Environmental scientists and specialists held about 80,000 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of environmental scientists and specialists were as follows:
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||26%|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||22|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||14|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||7|
Environmental scientists and specialists work in offices and laboratories. Some may spend time in the field gathering data and monitoring environmental conditions firsthand, but this work is much more likely to be done by environmental science and protection technicians. Fieldwork can be physically demanding, and environmental scientists and specialists may work in all types of weather. Environmental scientists and specialists may have to travel to meet with clients or present research at conferences.
Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work more than 40 hours a week when working in the field.
For most jobs, environmental scientists and specialists need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science.
Education and Training
Environmental scientists and specialists typically need a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a related natural resources field. However, a master’s degree may be needed for advancement. Environmental scientists and specialists who have a doctoral degree make up a small percentage of the occupation, and this level of training typically is needed only for the relatively few postsecondary teaching and basic research positions.
A bachelor’s degree in environmental science offers a broad approach to the natural sciences. Students typically take courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. Students often take specialized courses in hydrology or waste management as part of their degree as well. Classes in environmental policy and regulation are also beneficial. Students who want to reach the Ph.D. level may find it advantageous to major in a more specific natural science, such as chemistry, biology, physics, or geology, rather than earn a broader environmental science degree.
Many environmental science programs include an internship, which allows students to gain practical experience. Prospective scientists also may volunteer for or participate in internships after graduation to develop skills needed for the occupation.
Students should look for classes and internships that include work in computer modeling, data analysis, and Geographic Information Systems (GISs). Students with experience in these programs will be the best prepared to enter the job market. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) offers several programs to help students broaden their understanding of environmental sciences.
As environmental scientists and specialists gain experience, they earn more responsibilities and autonomy, and may supervise the work of technicians or other scientists. Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or some other management or research position.
Other environmental scientists and specialists go on to work as researchers or faculty at colleges and universities. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Environmental scientists and specialists can become Certified Hazardous Materials Managers through the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management. This certification, which must be renewed every 5 years, shows that an environmental scientist or specialist is staying current with developments relevant to the occupation’s work. In addition, the Ecological Society of America offers several levels of certification for environmental scientists who wish to demonstrate their proficiency in ecology.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Environmental scientists and specialists often begin their careers as field analysts, research assistants, or environmental science and protection technicians in laboratories and offices.
Some environmental scientists and specialists begin their careers as scientists in related occupations, such as hydrology or engineering, and then move into the more interdisciplinary field of environmental science.
Environmental scientists and specialists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as an environmental scientist and specialist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Environmental scientists and specialists should also possess the following specific qualities:
Analytical skills. Environmental scientists and specialists base their conclusions on careful analysis of scientific data. They must consider all possible methods and solutions in their analyses.
Communication skills. Environmental scientists and specialists may need to present and explain their findings and write technical reports.
Interpersonal skills. Environmental scientists and specialists typically work on teams with scientists, engineers, and technicians. Team members must be able to work together effectively to achieve their goals.
Problem-solving skills. Environmental scientists and specialists try to find the best possible solution to problems that affect the environment and people’s health.
Self-discipline. Environmental scientists and specialists may spend a lot of time working alone. They need to be able to stay motivated and get their work done without supervision.
The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $76,530 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $129,070.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for environmental scientists and specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$103,530|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||75,810|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||75,000|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||67,710|
Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work more than 40 hours a week if they work in the field.
Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 7,800 openings for environmental scientists and specialists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Heightened public interest in hazards facing the environment is projected to create demand for environmental scientists and specialists. These workers will continue to be needed to analyze environmental problems and develop solutions that ensure communities’ health.
Businesses are expected to continue consulting with environmental scientists and specialists to help reduce the impact of their operations on the environment. For example, environmental consultants help businesses to develop practices that minimize waste, prevent pollution, and conserve resources. Other environmental scientists and specialists will be needed to help planners develop and construct buildings, utilities, and transportation systems that protect natural resources and limit damage to the land.
For more information about environmental scientists and specialists, including training, visit
American Geosciences Institute
For more information about certification as a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager, visit
Institute of Hazardous Materials Management
For more information about certification as an ecologist, visit
For information about environmental health specialists and related occupations, visit
National Environmental Health Association