Career futures: the environment, sustainability, and climate change

If you’re a member of your high school’s green club, are fascinated with how cities grow, can name the five types of ecosystems, or are concerned by the loss of polar ice, you may want a degree focused on the natural or built (human-made) environments!

A Geomatics student.

A degree for the future

Environmental degrees cover topics like geography, environmental management and protection, urban planning, environmental science, geomatics, international development, sustainability, and more.

It’s a field of study that’s perfect for people who are passionate about taking care of our cities and communities, our climate, and our Earth.

Climate change affects everything: our health, the natural environment, food and water supplies, and biodiversity. Organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization work with governments and environmental professionals to address economic, social, and ecological issues contributing to climate change.

A globe.

A global effort

Globally, governments are proposing innovative policies and making commitments to protect the planet.

The visionary Green New Deal is intended to reduce fossil fuel consumption in the United States. The Canadian government declared a climate emergency in 2019. The government of PEI has banned single-use plastic bags in the province.

There is a concerted, global effort to make changes that will reduce emissions, negate the effects of extreme weather (heat waves, drought, floods, fire), and work to maintain the health of our land and seas.


There is an urgent need for change. There’s also an urgent need for people with the skills and ideas to make change happen. Careers in clean energy, environmental science, policy making, and planning are predicted to create up to 24 million jobs in the next decade.

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges and industries where a degree in environmental studies will be needed.


  • Industry trends: how do changes in our world impact what's happening in this field?
  • Future of work: what will careers in this industry look like in the future?
  • Programs to study: what programs does Waterloo offer related to this field?

Industry trends

A planning photo.

Data to drive change

There are over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated every day. New technology gives us an opportunity to track our environment more closely with satellite imagery and sensors that track everything from water and weather to grizzly bears.

As we add "smart" monitoring to our homes, cars, streets, and factories, the amount of data will grow exponentially, and there aren’t enough people to manage, use, and analyze of all of that data.

Careers combining environmental education with data know-how will be in demand.

Data scientist, GIS (geographic information system) analyst, geomatics specialist, risk analyst will be the kind of job titles you’ll see. These jobs will be available across industries as diverse as agriculture, insurance, energy, government, transportation, digital media… really, there's no shortage of opportunity.

A body camera.

AI can help save the planet

Artificial intelligence (AI) can help save the planet. Seriously. AI involves analyzing data and creating algorithms to help machines figure out how to respond (or learn to respond) to questions or stimuli.

Using AI, researchers, communities, and governments can help improve our understanding of the world around us and develop action plans for change.

There is tremendous potential for AI to have direct and indirect impacts on the Earth.

The applications of AI appear to be limitless. If you're an urban planner, you could use AI to inform traffic light placement and traffic flows. You might help predict and stop wildfires, develop smart farming practices, or map coral reefs and help create healthy oceans. Perhaps you'll lead risk analysis and emergency planning for cities or even countries.


The environment and environmental technologies will be big business, opening up $23 trillion in opportunities.

An environment and business student.

The business of green

New policies mean change ripples down to cities, companies and even our homes. For companies, that means figuring out how to implement clean and green manufacturing and business practices. Cities – responsible for almost 70% of global energy-related CO2 emissions – will need to adapt to and mitigate climate change with smart technologies, and good advice. Even our homes will need help adopting sustainable, smart practices, and technologies.

What that means is, that the environment and environmental technologies will be big business, opening up $23 trillion in opportunities for climate and climate-smart investments by 2030. Clean energy is a big portion of the economy here. It accounts for 3% of Canada's GDP (2017) – around $57 billion – and is growing faster than the rest of the economy.

Environment student.

Meeting the challenge

Your education needs to anticipate trends, technology, and how society will change. Waterloo's Faculty of Environment works hard to ensure your education meets those needs, and to prepare you for a successful career in taking care of the environment and planning for the future of the planet. As someone with an environmental degree, you might

  • become an urban planner and develop smart cities,
  • encourage household recycling habits as a communications specialist,
  • consult with companies to help them lower emissions and increase sustainable business practices,
  • develop policies to help governments and cities meet environmental and resource targets,

If you’re interested in working farther afield, there is plenty of important, life-altering work to do around the world. You might work to empower women in Nepal, provide sustainability education in Vietnam, or explore food and nutrition security issues in the Caribbean. Oh, the places you’ll go!

The right education will let you combine your passion for the environment, sustainability, and geography with your interests: things like wildlife, oceans, computers, or city planning. That’s great, because the world needs more people to take care of the planet.

Mountains and a lake.

Among the top in the world for climate action

In its first-ever University Impact Rankings, the Times Higher Education measured the social and economic impact of over 500 universities from 75 countries related to their work on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitments.

Waterloo ranked...

A globe icon.5thin the world for contribution to climate action
A globe icon.9thin the world for sustainable cities and communities
A globe icon.13thoverall in the world (tied)

Related undergraduate programs


By 2030,100 millionpeople may be pushed into extreme poverty by climate changeThe World Bank
One in fivespecies faces eradication and scientists estimate that this will rise to 50% by 2100 unless we take urgent action.The Guardian
By 2026, 57,000of Canadian environmental professionals will retire, meaning opportunities for new graduates.ECO Canada

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