Sustainability Researcher

Sustainability Researchers often hold advanced degrees in fields related to environmental, economic and social sustainability. As thought leaders and innovators, Sustainability Researchers conduct studies to develop sustainability models, indicators and best practices. These practitioners are often employed at think tanks, research institutions, and not-for-profit organizations that lead research and advocacy in sustainability. Some Sustainability Researchers also support policy development in federal, provincial or municipal governments.

Woman smiling over her shoulder while sitting at her desk in a bright office

At a glance

Imagine yourself setting in a conference room with ten members of the local community. You’re leading the first of three different focus groups in which you’ll develop a better understanding of local perceptions, concerns and priorities for the regional government’s plan to build wind turbines in the area. As you listen carefully to the participants’ animated discussion, you take detailed notes on key themes that you’ll follow-up on in the next session.

Once today’s focus group has ended, you’ll return to your office and summarize vital points from your recording of the discussion. You’ll spend a few hours reviewing a new report on the costs and benefits associated with wind energy projects. The findings from this secondary research will inform the final report you’ll write later this month about best practices for the government’s future wind energy project.

As a Sustainability Researcher, your colleagues, clients and employer can count on you to provide the latest information and insights on the key drivers of sustainability, from major technological innovations to recent policy changes and local community needs.

Job duties

For a Sustainability Researcher, a typical work day might involve:

  • Conducting surveys and interviews about the regional, economic or social factors that impact a particular issue in sustainability.
  • Writing reports of recent research findings.
  • Preparing grant proposals to request funding for future research projects.
  • Developing, organizing and facilitating roundtable discussions with senior policy and business decision makers.
  • Performing online research about best practices and new technologies in sustainability, corporate social responsibility and environmental monitoring.
  • Providing recommendations to internal and external clients on effective sustainable development strategies.
  • Attending conferences and workshops on the latest advancements and issues in sustainability research.

Work environment

Sustainability Researchers work in a variety of locations, such as:

In the office:

  • Analyzing data from tests to measure energy efficiency, resource consumption and emissions 
  • Reviewing recent reports from other experts in the field on sustainable technologies, practices and policies
  • Designing research protocols and procedures for upcoming studies 
  • Contacting subject matter experts, government officials and business leaders to elicit their participation in research projects
  • Developing and monitoring budgets to manage the costs and staff time required for studies in progress

In the field:

  • Conducting experiments and collecting samples to measure resource use and potential environmental contamination or pollution
  • Meeting research participants on-site to conduct interviews and focus groups

Where to work

Most Sustainability Researchers work at:

  • Research institutions
  • Think tanks
  • Non-government organizations (NGOs)
  • Post-secondary educational institutions
  • Private sustainability consulting firms
  • Federal, provincial or municipal governments

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as a Sustainability Researcher, you should have a strong interest in:

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Social Studies
  • Economics

As a minimum, most Sustainability Researchers have an undergraduate degree. Many also hold graduate degrees, since a high level of subject matter expertise is required for this type of work. If you are a post-secondary student interested in working as a Sustainability Researcher, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Environmental Studies
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Natural Resources & Conservation
  • Law (specializing in Environmental Law)
  • Public Policy


On average, Sustainability Researchers receive annual starting salaries of approximately $53,000 per year in Canada. Sustainability Researchers with more experience may earn about $61,000 annually.