THE NATURE-SMART CAREER: 11 New Jobs For a Nature-Rich Future

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of nine books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle." His newest book, "Vitamin N," offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

What if high schools and colleges helped students create a nature-rich future, helped them become outdoor entrepreneurs? By that, I don’t mean careers devoted only to energy efficiency. That’s important, but there’s a whole new category of green jobs coming and some of them are already here — nature-smart jobs.

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These careers and avocations will help children and adults become happier, healthier and smarter, by truly greening where people live, work, learn and play.

Here are some exciting careers that you – and your kids – may never have considered:

1. Nature-smart workplace architect or designer. Studies of workplaces that have been created or retrofitted through biophilic (love of nature) design show improved product quality, customer satisfaction and innovation. Successful models include the Herman Miller headquarters building, designed for abundant natural light, indoor plants, and outdoor views, including views of a restored wetlands and prairie on company grounds. After moving into the building, 75 percent of day-shift office workers said they considered the building healthier and 38 percent said their job satisfaction had improved.

2. Restorative employee health and productivity specialist. To reduce employee stress and boost morale, companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Sunset magazine promote on-site organic vegetable gardens. The company Airbus now uses wilderness retreats as a reflective catalyst for leadership training. At least one company offers weeklong nature camps for adults who need to recharge their physical, emotional and intellectual batteries.

3. Nature-smart residential builder. They’ll specialize in window-appeal (the view of nature from inside the home) — not just curb appeal. They’ll know how to place a new house in sync with the sun’s movements, use local materials to reflect the nature and history of the region, install a super-insulated green roof that can last 80 years, design for natural air-conditioning, and weave nature in homes and offices in even the most crowded urban neighborhoods.

4. Nature-smart yard and garden specialist, who will help homeowners and businesses reduce traditional lawns, and replace them with bird-attracting native vegetation, butterfly gardens, chlorine-free natural swimming ponds, organic vegetable gardens, beehives, places to raise chickens and ducks and gather eggs. As local governments continue to loosen regulations on yard farming, and as nearby production of food becomes more important, this specialty will become more popular.

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5. Urban wildscaper. Urban designers, landscape architects, and other professionals who develop or redevelop neighborhoods that connect people to nature through the creation of biophilically-designed buildings and preservation of natural land will be increasingly in demand. They will design and establish biodiverse parks, urban forests and community gardens, wildlife corridors and other wild lands. Seattle recently announced plans for a massive urban forest that will produce free food. Wildscapers will also manage wildlife populations.

6. Outside-In decorator, who will bring the outside in, creating or improving our homes to nurture health and well-being through nature: “living walls” of vegetation that purify air; indoor vertical vegetable gardens with automatic drip-irrigation systems; biophilic decorations such as twig furniture; fluorescent lights that adjust throughout the day via light sensors at the windows; bird-warning elements for windows; indoor water gardens and other living features. So will individual homeowners decorating their own homes. This goes way beyond Feng Shui.

7. New Agrarian. Who’s that? Urban farmers who design and operate community gardens. Designers and operators of vertical farms in high-rise buildings. Organic farmers and innovative vanguard ranchers who use sophisticated organic practices to produce food. The focus is on local, family-scale sustainable food, fiber, and fuel production in, near, and beyond cities.

8. Health care provider who prescribes nature. Ecopsychologists, wilderness therapy professionals, are going mainstream. Some pediatricians are now prescribing or recommending “green exercise” in parks and other natural settings to their young patients and their families. Hospitals, mental health centers, and nursing home are creating healing gardens. The Portland, Oregon parks department partners with physicians who send families to local parks, where park rangers serve as health para-profesionals. In the U.K., a growing “green care” movement encourages therapeutic horticulture, ecotherapy, and green care farming.

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9. Green exercise trainer. Exercising indoors and outdoors seems to produce different results. Even when the same number of calories are burned. Outside exercise appears to have better results, especially for psychological well-being. Green exercise trainers can help individuals and families individually or by organizing “green gyms” and family nature clubs. “People walkers” can help the elderly take a hike.

