Disclosure: Human Rights Careers may be compensated by course providers.

Environmental Justice Jobs: Our Short Guide

Environmental justice has become a more mainstream concept due to worsening climate change, but it has a long history. What is it, exactly? In brief, environmental justice is achieved when everyone – regardless of race, ethnicity, income, etc – is equally involved and considered when environmental laws and policies are developed. The UNDP gives a more detailed definition in a 2014 report. Environmental justice is “a mechanism of accountability for the protection of rights and the prevention and punishment of wrongs related to the disproportionate impacts of growth on the poor and vulnerable in society from rising pollution and degradation of ecosystem services, and from inequitable access to and benefits from the use of natural assets and extractive resources.”

Many careers center on the different aspects of this definition, such as protecting rights, punishing wrongs, and working for equitable access. In this short guide, we’ll give a history of environmental justice, describe what kinds of jobs are available, and explain what qualifications you’ll need.

A brief history of the environmental justice movement

The environmental justice movement began in the United States. In the late 1970s, residents of a Black middle-class neighborhood in Houston learned that Texas planned to put a solid-waste facility in the community. Robert Bullard, a sociologist, discovered that Black neighborhoods were home to 14 of the city’s 17 industrial waste sites. These findings were the first to show that infrastructure that harmed the environment was more likely to end up where minority populations lived. In 1987, a study found this was true nationwide: race was the best predictor of whether someone’s home would be near a toxic waste site.

Environmental justice has since gone global. The need for it is clear. Vulnerable groups everywhere are disproportionately affected by the environmental impacts of mining, oil extraction, dam construction, toxic waste disposal, and more. Many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (such as affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, climate action, and good health) align with the goals of environmental justice. For those passionate about human rights, sustainability, and making the world a better, safer place to live, environmental justice is a great field to go into.

Examples of jobs in environmental justice

Environmental justice is an interdisciplinary field that includes law, political science, economics, public health, urban geography, geoscience, and more. Here are some specific jobs that fit within the field:

Sustainability manager

Sustainability managers focus on how to make organizations (like corporations) more sustainable, efficient, and environmentally friendly. Their responsibilities include researching and developing environmentally-friendly policies and initiatives, enforcing these policies, and making sure the organization is complying with industry regulations and laws. Because “manager” is a leadership role, you will most likely need a master’s degree. Many universities are offering MBAs in sustainable management or relevant fields. According to ZipRecruiter, sustainability managers in the United States make around $82,000/year on average. Salaries can go as high as $128,500 or as low as $51,500.

Environmental lawyer

Because environmental law is so complex, lawyers wanting to work in environmental justice need to specialize in it. Environmental lawyers work in legal areas like water law, climate change law, clean technology, public land management, and so on. They often work for federal agencies defending the government from accusations of environmental harm, but for lawyers who want to focus on environmental justice, there are nonprofit groups and environmental justice coalitions. Environmental lawyers can also work in private practice. According to Comparably, environmental lawyers in the US make an average of $181,586 a year. The middle 57% makes between $168,699 and $378,751.


Geoscientists specialize in the earth and its natural resources. They study the earth’s structure and physical aspects like metals, petroleum, groundwater, and more. Most geoscientists focus on areas like engineering and environmental sciences. Oil and gas extraction companies employ the most geoscientists. Engineering firms, management consulting firms, scientific firms, and technical consultants also hire geoscientists. On the environmental justice side, geoscientists often work with other environmental specialists on cleaning projects. According to Zippia, geoscientists in the US make an average annual salary of $92,000. Salaries go as high as $151,000 and as low as $56,000.


Hydrologists study water. They research the distribution, circulation, and physical properties of both surface and underground water. Along with other scientists and environmentalists, they work to preserve clean water and find more groundwater sources. They collect surface water, monitor and process hydrologic data, conduct studies on watershed and stormwater, and assess water safety. Most hydrologists are employed by federal and state governments. According to the 2021 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, hydrologists earn a median salary of $84,030. Salaries can go as high as $135,170 and as low as $51,120.

