What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image shows a woman standing in ankle deep water wearing big yellow boots, a hat, and a special glove. She is holding different beakers, and she appears to be in an exotic jungle. Text reads: "A day in the life of an environmental scientist: collect and analyze samples of soil, water, air, and other materials. Develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems. Provide guidance to the public, government organizations, and businesses to mitigate environmental and health hazards. Median annual salary: $69,400"

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon Â© The Balance 2019

Environmental scientists identify hazards to the environment or to the health of the earth's inhabitants, such as pollution. They also help create solutions to protect the environment by eliminating these hazards, or at least decreasing their harmful effects.

Environmental Scientist Duties & Responsibilities

The job generally requires the ability to do the following tasks:

  • Determine data collection methods, then collect and analyze samples of soil, water, air, and other materials
  • Conduct fieldwork to investigate the nature and extent of soil, sediment, groundwater, and other media contamination
  • Develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems
  • Perform program research, planning and development, permitting, compliance monitoring, inspections/enforcement, and technical support services in relation to air, water, waste, federal facilities, corrective action, mining, biology, and other environmental programs
  • Write reports that present research findings and guidance to stakeholders
  • Provide guidance to the public, government organizations, and businesses to mitigate environmental and health hazards

Different types of specialists exist in the broad environmental scientist category, including climate change analysts, environmental health and safety specialists, environmental restoration planners, industrial ecologists, and environmental chemists. Exact duties will vary depending on specialty.

Environmental Scientist Salary

An environmental scientist's salary can vary depending on location, experience, and employer.

  • Median Annual Salary: $69,400
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $122,510
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $41,580

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Education Requirements & Qualifications

  • Education: You should be able to get an entry-level job with a bachelor's degree in environmental science. Alternatively, you can begin your career with an undergraduate degree in biology, engineering, chemistry, or physics. A master's degree is usually required to advance in this field.
  • Certifications: Environmental scientists who work with hazardous waste removal may be required to have the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration's HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) Certification. Other professional certifications are voluntary and vary by area of expertise. They can help increase your career advancement opportunities. They include CPESC (Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control) and Certified Wetland Delineator.

Environmental Scientist Skills & Competencies

To work as an environmental scientist, you will need certain soft skills in addition to the technical skills you will learn in school:

  • Communication skills: Excellent verbal communicationlistening, and writing skills will allow you to share research findings with your colleagues.
  • Critical thinking skills: To solve problems you will need the ability to weigh the merits of possible solutions.
  • Analytical skills: You will need to analyze your research findings and be able to understand colleagues' findings.
  • Self-discipline: You'll frequently have to work independently, which will require you to be very focused and motivated.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment to grow at 11 percent through 2026, which is faster than the 7-percent average for all occupations.

Work Environment

Environmental scientists work in offices and laboratories. Some do fieldwork outdoors, and some must travel to meet with clients or present research findings.

Work Schedule

Jobs in this field are usually full time but often include working more than 40 hours a week.

Find out if you have what it takes to do the job by taking this quiz: Should You Become an Environmental Scientist?

Comparing Similar Jobs

Those interested in becoming environmental scientists may also consider the jobs below, which are listed with their median salaries.

  • Conservation scientists and forester: $60,970
  • Environmental engineer: $86,800
  • Environmental science and protection technician: $45,490
  • Occupational health and safety specialist: $67,720