Environmental accountants work for public and private entities, leveraging their accounting skills to calculate the environmental impacts of various activities. They also determine the best way to conduct business or develop projects while minimizing negative environmental impact.
Students interested in a career in environmental accounting, also known as green accounting, can pursue degrees in environmental science, sustainability, environmental compliance, or accounting with a focus on the environment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), accountants earn a median annual salary of $71,550, with some specialized accountants earning even more.
This page outlines what you can expect from environmental accounting programs, including relevant coursework and potential careers for graduates.
What Is an Environmental Accounting Concentration?
There are various paths to earning an environmental accounting concentration. For example, one program might offer an accounting degree with a concentration in sustainability, while another offers an environmental science degree with an emphasis on economic policy.
Many accounting positions require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting, so prospective environmental accountants may benefit from selecting an accounting degree with a specialization in environmental science. This path introduces fundamental accounting topics while exploring ways to protect the environment.
An accounting degree with a concentration in environmental science can lead to a variety of accounting, auditing, and tax positions. However, many accounting roles require certified public accountant (CPA) credentials, which requires a minimum of 150 college credits. Students often meet this requirement with a 120-credit bachelor's degree and a 30-credit master's degree in accounting.
Students at the bachelor's level gain a broad introduction to accounting topics. To pursue a bachelor's in accounting degree with an environmental concentration, students must usually forgo elective courses to satisfy concentration credit requirements.
Those interested in a master's in environmental accounting can choose from several options. Many institutions offer accounting degrees either as an MBA or an MS. The MBA introduces many management topics, while the MS focuses on accounting and environmental science.
While a bachelor's degree in environmental accounting leads to most entry-level accounting jobs, a master's can lead to careers in niche accounting positions, such as government or public accounting, and high-level environmental science positions.
Why Get an Environmental Accounting Concentration?
Students pursuing an environmental accounting concentration enjoy many benefits, including the following:
Learn New Skills
Between accounting and environmental science, an environmental accounting concentration conveys countless new skills, many of which help graduates secure a job.
With businesses and governments increasingly conscious of their environmental impact, environmental accountants can access many job opportunities.
Degrees often lead to larger salaries, and completing an in-demand environmental accounting concentration can significantly increase a graduate's income.
Prepare for the CPA Exam
To sit for the CPA exam, students must complete 150 college credits. Prospective test-takers can complete these credits through an environmental accounting concentration at the master's level.
Protect the Environment
Environmental accountants help companies and organizations mitigate their environmental impact.
When an Environmental Accounting Concentration Is Better Than a General Accounting Degree
Those deciding between an environmental accounting concentration and a general accounting degree should consider their career goals and personal interests. Both degrees lead to careers in accounting, though graduates with a background in environmental science may more easily secure environmental accounting positions.
When a General Accounting Degree May Be Better Than an Environmental Accounting Concentration
Students unsure of their future goals might benefit most from a general accounting degree. A general accounting degree usually includes elective courses that allow students to explore various professional interests. Learning many topics could provide graduates with more skills, making them better candidates for a wider variety of accounting positions than environmental accounting graduates.
What About Other Concentrations?
Colleges and universities offer various accounting concentrations, many of which lead to specialized careers.
Courses to Expect With an Environmental Accounting Concentration
Learners pursuing an environmental accounting concentration can anticipate taking accounting courses, environmental science courses, and some courses that combine both subjects. Most programs offer concentration-focused courses as upper-division courses. While specific course names and offerings vary by program, environmental accounting students are likely to take some version of the following courses.
Usually required early on in an accounting program, financial accounting covers methods to help investors, creditors, and clients decide where to place their finances to maximize returns. Students learn to prepare financial statements, income statements, and balance sheets. Many environmental agencies rely heavily on financial accountants.
Managerial accounting teaches learners to study an organization's accounting system and offer actionable advice to cut costs. In environmental accounting, managerial accountants search for ways to reduce emissions while minimizing additional costs.
This course introduces the U.S. legal system, with special attention to its effect on businesses and corporations. Students examine various laws, learn to maintain compliance, and develop new contracts. Because environmental accountants must adhere to ever-changing federal guidelines, this course prepares graduates for their future careers.
Offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, ethical leadership teaches business students to become ethically guided professionals who remain compliant with regulations. Environmental accountants often enter their field to promote better business ethics, so many environmental accounting programs require this course.