Conservation scientist

Conversation scientists manage the land quality of places like parks, forests, and rangelands. They work closely with landowners and governments. Responsibilities can include supervising other conservation workers, evaluating data on forest and soil quality, assessing damage after fires and storms, developing forest management plans, and negotiating terms for land-use contracts. Conservation scientists mostly work for local, state, and federal government agencies. According to CareerExplorer, this role pays an average annual salary of $64,020 in the United States. Scientists can make up to $100,350 or as little as $39,230.

Agricultural engineer

Agricultural engineers can specialize in a handful of areas, but this job typically focuses on the science of food and farming. Many design and test agricultural machinery. Others design food storage structures, food processing plants, and housing for livestock. Agricultural engineers can also focus on water quality and pollution projects, land reclamation projects, or agricultural waste-to-energy projects. As climate-driven food insecurity worries the world, agricultural engineers are in demand. They work with the government, food manufacturing corporations, and agriculture machinery manufacturing organizations. According to Salary.com, agricultural engineers in the US make an average of $72,332/year. Salary can go as high as $105,194 and as low as $44, 734.

Environmental justice organizations

Where can you find jobs focusing on environmental justice? In our list above, state and federal governments are common employers for people specializing in areas like water, soil, and land management. There are many non-governmental organizations to consider, too. Here are some examples:


This international development charity focuses on Sustainable Development Goal 7, which calls for access to “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” SolarAid owns the social enterprise, SunnyMoney, which is the largest seller of solar lights in Africa. The charity’s goal is to power every home, school, and clinic in Africa by 2030 with solar power.


TreePeople is an educational and training environmental advocacy organization. Based in Los Angeles, California, the organization supports and advocates for sustainable urban ecosystems. The group also promotes urban watershed management, green infrastructure, and water conversation.

Climate Justice Alliance

CJA is a non-governmental collective of 70+ rural and urban community organizations. Its areas of focus include sustainability, economic development, poverty alleviation, and race and ethnicity. The alliance’s overall goal is to stop climate change.

Reef Check

Reef Check is an international NGO committed to conserving tropical coral reefs and California rocky reefs. Based in California, the group uses data from volunteer scuba diver teams. According to Reef Check’s website in 2022, their EcoDiver teams work on the Tropical Program in 102 countries.

How do you start working in environmental justice?

Nearly all environmental justice jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. What degree works best depends on what field you want to go into. A hopeful environmental lawyer will want a different undergrad degree than a potential geoscientist. For master’s degrees, there are universities offering specific programs in environmental justice or aligned with environmental justice. Lancaster University has an MSc in Environment and Development and an MA in Political Ecology. The University of Leeds has an MSc in Sustainable Cities. The University of Strathclyde’s Department of Law offers an LLM, PGDip, and PGCert in Global Environment Law & Governance.

Once you have an education, you’ll want to build as much relevant experience as you can. Landing a “green” internship is often a difficult achievement, so don’t be too discouraged if you can’t find something that fits exactly what you’re looking for. To start, make a list of organizations working in the field you’re interested in and apply for any internships they’re offering (assuming you’re eligible). Even if the internship isn’t especially relevant to what you want to end up doing, you’re working with a relevant organization. You can also gain experience through volunteering.

Another way to develop your skills an knowledge are online courses. A variety of universities offer courses in environmental justice and related topics.

Skills you’ll need to work in environmental justice

With the increasing need for more sustainable, environmentally-friendly systems and economies, environmental justice jobs and “green” jobs are becoming more essential than ever. Besides a good education and experience, employers want job candidates to possess certain skills. You’ll no doubt be familiar with many of them – good communication, an ability to work in a team, etc – but environmental justice is a unique field where some skills are especially valuable.

Many environmental justice jobs involve science and data analysis, so you’ll want to sharpen your skills in these areas. According to a World Economic Forum blog on green jobs of the future, the future “green economy” will depend on workers with strong backgrounds in science. Employers are also looking for workers with architectural and planning skills, green engineering skills, and knowledge of green technology like solar panels and wind turbines. You’ll also want a deep knowledge of environmental regulations, policies, and laws, as well as expertise in the intersection of the environment and human rights.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.