Earning a Master's in Sustainability Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Sustainability Online?

The sustainability field is relatively new and growing in popularity. Sustainability degrees come in a variety of different fields including environmental science, public policy, business, engineering, and technology. Sustainability degrees blend concepts of science, economics, and social sciences to develop efficient business practices and lessen negative environmental impacts. Professionals in this industry have a desire to enact meaningful change and a passion for advocating for the environment. Many sustainability positions only require a bachelor's degree; however, earning an online sustainability master's degree opens the door to better wages and career opportunities.

Whether you prefer an online or traditional program, you can choose from a variety of sustainability degrees. A few of the most common are the environmental engineering science master's degree, sustainability and environmental policy master's degree, and the sustainability leadership and management master's degree. Earning a master's in sustainability online offers convenience and flexibility. Online programs use the same curriculum as traditional programs so you receive the same education without having to commute to campus.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Sustainability Graduates

Master's in Sustainability Salary

An online sustainability master's or an online master's in sustainable development are applicable for jobs across a variety of industries. A few of the top-paying industries are customer service management, engineering, consulting, education, architecture, and software. Average salaries in these industries range from $50,398 in customer service management to $71,216 in engineering. Your industry-related experience also impacts your earning potential. In general, the less experience you possess the less you earn. As you gain more experience and become a seasoned industry professional, you may see wages plateau. To enhance your earning potential or career opportunities, consider certification in your field or a doctorate.

Top-Paying Industries for Master's Degree in Sustainability Holders

Industry Annual Mean Wage
Customer Service Management Solutions $50,398
Architectural Services $50,868
Education $51,546
Consulting $58,353
Environment, Conservation, or Wildlife Organization $60,000
Software Services $62,500
Engineering Services $71,216

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pay by Experience Level for a Master's Degree in Sustainability

  • Less Than One Year:
    $57,391
  • Entry-Level (1-4 Years):
    $53,822
  • Mid-Career (5-9 Years):
    $65,939
  • Experienced (10-20 Years):
    $65,000

Source: PayScale

Master's in Sustainability Careers

A master's in sustainability opens up a variety of career opportunities in several industries, whether students pursue a master's in sustainable agriculture online or a master's in sustainable design online. A few common positions include a sustainability consultant, energy manager, program director, or energy engineer. In general, working in sustainability requires a strong desire to initiate positive changes for the environment and society through conscientious business or policy decisions. Successful sustainability professionals also possess strong leadership skills and the ability to convince business leaders to implement sustainability initiatives.

Sustainability Consultant

Annual Median Salary: $62,126

A sustainability consultant helps organizations develop environmentally friendly business practices. Some key tasks include conducting energy audits and examining components of a supply chain to find ways to cut waste. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that this position requires a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a science-related field; however, you may need a master's degree to advance in your career.

Program Director, Nonprofit

Annual Median Salary: $53,911

A program director focuses on obtaining funding and ensuring efficient spending. Key tasks include preparing budgets, evaluating program policies, supervising management, and overseeing the hiring and firing process. A master's degree is not necessarily required, but sometimes preferred.

Sustainability Manager

Annual Median Salary: $70,861

The sustainability manager spearheads an organization's efforts to create and implement sustainability initiatives. They analyze an organization's energy consumption and processes to identify improvement areas. Managers also track the progress of their initiatives and make corrections as needed. Typically considered upper management, this position may require a master's degree, though requirements vary depending on the employer and industry.

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Coordinator

Annual Median Salary: $56,818

An environmental health and safety coordinator strives to create and enforce workplace safety. This is a key factor in sustainability initiatives because a safe workplace generally results in higher efficiency and less waste. EHS coordinators work closely with human resources and leadership teams to enact their initiatives throughout an organization's day-to-day operations. This role typically requires only a bachelor's degree; however, a master's may be preferred, especially for advancement opportunities.

Energy Manager

Annual Median Salary: $76,383

An energy manager evaluates an organization's energy use and develops programs to create more efficient processes to reduce energy consumption. This individual also tracks a company's progress by preparing energy reports and suggesting corrective actions. A master's degree is not typically required for this position, but many positions require industry experience. A master's degree could replace or reduce work experience requirements depending on the industry.

Source: PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Sustainability Program?

A master's degree in sustainability usually takes 1-2 years to complete. The concept of sustainability covers a broad range of topics and industries so specific degree programs may vary depending on the industry focus. For example, degrees may cover sustainability topics in engineering, environmental policy, or business management. Before researching programs, determine your desired career path to ensure you choose the right program.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Sustainability

Foundations of Sustainability

Courses teach students the basic concepts of sustainability and the industry's current theories and practices. Topics cover sustainability challenges, including laws and regulations across a variety of industries, such as government, business, and conservation. Students also learn how to research market trends and opportunities for sustainability initiatives.

