There are two main types of green jobs: those that produce goods or services that improve the environment, and those that improve an existing business's environmentally unfriendly practices. Such jobs might focus on producing renewable energy, conserving resources, increasing energy efficiency, alleviating pollution or increasing awareness and compliance. Green jobs exist in hundreds of industries, from farming to mining and telecommunications to transportation. What's more, it's possible to have a green job without sacrificing your financial goals. If you want to work in this industry, while bringing home an enviable paycheck, consider the following options.
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One place for physicists to work, in green technology, is the solar power industry. In conjunction with chemists, materials scientists and engineers, physicists work to improve solar panel technology by making it more efficient, and using superior materials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2010, the median annual wage for a physicist was $106,370. These wages were considerably higher than those of chemists, materials scientists and even engineers. (For related reading, see The Minimum Wage: Does It Matter?)
Materials engineers, chemical engineers, electrical engineers, industrial engineers and mechanical engineers can also work in solar technology in a variety of capacities, and can expect to earn median wages ranging from about $79,000 to about $92,000. There are also numerous roles for engineers in the development of electric vehicles. According to the BLS, engineers have some of the highest starting salaries of all college graduates, and job prospects look good. All types of engineers, including civil engineers, can also work with architects to design green buildings and can expect median wages of $76,000 to $84,000.
A construction manager can work in green building and earn even higher wages than an engineer, with a median annual wage of about $85,000. Construction managers supervise all aspects of construction projects, from budgeting to planning to building, and are responsible for directing the numerous people who execute each project.
Biochemist or Biophysicist
Biochemists study the chemical processes of living organisms and biophysicists study the relationship between physics and natural organisms. The BLS projects high job growth in these two fields, and median annual wages for these professions was $86,580, as of 2010. One example of a green job in this field, is researching the effects of environmental chemicals and pollutants on human health.
Geoscientists study the physical components of the earth. They might explore for oil and natural gas in places where their extraction would be less environmentally damaging, analyze ground and surface water movement to aid in the cleanup of contaminated sites or monitor environmental quality along a coastline. The BLS predicts faster than average job growth in this field, and median annual wages for 2010 was $93,380.
Law is a highly competitive field, from law school admissions to law firm job openings. With median annual wages in 2010 of $110,590, it's no wonder so many people want to work as lawyers. The BLS expects law jobs to grow at the same rate as other jobs, but predicts faster job growth in environmental law.
Environmental lawyers work for waste disposal companies, construction firms and other businesses whose work affects the environment, in some cases defending them against lawsuits brought by the Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental lawyers may also bring lawsuits against companies that are alleged to have damaged the environment. In addition, they may help individuals and businesses to secure permission to engage in certain activities that have an environmental impact, such as building. Environmental lawyer positions in the nonprofit sector may not pay as highly as those in the private sector.
The Bottom Line
Many of the top-paying environmental jobs are top-paying jobs, period. This means that if you, one day, want to change directions or green jobs become less plentiful, you'll have skills that will transfer to a different but still high-paying position. (For related reading, see 7 High-Paid Public Service Jobs.)