Kevin Dudney, 24, has been interested in the environment since his days as a Boy Scout growing up in Knoxville, Tenn. Four years in the smog of Houston, attending Rice University, convinced him that he wanted to work in the field of clean energy. So just before graduating from Duke University with a master's in environmental management in the spring, he accepted a job with California Public Utilities, where he'll help the state find clean energy sources for its electrical power. "I want to help society figure out what is the best way that we can continue to meet our energy needs but do it in a way that's better for human health and for the health of the planet," he says.
Graduates of the class of 2007 are finding the job market is receptive to those who want to do good by the environment. As public awareness of global warming grows, companies are scrambling to put in place greener practices, to present themselves as more eco-friendly and to develop products and services to fill a new demand for all things green. The phenomenon is creating jobs in fields like urban planning, carbon trading, green building and environmental consulting. "The environmental job market is the strongest that it's been in many years," says Kevin Doyle, president of the Boston-based consulting company Green Economy Inc. and coauthor of "The ECO Guide to Careers That Make a Difference." The labor market for recent grads is strong overall. "The biggest factor is that the baby boomers are retiring," says John Esson, director of the Baltimore-based Environmental Careers Center. But green jobs are growing especially quickly—at double-digit rates in some specialties, like consulting. The fastest-growing professions, according to Doyle's analysis of recent U.S. Department of Labor figures, include environmental engineers, hydrologists, environmental-health scientists and urban and regional planners.
Allison Shapiro, who graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in June with a concentration in environmental studies, accepted a job as a research assistant with the consulting company ICF International. The Fairfax, Va.-based firm devotes a large chunk of its business to such projects as evaluating how well congestion pricing can decrease vehicle emissions and helping manufacturing companies reduce energy use. One of the tasks Shapiro has been charged with is making sure companies are in compliance with EPA regulations. Before deciding on the offer, though, she waded through job postings on the site idealist.com, which has recently been flooded with entry-level communications positions for various green organizations, and weighed the possibility of doing soil research in Belize. "There's an overwhelming demand for people who study something environment-related to intern or work," she says. Patricia Hellyer, director of global recruiting at ICF, says the company looks for students majoring in such fields as economics, math, engineering, public policy and earth sciences, and who have excellent communication and organizational skills.
But employers and college guidance counselors say you don't have to have studied conservation biology to work in a green field. "The environment is a career that can use any major, including history, anthropology, economics, policy, law and technology," says Karen Kirchof, assistant dean of career services at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. One field that's snapping up new grads with liberal arts backgrounds is green building. Esson says architects and engineers need staff to research new materials as they become available. "They need people who are passionate about the environment and smart enough to find green building materials because they're popping up all the time. You have to verify that they're green before you pop them into a building."
Overall, climate change and the environment are such vast fields that virtually anyone with any background can make a difference. Says Kirchof: "The environmental career field is one that can use people from all disciplines. We have a great challenge ahead of us, and it's going to take all of us to find the solutions." That's a sentiment to which all new grads can tip their caps.