Sometimes offered as an elective course, environmental accounting provides an overview of the field. Students learn to approach accounting from an environmental standpoint, honing skills in cost management, managerial decision-making, and environmental analysis. Most programs also require students to complete an environmental accounting project at the end of the course.
To What Careers Does an Environmental Accounting Concentration Lend Itself?
The BLS projects a 6% growth rate for all accountants and auditors from 2018-2028, amounting to 90,700 new jobs. While accountants only need a bachelor's degree, many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree.
Job titles for environmental accountants vary, though many find work as managerial and financial accountants. According to PayScale, managerial accountants earn an average salary of $71,860, while financial accountants earn an average of $55,255 per year.
The following list outlines several common careers for environmental accounting concentration graduates.
These accountants handle all types of accounting tasks, including reporting, taxes, and auditing. Also known as CPAs, they work in nearly every industry, generally with a team of other accountants. All CPAs need at least a bachelor's degree, though employers often prefer those with master's degrees.
An expert in legal matters, a compliance officer analyzes activities to ensure compliance with laws and regulations. Compliance officers work in all types of industries, sometimes as self-employed contractors. This position requires a bachelor's degree and different professional certifications, depending on one's field of choice.
Budget analysts review the performance of an organization, analyze potential changes in costs and spending, and advise other financial professionals on budgets. In environmental accounting, a budget analyst may offer professional insight to reduce environmental damage while minimizing costs.
Financial accountants keep businesses healthy by managing income, spending, taxes, and payroll. A financial accountant also works to educate other employees to improve financial operations. Financial accountants should hold a bachelor's degree and demonstrate excellent computer skills.
Government accountants work at the local, state, and federal levels. They are responsible for managing funds, performing audits, and creating financial statements. Government accountants involved in environmental accounting might audit large corporations to ensure compliance with environmental tax laws, or analyze environmental data provided by businesses.
Selecting an Accounting Program With an Environmental Accounting Concentration
Prospective learners should consider multiple factors as they search for an accounting program with an environmental concentration. While factors such as cost or school prestige play an important role in determining a program, other factors one should consider include:
Large schools often provide exciting atmospheres and an abundance of resources. Conversely, small schools offer intimate class sizes that allow students to spend more one-on-one time with their professors.
Aside from choosing a school near home or in an area you enjoy, consider local job prospects. Colleges and universities often connect their graduates with career opportunities.
Most bachelor's and master's programs take four and 1-2 years to complete, respectively, though some schools offer accelerated programs.
As a niche field, environmental accounting looks different at every institution. Examine each school's program to find the best fit for your career goals.
Competitiveness of Admission
While prestigious programs often offer the best education and outcomes, admission to these programs is highly competitive. Consider applying to high-competition and low-competition programs, just to be safe.
Required Admission Materials
Admission requirements vary by school. While one program may not require test scores, another might set minimum score requirements for both the SAT and ACT. Consider your eligibility based on admission requirements.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does an environmental accountant do?
Environmental accountants review the environmental costs of various business and government activities. These accountants also calculate the costs of environmental regulations.
What are the types of environmental accounting?
Environmental accountants work in different areas. Some focus entirely on financial accounting, while others manage a team of accountants working toward environmental goals.
How long does it take to get a degree in environmental accounting?
A bachelor's in environmental accounting usually takes four years to complete, while a master's degree typically takes 1-2 years to complete.
What are the objectives of green accounting?
Green accountants work to minimize the negative environmental impact of activities, as well as reduce the overall cost of business.
Can you get an environmental accounting degree online?
Many colleges and universities offer online environmental accounting degrees.
Professional Organizations and Resources
Current students, recent graduates, and seasoned professionals all benefit from participating in professional organizations. Members gain access to resources like online seminars, networking events, and conferences. They can also stay updated on important environmental regulation changes and make invaluable professional connections.
AICPA With various membership levels for all types of accountants, AICPA provides members with helpful resources including industry discounts, breaking news, relevant publications, and professional development opportunities. AICPA also offers the CPA exam.
American Accounting Association The American Accounting Association is among the largest organizations for accountants in the United States. Members receive access to a vast digital library, an online career center, and discounts on continuing education opportunities.
National Society of Accountants Created for all tax and accounting professionals, NSA helps professionals advance their career. Aside from joining a vast network of accounting professionals, environmental accountants can receive assistance in starting a new practice.