10. Natural teacher. As parents and educators learn more about the brain-stimulating power of learning in natural settings, demand will increase for nature-based schools and nature-based experiential learning, providing new opportunities for natural teachers and natural playscape and school garden designers. Librarians can be natural teachers, too, creating bioregional “naturebraries.”

11. Bioregional guide. We’ll see the emergence of the citizen naturalist who, as professionals or volunteers, help people get to know where they live. One organization, Exploring a Sense of Place in the San Francisco Bay Area, guides groups that want to have a deeper understanding of the life surrounding them. Think of these guides as nature-smart Welcome Wagons who help us develop a deeper sense of personal and local identity.

The list of possible careers can go on. Stream restorers, law-enforcement officials who use nature for crime prevention and improved prison recidivism, specialists in nature-based geriatric services.

See more examples in the comments below. Once the entrepreneurial spirit kicks in, it’s easy to start thinking of new products and services. And when people begin to consider the career possibilities of human restoration through nature, their eyes light up: here is a positive, hopeful view of the human relationship with the Earth, a way to make a living and a life.

Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of The Children and Nature Network and the author of “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age,” from which this piece is adapted, and “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”  This column was first published in April, 2012. 


Follow Richard Louv on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter

More Reading and Resources

The Nature-Rich Career: How a Child’s Outdoor Experiences Helped Shape a Young Woman’s Future

It’s Time to Redefine Green Jobs: Thoughts Following the First-Ever White House Summit on Environmental Education: Richard Louv

The Hybrid Mind: The More High-Tech Schools Become, the More Nature They Need

Don’t Tear Down that Fort: Ten Lessons (and more) that Kids Learn from Building Their Own Tree Houses and Forts — if Adults Let Them

Hope by Design: Five Great Examples of Nature-Rich Places

 A New Role for Landscape Architecture: Robin Moore

Forward to Nature: The new Nature Movement Isn’t About Going Back to Nature, but Forward to a Nature-Rich Civilization

What If We Truly Greened America?


  1. Andrea

    Outside-In decorator sounds fun!

  2. Jeffrey Willius

    Hi Richard — I appreciate all the various angles from which you’re coming at our challenge. This post reminds me that, even those of us who don’t call ourselves something green-sounding can make a difference by being teachers — academically, perhaps through our writing, or even informally, by introducing others to the wonder of Nature.

  3. Benjamin Vogt

    I started a native prairie plant garden coaching business! And always talk up the benefits to kids (and adults).

  4. Wendy Talaro

    I became and remained until recently an ecological garden/landscape designer and I got into this line of work after I earned my master’s in ecological agriculture. I’m leaving the field because I am unable to survive economically, let alone thrive while swamped by the effort to simultaneously educate clients while serving them with the services they ostensibly came to me for. I can’t claim to be self-taught as a designer; my teacher was and continues to be nature, the best instructor I could have ever wanted. Before striking out on my own entrepreneurially, what I mostly learned by unintentional example from human designers I initially worked under (or worked after by addressing design mistakes after the fact) was how NOT to do things.

    The core principle of sound garden and landscape design is to meet the needs of the plants first and foremost. All other desirable objectives fall into place with less time, money, effort, and ongoing long-term maintenance than people invest – often begrudgingly, if not resentfully – into their conventional gardens and landscapes. The frustration and struggle for desired results can for the most part be avoided. What can’t be avoided is the culturally conditioned human desire to impose our will and wants on the plants, by which we manage to get in our own way and work at cross purposes against ourselves unintentionally. Our ambivalence towards, disconnection from, and fear of nature manifest overtly as efforts to control aspects of nature and by extension, nature herself. The last laugh is on us however since all attempts to impose control will be trumped by the global warming wildcard, which is manifesting as weather pattern disruption and increased weather extremes on the micro scale observable on the ground. On a larger scale, we’re just starting to observe and track how plant and animal species respond en masse but what we lack is the ability to measure the subtle qualitative shifts in relationships between species within ecosystems. An informed systems perspective doesn’t focus on individuals or even individual species but the RELATIONSHIPS between individuals, between groups of individuals, between groups of groups, and so on.

