for help and advice.

To find out more about our research and facilities, visit Curtin research and relax to our podcast!

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