So, You Want to Work in the Environmental Sector

Congrats! You’re considering working in the environmental sector, but don’t know where to start. The good news is that green jobs are on the rise; according to EcoCanada, environmental jobs are expected to increase by 8.1% between 2019 and 2029. But before committing yourself to 2-10 years of education, it’s important to understand the many different career paths within the environmental system.

In broad strokes, an environmental career is about understanding the natural world, and the human role within it. This conjures the image of a biologist wading through a wetland, collecting plants, and taking water samples. But the environmental field is interdisciplinary and has roles that encompass a diversity of education, experience, and subject matter expertise. 

Let’s explore a hypothetical focused on the Elk Valley. In the Elk Valley especially, many environmental jobs work to understand and mitigate the impacts of land use. 

Let’s say a new mine is proposed, which is expected to bring millions in profits and create several hundred jobs. Government permits are required to move forward with operations, so the mining company hires a consulting firm to investigate the potential environmental impacts of the new mine. The consulting firm employs field technicians who collect water samples and send them to an analysis lab for processing. The lab’s water chemistry specialists process water samples for chemical parameters, and taxonomists identify bug species collected. The data is sent back to the consulting firm, and senior biologists write an environmental impact report on the potential environmental risks posed by the new mine. This report is included in the mining company’s application to the government.

A team of government policy analysts assess the mining company’s permit applications to ensure they adhere to relevant regulation, policy, and legislation. During their research, they find a recently published paper by an environmental sciences professor at the University of Calgary. The professor conducted research and showed that dust from mining leads to increases in pollutants in nearby lakes. Given these findings, the policy analyst recommends that a stipulation of approval be intensive dust mitigation practices. 

The government approves the permit applications for operation, provided that the mining company includes dust mitigation measures and monitors the ecosystem for pollution. The mining company hires an environmental monitoring team, including field technicians, biologists, compliance specialists, data analysts, and project managers.

Unfortunately, after several years of monitoring, some pollutants start to exceed the maximum allowable concentrations. The government hires environmental lawyers to file a lawsuit, and the mining company is fined for environmental damages. In response to this, financial analysts specializing in ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) who work at investing firms highlight the company’s environmental liability, impacting their stock market price. In accordance with the legal proceedings, the mining company hires environmental engineers to construct water treatment plants to decrease pollution levels. 

An investigative journalist specializing in environmental issues publishes an article in a national news outlet about the legal proceedings. In response to this environmental issue, residents start a not-for-profit organization with a mission to mobilize the community towards sustainable stewardship of the region’s watershed… let’s call them the Melk Miver Malliance. They hire an ecologist to monitor water quality, a restoration technician to restore impacted areas, and an education and outreach coordinator to engage the community in environmental science. 

The hypothetical scenario outlined above encompasses more than a dozen unique roles within the environmental sector—and that’s a mere fraction of the roles that exist. If you’re considering an environmental career, make sure to explore some job boards for diverse options, look at the job requirements and necessary qualifications, and you might just find a fulfilling career  in the environmental sector.