Sustainability Leadership

Courses prepare students to lead and create effective change. Students can expect to review case studies and practice concepts through exercises covering a variety of situations involving sustainability in the business, government, or conservation sectors. In general, courses allow students to consider a scenario, create a solution, and successfully negotiate with government officials or business leaders to implement their plan.

Policy, Law, and the Ethics of Sustainability

Courses provide an overview of current policies and laws to protect the environment and enforce sustainable business practices. Topics also include understanding carbon footprint and how it is measured. Students examine the role of government agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, in preservation and policy development.

The Natural Environment

Courses teach students about the basic concepts of the environment including weather, climate, energy, ecosystems, and how humans impact natural systems. Students learn about pollution, toxicity, and natural capital. Courses teach students the importance of evaluating business practices to determine how they impact the environment and identify sustainability solutions without negatively impacting profitability.

Economics of Sustainability

Courses explore basic economic topics including globalization versus localization, micro and macro concepts, and trade theories. These courses help students understand the implications of sustainability in key economic areas and how to see sustainability as natural capital that nations should preserve and grow.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Sustainability Prepares For

  • Certified Energy Manager: Common careers that may require a CEM are energy engineer, project engineer, energy manager, and director of engineering. Before you can apply, you must meet certain educational and industry-related work experience requirements. For example, you must have a four-year engineering or architectural degree and at least three years of experience. If you hold a different degree type, you need more industry-related experience. If you meet the requirements, you must submit an application, attend a CEM training seminar, and pass an open book exam.

  • ISSP Sustainability Associate: Individuals new to the sustainability field and those in other industries who incorporate sustainability in their workplaces can earn the ISSP-SA. To get this certification, you must pass the ISSP-SA exam. You don't typically need this certification for employment in the sustainability field; however, certification shows employers you possess extensive sustainability skills and knowledge which may give you a competitive advantage in the job market or increase your chances of career advancement.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations allow members to network and stay current on the latest industry research, trends, and technology advancements. Many professional organizations also offer educational resources and opportunities for certification or licensing, which can give a competitive advantage on the job market. You typically don't need certification to work in sustainability, but some employers prefer it. Certification prepares you for career advancement opportunities.

  • The Association of Energy Engineers: This nonprofit professional society aims to promote scientific and educational pursuits to enhance the sustainability field. The association offers members live and online seminars in addition to conferences where members can network and learn the latest industry news. The AEE also publishes three technical journals that provide the latest information on industry technology.

  • Energy Management Association: EMA strives to advance the quality of energy management products and services. The association provides members access to training and certification as well as webinars that allow members to collaborate with industry professionals and learn about the latest trends in the energy industry.

  • International Society of Sustainability Professionals: ISSP gives industry professionals the resources they need to improve their skills. The group offers education, certification, and access to the latest research. ISSP also hosts virtual member events where members can network and discuss industry trends.

  • Net Impact: A global network of more than 400 local chapters located in companies, communities, and at universities, Net Impact teaches leadership skills and inspires action through campaigns and programs that challenge groups to initiate sustainability concepts in their communities. Net Impact hosts an annual conference dedicated to inspiring industry professionals and giving attendees networking opportunities.

  • Global Reporting Initiative: This nonprofit sets the standard for sustainability reporting. The group works with governments and organizations to help them understand their environmental impact and develop plans to integrate more sustainable practices. GRI hosts global conferences that allow attendees to network and learn about the latest trends and products. The nonprofit also offers an online news center where members can access the latest industry news.

  • Environmental Protection Agency: The EPA is a great source for both industry professionals and students. The organization's website offers a variety of information about environmental laws and regulations along with tools to help people, organizations, and governments develop and maintain sustainable communities.

  • The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education: The AASHE provides students and industry professionals with information on sustainability programs and how to implement them. The association also hosts workshops where professionals can network and learn about the latest news and industry trends.

  • Sustainable Communities Online: Sustainable Communities Online offers tools and resources on how to develop sustainability practices in communities, governments, and organizations. This resource also offers information on how to form strategic partnerships to create successful sustainability initiatives.

  • World Wide Science: World Wide Science is an excellent tool for students and industry professionals researching sustainability. The site allows users to search scientific topics across multiple databases and uses federation search and translation technologies to compile results and link users to original sources.

  • National Council for Science and the Environment: The NCSE aims to enhance the process of developing, implementing, and maintaining environmental policies and initiatives. The council's website offers a variety of resources including reports, webinars, newsletters, and publications where users can learn about the latest industry research and trends.