If you’ve thought about changing jobs to prioritize climate action, you’re not alone. Many people are even willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that’s environmentally responsible. 

This trend is especially pronounced with young people, suggesting it can only grow in the coming years: A 2022 survey found most were more likely to apply for jobs committed to sustainability, and to “avoid employers they perceive as having a negative impact on the environment.”

That last bit points to a crucial problem, though. How can you discern which employers are serious about sustainability and curbing climate change?

Many companies see value in bold-sounding claims about their environmental and climate commitments, but it’s all too common for the follow-through to prove lackluster or nonexistent. A power company might say they’re working on being “green” while donating a beehive to a school, but it doesn’t mean much if they’re still planning a new gas plant.

That’s why we created our Climate Organization Impact Guide. If you’re considering a new job, you want to go beyond window dressing. You need the context to differentiate what’s meaningful and what’s snake oil, and the language to ask worthwhile questions.

Being able to have these conversations during job interviews can also help you stand out as the candidate with not just vaguely good intentions, but impressive knowledge. So let’s get to what’s in the guide...

Our guide’s methodology

Climate change is a defining threat to so much we all hold dear, and it’s driven by greenhouse gas emissions, so we recommend starting there. How can your next role and your next employer reduce those emissions to help stop the planet from getting hotter?

In the broadest sense, there are a few sectors or through lines that matter here. First and foremost is energy, which we all depend on for everything from transportation to powering the screen you’re reading this on. Thinking critically about a company’s relationship with energy, and whether and how it’s evolving to curb emissions, can be highly telling.

Of course, not all jobs map directly to, say, using clean energy to power steel production—so we also consider cross-cutting levers that are key to accelerating the widespread deployment of climate solutions. These range from education to finance to legal work to planning to design to politics to communications. Whether you’re a creator, teacher, campaigner, or storyteller, you need not sit on the sidelines.

Indeed, we think it’s important to underscore that there is no single perfect job to address climate change: What’s right for you depends on you, what you’re good at, and your unique circumstances. Many, many others are or soon will be working on other aspects of the problem, as Beth Sawin, founder of the Multisolving Institute, points out:

“Find your place in the work to create a just and livable future and do that with care and attention, trusting in the knowledge that unseen others are also playing their roles.”

It’s also vital to consider justice: Halting climate change is a hollow victory if it comes at further expense to the people who are least responsible for it—and who are currently bearing the brunt of its impacts.

Our tier system

Our Climate Organization Impact Guide gets much deeper into the nitty-gritty here, but to give you some flavor, our definition of a Tier 1 climate job includes several considerations you want to see:

  • Exclusive: The organization doesn’t have competing internal priorities.
  • Direct: Developing and distributing climate solutions is handled in-house, not farmed out.
  • Essential: You probably can’t stop climate change without these steps.
  • Immediate: Concrete steps on today’s to-do list are much more meaningful than a hand-wavy goal for 2050.
  • Scaleable: Again, we’re talking about a gigantic problem here.

Further down our list, Tier 2 tends to feature longer-term solutions: Things like cleaning up aviation and cement and steel production.

This tier also includes CDR, or carbon dioxide removal, because although we’re going to need a lot of it to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, no amount will be sufficient if we don’t also curb fossil fuel emissions, stat. Here’s how we put it in our Learning for Action course’s class on CDR:

“When you’re thinking about deploying your talents to address climate change, it's worth asking if you want to focus on new, untested, and expensive technologies when there are so many cheap mitigation opportunities available. From a climate perspective, cutting emissions is the safer bet.”

Our Impact Guide continues with Tier 3, the kind of climate job where the impact depends on the individual organization—in other words, where sniffing out greenwashing is paramount.

Tier 4 solutions may be worthwhile, at least in some cases, but they’re not the ones we’d bet the planet on today: They include nuclear fusion, ESG investing, and certain flavors of offsets or renewable energy credits.

Lastly, with Tier 5, we have the type of job opportunity that warrants maximum skepticism—e.g. tangling with fossil fuel companies. Here, we’d urge you to ask hard questions: How much are they investing in clean energy? Can they show they’re on track to phase out fossil fuels? By when? And so on.

Standing out

Having the context and critical capacity to weigh the climate impact of different efforts isn't just a way to pick the right job—it can also help differentiate you from other candidates. That was the experience of Hilary Swaim, who's now marketing director at Agricapture:

I credit Terra.do with my ability to “keep up” in my interviews. I was able to jump right in on a conversation about the challenges of carbon markets, greenwashing, and soil carbon work. Articulating the risks of hitching the company’s success on those metrics, and listening to the CEO’s vision of the actual work to be done helped me establish trust quickly, and evaluate whether this was a place with REAL mitigation and agriculture benefit. … I do think the candid talk about the offsets market made me stick out right away.

Again, no one job or organization is perfectly suited to tackling climate change. Your skills and circumstances will undoubtedly factor into your next career move, too. Whatever you choose, be alive to opportunities to advocate for climate action, and don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good—or the getting started.

We say this having given it some thought. Since 2020, thousands of people have joined our 12-week Learning for Action fellowship, developing their climate knowledge and skills to take action in their work and communities. New cohorts start regularly, so don’t wait to apply.