What Do Environmental Scientists Do? Exploring the Roles and Responsibilities of Environmental Scientists


Environmental science is a crucial field that focuses on understanding and addressing various environmental issues. From air and water contaminants to climate change and biodiversity loss, environmental scientists play a vital role in protecting the planet’s natural resources and human health.

In this article, we will explore the diverse roles and responsibilities of environmental scientists and the skills and qualifications required to pursue a career in this field. But first, what is the field of environmental science?

Timeline of the Development of Environmental Science

The roots of environmental science can be traced back to the early conservation and preservation movements of the 19th and 20th centuries and are still evolving today. Here is a timeline of its evolution:

  • 19th Century – Many people began to realize the harmful impacts of industrialization and human activities on the environment. The need for scientific research and management practices to protect natural resources emerged.
  • 1872 – The establishment of Yellowstone National Park became one of the earliest conservation efforts. It was created to preserve the natural beauty of the area. Other parks and protected areas soon followed, and the conservation movement gained momentum.
  • 20th Century – The use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture led to concerns about their impact on human health and the environment.
  • 1962 – The publication of Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” brought these concerns to the forefront of public consciousness.

Because of the field’s rapid growth, there are many disciplines to choose from. Here are 6 key disciplines within the field of environmental science.

6 Key Disciplines Within Environmental Science

The field of environmental science encompasses a wide range of interconnected disciplines. Below is a table of 6 key disciplines available to explore:

Discipline  What they do
Ecology Ecologists study the relationships between organisms and their environment. They investigate topics such as food webs, nutrient cycling, and ecosystem dynamics
Atmospheric Science Atmospheric scientists focus on the composition and behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere. They study topics such as air pollution, climate change, and weather patterns.
Environmental Chemistry  Environmental chemists analyze the impact of pollutants on air, water, and soil quality. They investigate the sources and fate of pollutants, as well as their effects on human health and the environment.
Environmental Engineering Environmental engineers develop and implement solutions to environmental problems. They design and build systems to treat water and wastewater.
Social Science Social scientists investigate the social and economic factors that influence environmental attitudes and behaviors. They study topics such as environmental justice, sustainable development, and the role of government in environmental policy.
Environmental Policy Environmental policy experts analyze the impact of regulatory frameworks on environmental outcomes. They evaluate the effectiveness of laws and regulations in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. 

Environmental science is a complex and dynamic field that is essential for understanding and addressing the environmental challenges facing our planet today.

3 Common Roles of Environmental Scientists in Society

Environmental scientists are essential in our society. Their work involves collecting and analyzing data on the quality of the air, water, and soil; investigating the impacts of human activities on ecosystems and natural resources; and developing policies that promote sustainability and protect the environment.

Below are three common roles environmental scientists perform and why they are so important:

1. Identifying and Assessing Environmental Issues – Environmental scientists use various tools and techniques to identify and assess environmental issues. They conduct field studies, collect samples, and use statistical analysis to determine the extent of pollution and its impact on the environment.

2. Developing Solutions for Environmental Challenges – Once they have identified environmental issues, they develop solutions for environmental challenges. They design and implement programs and policies that promote sustainable practices and conserve natural resources.

Environmental scientists also work with businesses and industries to help them adopt sustainable practices and provide advice on how to reduce their environmental impact.

3. Influencing Environmental Policy and Legislation – Environmental scientists work closely with policymakers, regulators, and advocacy groups to advocate for science-based policies and regulations that promote environmental protection and sustainable development by using their research, analysis, and communication skills.

Now that we’ve covered why their roles are so important and what their responsibilities are, we’ll look at some of the diverse settings environmental scientists can work in.

Diverse Work Settings of Environmental Scientists

1. Government Agencies and the Public Sector – Environmental scientists are employed in various government agencies and the public sector, including:

They can work on a range of environmental issues, from climate change to endangered species management and environmental remediation.

2. Private Sector and Consulting Firms – Environmental scientists also work in the private sector, including consulting firms (such as FACS, for example) that provide environmental assessment, remediation, and compliance services to clients in various industries. They work on projects such as site assessments and Brownfield remediation, environmental impact assessments, and sustainability consulting.

3. Non-Profit Organizations and Advocacy Groups – Environmental scientists are also employed by nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups, including professional associations and environmental advocacy organizations. They work on issues such as:

  • Climate change
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Environmental justice

They also promote policies and regulations that advance environmental protection and sustainability.

4. Academic and Research Institutions – Environmental scientists are also employed in academic and research institutions, including:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Research centers
  • Government laboratories 

They teach and conduct research on various environmental topics, publish scientific papers, and provide scientific advice and technical expertise to policymakers, government agencies, and other organizations.

Key Skills and Qualifications for Environmental Scientists

1. Educational Requirements and Specializations – Environmental scientists typically hold a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related field such as biology, chemistry, or engineering. Some employers may require a master’s or doctoral degree for more specialized positions or research roles.

Environmental scientists may also pursue additional certifications or specializations in areas such as environmental policy, sustainability, or risk assessment.

2. Essential Technical and Analytical Skills – Environmental scientists must have strong technical skills, including knowledge of scientific principles and methods, data analysis, and statistical analysis.

They also require expertise with various software and tools used in environmental testing and analysis, which can include geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensors, and modeling tools.

3. Interpersonal and Communication Skills – Environmental scientists must also have excellent interpersonal and communication skills, including:

  • The ability to work collaboratively with other professionals and stakeholders
  • Communicating complex scientific concepts clearly and concisely
  • Engaging with policymakers to promote environmental protection and sustainability

Whether working in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, consulting firms, or academic institutions, environmental scientists play a crucial role in ensuring that we leave a healthy and sustainable planet to future generations.