Sustainability Researcher

What is a sustainability researcher? Sustainability researchers conduct studies to develop sustainability models, indicators and best practices. They often hold advanced degrees in fields related to environmental, economic and social sustainability. Some sustainability researchers also support policy development in federal, provincial or municipal governments.

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 then 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 workday might involve:

  • Conduct surveys and interviews about the regional, economic or social factors that impact a particular issue in sustainability
  • Publish scholarly journals and reports of recent research findings
  • Prepare grant proposals to request funding for future research projects
  • Develop, organize and facilitate roundtable discussions with senior policy and business decision-makers
  • Perform online research about best practices and new technologies in sustainability, corporate social responsibility and environmental monitoring
  • Provide recommendations to internal and external clients on effective sustainable development strategies
  • Attend conferences and workshops on the latest advancements and issues in sustainability research
  • Serve on faculty committees in academic institutions and provide insight on course planning, degree requirements and perform administrative duties
  • Manage large datasets

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
  • Staying up-to-date on global news of environmental issues
  • Designing research protocols and procedures for upcoming studies
  • Contacting subject matter experts, government officials and business leaders to elicit their participation in research projects
  • Monitoring or tracking sustainability indicators
  • 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
  • Performing guest lectures at various institutions

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

Search for jobs on the ECO Canada job board.

Education and Skills

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

You may also find our Environmental Professional (EP) designation useful.


Hard/ Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)

  • Computer-aided design
  • 3-D modelling
  • Marketing
  • Compiling data
  • Knowledge of environmental legislation and regulations

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • Attention to detail
  • Creativity
  • Project management
  • Oral and written communication
  • Self-starting

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch at our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Your Impact

One of the main roles of a sustainability researcher is to improve public awareness of what sustainability really is. This can be done through roles in academia, speaking at environmental conferences, or providing scholarly journals.

Research completed by those working in sustainability helps ensure that future generations and people in other industries that may have a direct impact on the environment, are well-equipped with the necessary information to create more sustainable environments.

This can include creating more sustainability courses in academia for students to take or acting as an advisor for business ventures to ensure that everyone is more environmentally aware.

In addition, creating more sustainable environments reduces costs whilst simultaneously creating more prosperous environments for people and wildlife to thrive in.

Occupational Classification

Individuals employed as sustainability researchers may be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 4011- University Professors and Lecturers

NOC Code: 2121- Biologists and Related Scientists

NOC Code: 4161- Natural and Applied Science Policy, Researchers, Consultants and Program Officers

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.

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