Environmental Advocacy: Academic Requirements, Professional Outlook

Environmental Advocacy:  Academic Requirements, Professional Outlook

Environmental Advocacy

Advocacy is working to influence public policy in social, economic, political, and cultural spheres in order to bring about justice and positive change in human rights and environmental issues. Environmental Advocacy involves both protecting the public from environmental hazards and protecting the natural world. Advocates organize a group around a cause and work to implement changes that have a lasting and positive effect. For example, a community group with an advocate (leader) may lobby state legislature and educate the public to help pass a public-health bill that they feel is important.

Environmental organizations today are striving to have the same professional skills as private and government organizations in order to be more effective Environmental Advocates. Well-qualified leaders are very important to these organizations, even on the grass-roots level. Sometimes, a distinction is made between advocates (those who speak for the public on an issue) and organizers (community leaders who empower the people to solve problems themselves), although often organizers are also advocates. Environmental Advocacy is a very rewarding field for those with strong commitments to social justice and environmental policy reform.

The Academic Requirements

Environmental Advocacy is not a common degree-granting program in universities in the US, although more and more programs have been cropping up in recent years. In addition to "advocacy," similar education and professional skills may be found in programs and courses with names like "Environmental Leadership", "Environment and Community", "Community Organizing", "Environmental Activism", "Environmental Organizations", and others.

In these programs and courses, students will learn about environmental issues, the history of the environmental movement, and the professional skills needed to be an effective advocate. Communication skills are a must, as advocates work with everyone; scientists, politicians, citizens and others. An understanding of human ecology and psychology is also helpful. You will need to be able to understand and communicate the needs of your community in order to really help them. Students should learn how to organize and run a group of advocates; this includes fundraising, interacting with the media, public speaking, and many other skills.

Students will also discuss the many ethical issues involved in the field; everything from whether to use recycled paper for flyers to why a battle over a resource is occurring. It may be helpful to get training (through class and field experience) in law, policy, democratic processes, and participating in political campaigns.

Some courses you might expect to see:

  • Corporate Globalization and Grassroots Resistance
  • Reinventing American Environmentalism: From Interest Group to Social Movement
  • Organizing to Win: Social Movement History and Strategy
  • Management of Nonprofit Environmental Organizations
  • Coalition-Building, Diversity and Solidarity
  • Sustainable Advocacy: Life Skills for the Long Haul
  • Environmental Advocacy
  • Organizing & Professional Skills
  • Environmental Law and Advocacy
  • Public Speaking and Critical Thinking
  • Intercultural Communication
  • Inequity in Society
  • Environmental Organizations and Activism

Professional Outlook

Careers in advocacy are very rewarding, because they offer a unique chance to stand up for what you believe in. Most advocates and organizers work in the non-profit sector, on local, regional, state, national, or international levels. It can sometimes be difficult to find the ideal position, so entry-level advocates should be flexible; working in other organizing or environmental jobs will give you the experience to land your dream job. Most advocacy positions require taking on a great deal of responsibility, even early on in your career, so environmental advocates and organizers are particularly susceptible to burn-out, working long hours or perhaps becoming frustrated with set-backs in the movement. Fortunately, frustration and burn-out are avoidable if you recognize and combat them. Remember to network and rely on others for help.

Long-term outlook in the field is good. Environmental organizations are increasingly interested in hiring professional organizers. However, one should be aware that the non-profit sector is greatly affected by external influences, including the state of the economy and the rate of taxation of philanthropic donators. In hard times, non-profits (like their counterparts in the for-profit sector) have to make budget cuts that may affect employee's salaries.

Here are some jobs that we've seen, all of which require experience in Environmental Advocacy:


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