What Can You Do with a Sustainability Degree?

UW Extended Campus August 4, 2021
Woman looking over green space

You’re thinking of going back to school and are interested in diving into the world of sustainability. But a question lingers in your mind: What can you actually do with a sustainability degree?

It’s a good question. With so many career opportunities and avenues available, the sustainability field can be hard to define. Here’s what you should know:

Why Get a Sustainability Degree?

Whether you’re a US Air Force electrician who spots ways to reduce waste and operation costs or a science lab manager who wants to lead your company’s sustainability program, a degree in sustainable management prepares you to excel in many career paths.

Over the years, we’ve talked with many University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management (UW SMGT) bachelor’s and master’s students and graduates, and they had a handful of reasons why they chose the 100 percent online program. Take Carter O’Brien, for example. He graduated as a UW SMGT master’s student in the spring of 2022 and is now the Assistant Commissioner for Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation: 

“I feel like whoever built this degree program understood the value it could hold for people in the working world. The program has really given me a lot of that confidence to essentially do my job beyond my initial ability, and that has been the best feeling.”

Sustainable management courses cover the subjects you would get in a typical business degree program (accounting, marketing, economics, and strategic management) woven into a curriculum that emphasizes systems thinking, ecology, natural resource management, and environmental science and policy.  

What Jobs Can I Pursue with a Sustainability Degree?

With a UW Sustainable Management bachelor’s or master’s degree, you gain a range of useful skills that can be applied to any job. And we mean any job. Here’s a sample of the careers that UW SMGT students and graduates have landed or are pursuing. Some may surprise you.

What they do: Lead and address organizational sustainability issues, such as waste management, green building practices, and green procurement plans.

National median 2023 salary: $121,000*

Preferred education level: Master’s degree

Sustainable Management graduate Amy Glawe in the labStudent example: Amy Glawe—2016 Master’s graduate

The Director of Circular Economy Programs at global packaging materials company, Pregis. “Having a master’s degree gave me the credibility I needed to earn the new title and lead my company’s sustainability program.”

What they do: Directly supervise and coordinate the activities of production and operating workers, such as plant and system operators.

National median 2023 salary: $63,000*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Student example: Nate Tillis—2015 Bachelor’s graduate

A wastewater maintenance supervisor tasked with discharging cleaner water while cutting costs.
“A lot of people think sustainable management doesn’t relate to wastewater management, but it’s a really good degree to have if you want to move up in the field.”  

What they do: Analyze financial information and prepare financial reports to determine or maintain record of assets, liabilities, profit and loss, tax liability, or other financial activities.

National median 2023 salary: $70,000*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Sustainable Management graduateStudent example: Lisa Galati—2017 Bachelor’s and 2020 Master’s graduate

A financial analyst who dreamed of keeping books for a renewable energy company.
“I got a call from a recruiter seeking professionals for a position. They contacted me based on my sustainable management education and accounts payable experience.”

What they do: Maintain U.S. national defense by serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or Reserve.

National median 2023 salary: Salary depends greatly on rank and years of service. See the latest military salary information here.

Student example: Nicholas Wengerd—2019 Bachelor’s graduate

A U.S. Air Force non-commissioned Officer in the Charge Asset Management Team who wanted to reduce waste and operation costs on base.
“The military is currently exploring ways to make its daily operations more sustainable. It’s all about doing more with less, reducing cost and waste, and improving the force through innovation.”

What they do: Work with companies and communities to develop sustainable processes that reduce strain on the environment and local residents.

National median 2023 salary: $52,300*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

UW Graduate Hired as Director at Sustain Dane After Earning Sustainability and Business DegreeStudent example: Stacie Reece—2013 Bachelor’s graduate

The first Sustainability Program Coordinator for the City of Madison, Wisconsin, who wanted to help local organizations become more sustainable. “My work harkens back to what I learned in the systems thinking course. I get really excited when people start connecting the dots about how sustainability is really good for business.”

What they do: Plans and manages energy-related projects or programs to reduce energy costs or improve energy efficiency.

National median 2023 salary: $110,500*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Sustainable Management graduate Gary GillesStudent example: Gary Gilles—2011 Bachelor’s graduate

A veteran who landed his dream job developing agricultural energy management plans. “I still use the knowledge I gained from my Sustainable Management courses. For example, I learned a lot about the challenge of aquifers running dry.”

What they do: Perform and manage research or investigations to identify, abate, or eliminate sources of pollutants or hazards that affect either the environment or the health of the population.

National median 2023 salary: $67,700*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Sustainable Management Graduate Jessie JohnsonStudent example: Jessie Johnson—2016 Bachelor’s and 2018 Master’s graduate

An environmental manager at leading global producer of styrenic block copolymers, Kraton Corporation. “The emphasis on environmental policy and sustainable management set me apart from the other candidates.”

