Healthy Living

How To Get A Sustainability Degree (Without Quitting Your Day Job)

I began working with brands and nonprofits — and writing about sustainability on EcoStiletto and Mommy Greenest — during what now feels like the dark ages. I was basically fumbling around, absorbing the wisdom of scientists like Arlene Blum, doctors such as Dr. Leo Trasande, and leaders including Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group and Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff. But things have changed since then. Now you can get an actual degree in sustainability, which can lead to a high-paying position. And guess what? Through asynchronous online programs, you don’t have to quit your current job to study. Want to learn more? Read on!


In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about asynchronous online degree programs, which offer classes that you take at your own pace. In 2019, I set an intention to embark on a creative endeavor that I had been avoiding for decades: write a novel. I had always used the excuse that I didn’t have enough time, blah blah blah. And then the pandemic happened and the rest of the year unfolded as a kind of cumulative what-are-you-waiting-for reminder — for everyone.

If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that there is never a right time to pursue your dreams (or every time is the right time, depending on how you look at it). So I applied to Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program, which kicked off in January. When I get my degree next year, it will have been 30 years since I graduated from UCSB and made the decision to pursue a more practical MA in journalism, rather than following my (terrified) heart into creative writing. 


What’s your passion? I only ask because if time is holding you back you should know about online and/or low-residency degree programs like the one in which I’m enrolled. They allow you to work at your own pace to pursue a degree while maintaining your current career. I just discovered a new Bachelor of Science in Sustainability program from Maryville University, which sponsored this post. I’m helping them spread the word because I wish I’d had access to these kinds of options when I first started on this path. 


With more and more companies making measurable public commitments to sustainability, businesses need people with these types of degrees. Maryville allows students to choose from three sustainability degree tracks — Environmental Science, Business, or Policy — and to learn from experienced faculty, 90% of whom hold a doctorate or terminal degree.

These types of degrees can lead to high-paying jobs in sustainability analysis or management. And these fields will continue to grow: An estimated $26 trillion is expected to be invested by 2030 for low-carbon initiatives and $17 trillion for connected city planning — and projects like these will need people. 

How are you following your dream — and has the pandemic affected it? Please share, in comments below. Thanks!

Thanks to Maryville University, which sponsored this post. For more about my editorial standards, please click here.

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