Sustainable technology is a broad term, covering everything from energy production to buildings, and information technology to agriculture. Degrees in this field focus on the use of technology to solve environmental and social problems including climate change and access to clean water and healthy food. They also explore the development of more sustainable ways to produce, distribute and use goods and services.
Students interested in studying sustainable technology can pursue degrees in sustainability, environmental sciences or some form of engineering (including industrial, computer, environmental, mechanical, marine, civil or chemical). Graduates of these programs can work for organizations using science, mathematics and engineering to develop or improve renewable energy sources, design sustainable buildings and transportation, prevent or clean up pollution, grow food sustainably and access clean water supplies.
Popular Sustainable Technology Degrees
- Associate degrees in renewable energy systems or environmental studies
- Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering
- Master of Science in environmental engineering
- Graduate Certificate in environmental engineering, renewable energy, or related technological topics
Sustainable Technology Degree Prerequisites and Curriculum
Prerequisites for undergraduate degrees in sustainable technology typically include a high school diploma or GED and successful completion of high school courses in mathematics and basic sciences like Earth science, chemistry, biology and physics. Graduate degrees in sustainable technology usually require an undergraduate degree in a related discipline, such as a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, environmental sciences, engineering, chemistry, biology, physics or Earth sciences.
Although curriculum varies by program of study, students in undergraduate programs in sustainable technology can generally expect to take courses in:
- Basic sciences (such as biology, chemistry and physics).
- Environmental sciences (such as environmental biology, environmental chemistry, environmental studies, environmental management and environment and technology).
- Mathematics (such as linear algebra and calculus).
- Engineering (such as environmental, civil, mechanical, industrial, marine and computer engineering, as well as renewable energy, energy efficiency and management, green buildings, transportation technology and electricity technology).
Students may also take other courses in areas like sustainable agriculture, business management, public policy and more, though their plates tend to be full with science, mathematics and engineering/technology courses. Many undergraduate programs require a final capstone experience, internship, apprenticeship or other culminating experience that allows students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world issues. Good examples of undergraduate sustainable technology degree programs include those offered by Walters State Community College, Northwest Technical College, Rice University and Drexel University.
Graduate programs in sustainable technology typically focus on a particular technological area like engineering. Students in graduate degree programs in sustainable technology can expect to take courses in:
- Advanced sciences (such as biology, biogeochemistry, physics, chemistry, geology, marine science, computer science, environmental management and environmental technology).
- Advanced engineering (such as bioengineering, chemical engineering, marine engineering, industrial engineering, environmental engineering and computer engineering).
- Advanced mathematics and computer programming.
In addition, these programs often require comprehensive exams, as well as a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation that pertains to original research in sustainability and technology. Good examples of graduate sustainable technology programs include those at offered by the University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University and Arizona State University.
Careers for Sustainable Technology Graduates
Sustainable technology jobs show promising growth and generally fall into two categories: jobs in which employees use sustainable technologies or practices to help their employers become more sustainable, and jobs in which employees produce sustainability-focused goods and services. Opportunities in both categories are expected to grow. For example, the 2009 Silicon Valley Index revealed that green technology jobs in this traditionally tech-savvy section of California grew by 23 percent from 2005 to 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has also indicated that green technology practices are on the rise, providing a strong job outlook for graduates of sustainable technology programs. In a 2011 report, th bureau stated:
“About three-quarters of business establishments reported the use of at least one green technology or practice during August 2011… Green technologies and practices (GTP) are those that lessen the environmental impact of an establishment’s operations. About 854,700 jobs, representing approximately 0.7 percent of total U.S. employment, were held by workers who spent more than half of their time involved in green technologies and practices in August 2011.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Green Goods and Services Survey found that the highest amount of green jobs could be found in manufacturing, followed by construction — both areas in which sustainable technology degrees can be put to use. Most professionals working in sustainable technology work as environmental engineers for companies or governmental agencies or in manufacturing. Professionals in this field include general and operations managers as well as construction managers (who earn $116,090 and $82,790 per year, respectively), as well as environmental engineers (who earn an average salary of $80.090). These managers and engineers often work in the field, such as at construction or remediation sites, or in labs or offices, collaborating with planners, designers and managers.
Learn more about careers in clean technology.