What they do: Lead and manage insurance policies for businesses and individuals on behalf of insurance companies, including automobile, fire, life, property, and medical insurance.

National median 2023 salary: $123,000*

Preferred education level: Master’s degree

SMGT graduate AngelaStudent example: Angela Oroian—2015 Master’s graduate

An environmental insurance executive who set out to change her industry. “My master’s degree gave me more opportunities to grow. I took on a new role as a director, a promotion I got because of my professional experience, graduate degree, and deep understanding of sustainability.”

What they do: Engage in promoting and creating internal and external-facing sustainability efforts to limit threats to the environment, specific to their organization.

National median 2023 salary: $98,000*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Student example: Carter O’Brien—2022 Master’s graduate

Before becoming an assistant commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation, Carter was the sustainability officer at The Field Museum. “Personally, I am excited for what is next because the program arms you with what you need to carry out long-lasting initiatives that tackle societal and environmental problems.”

What they do: Teach science subjects to students at the secondary or high school level.

National median 2023 salary: $59,800*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Student example: Kyle White—2020 Master’s graduate

A science educator and coach. “I am looking to expand beyond the world of education into the field of sustainability management. I enjoy working to research and solve corporate social, economic, and environmental issues.”

What they do: Conduct chemical analyses or experiments in laboratories for quality or process control, maintenance of environmental standards, or other work involving application of chemistry.

National median 2023 salary: $65,000*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Lacey Bera, Sustainable Management GraduateStudent example: Lacey Alfredson—2018 Master’s graduate

An operations chemist and lab specialist at Wisconsin Public Service. “I am on my journey in the Sustainable Management master’s program while working in the demanding position of operational hydro-chemist for the Wisconsin Public Services Power Plant.”

What they do: Design or create graphics to meet specific commercial or promotional needs, such as packaging, displays, or logos.

National median 2023 salary: $54,800*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

What can you do with a Sustainability degree?Student example: Hilary Guilliams—2021 Master’s graduate

A production designer for Lovevery, an early learning platform for stage-based play products designed by child development experts. “I work full-time as a designer, and I also work on commissions and more personal pieces for my anti-cruelty Etsy shop.”

What they do: Organize, plan, and conduct tours for groups or individuals. Supervise tour staff and work with reservations representatives and sales team to schedule out events.

National median 2023 salary: $50,500*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Headshot of UW Sustainable Management graduate, Amy EblingStudent example: Amy Ebling—2017 Bachelor’s graduate

The tour supervisor at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. “I started to kind of fall in love with this idea of sustainability as it relates to craft brewing. I thought, how cool is it that these companies are focusing on how to make better beer for good people.”

What they do: Oversees the relationship between a business and its customers.

National median 2023 salary: $68,500*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Bachelor's graduate Derrick NollStudent example: Derrick Noll–2020 Bachelor’s graduate

Works as an account manager at CleaResult. “I accepted a promotion in January 2020 that I was eligible for, because I was in my final UW Sustainable Management classes, and the promotion increased my income by 55%.”

What they do: Design and execute programs that will reduce an organization’s impact on the environment.

National median 2023 salary: $49,600*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Bachelor's graduate Patrick RitchieStudent example: Patrick Ritchie–2020 Bachelor’s graduate

A business development and sustainability specialist at Solar Forma Design. “The knowledge and the experience gained through working on a number of sustainability projects both academically and professionally has positioned me to be useful to just about any business or organization that is aiming to be more sustainable.”

What they do: Ensure that all automated manufacturing equipment at an organization is properly functioning.

National median 2023 salary: $64,400*

Preferred education level: Associates or Bachelor’s degree

Bachelor's graduate Matt SomaStudent example: Matt Soma–2018 Bachelor’s graduate

Currently works as a instrumentation technician at Marathon Petroleum Company. “The UW Sustainable Management program has given me the tools to consistently apply the triple bottom line with each decision I make. This thought process has not only improved my career in my current position, but it has also made me feel qualified and confident for future promotions.”

What they do: Increases the company’s sales and satisfaction though supporting clients, closing client deals, and develop sale strategies.

National median 2023 salary: $69,600*

Preferred education level: Bachelor’s degree

Master's graduate Laura GrovogelStudent example: Laura Grovogel–2020 Master’s degree

An account executive at Bellin Business & Community Health. “The sustainable management knowledge that I have gained has contributed to my career goals in healthcare sustainability and has provided a bright outlook for the future.”

*Median salary is based on 2023 national data from Zippia,, and ZipRecruiter. Salary data does not reflect specific graduate and student salaries.

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What’s Next?

Explore the possibilities of a sustainability career. Contact a helpful enrollment adviser to learn more about the 100 percent online UW Sustainable Management bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Call 608-800-6762 or email

Programs: Sustainable Management