    The most difficult aspect to teach and demonstrate about high quality nature-smart garden/landscape design that simultaneously meets the needs of plants and people is that it’s largely invisible unless one makes a concerted and conscious effort to discern patterns and principles. Nature speaks in patterns, cycles, and rhythms and we have allowed ourselves to become deaf and dumb to her language. Subjectively, people who experience good garden/landscape design can say that it looks and feels good but are hard pressed to say why. Prospective and actual clients of nature-smart designers can’t and don’t value what they do not see, appreciate, or understand.

    When I said that client frustration and struggle for desired garden and landscape results can be avoided, it’s predicated upon the sophistication of a client and his or her self-edification, otherwise it’s an uphill battle slogging knee deep through molasses to overcome the absence of literally decades of environmental literacy which American culture doesn’t inherently foster or cultivate. For the most part, clients care only about getting their garden problems solved or their irritations soothed as quickly as possible for as little money as possible. I have both observed and experienced that the “how” didn’t really matter to them although the HOW makes all the difference in the end results that clients narrowly focus upon. The HOW is the heart of the process of the manifestation of nature-smart design from concept to experiential reality and the practical application of nature-smart principles towards real world problem solving.

    Until environmental literacy becomes an epidemic and more natural to us than the immersion into the technological bath that Millennials have become accustomed to, self-employed eco-entrepreneurs and nature-smart designers looking for companies to work for are going to have a hard time finding niches that sustain them professionally and financially.

  5. Maureen Calamia

    Love this article, Richard. I was drawn to the topic of this blog because my son is entering college in September with concentration in Environmental Science/Conservation Biology. I do really hope that these avenues open up as you say. Because, as of right now, seems very tough to get jobs in this sector. But we are going in the right direction and I am hopeful that there will be lots of new emerging, green jobs in the near future.

    And, of course, I am part of this sector myself. As a Feng Shui and Bau Biologie consultant, I am an “Outside/In Consultant”. My focus is to create indoor environments that help people connect more deeply to the natural world.

    So thanks for this, Richard. I will re-post on all my social media sites!

  6. Kathleen D Robinson

    This is a very interesting article, as I am about to retire from my flower shop, and will need another lower impact career. Growing organic flowers & veggies in my new backyard is an option, and teaching folks to be locavores is a hopeful wish for me. I will be happy not to be importing chemical laden boxes of blooms from all over the world as I am now, tho now I do use local flowers as often as possible, but long winters in Maine make it difficult. I am hopeful for the next stage.

  7. Krishna

    A sprinkle of nature oriented subjects is a must for every careers of tomorrow. I see nature smart teaching as a must if we are to survive the hardship of hotter summer and colder winters, harsher lives and diseased bodies. After all a time will come when we will cherish who we are and not be bothered by what is gonna happen and the happenings beyond one’s control.

    I have youths asking me for such careers, where they will love to work, lost in their own world of happiness. After all, are we not at our best when we are happy, why should our productivity be compressed?

  8. Theresa E. Stewart

    I have met Richard Louv at Foothill College when he was first starting out with the new notion that we should get back to Nature. I am very happy to see that he has more than survived and is developing more ways all the time to reach all ages and stages of people turning their interest to Nature and understanding the importance in our own lives and in our work.

    I am working on the basic ways to teach Teachers and bringing the whole world together in understanding how deeply connected we are. We as human beings in the modern world, we have forced our square-thinking upon the Earth. Watch for my books on Natural Teaching Curriculum and you will find a whole new understanding of the Earth and how we can find ways to be much more understanding and supportive of Mother Nature.

    Thank you, Richard for forging the pathway and bringing many to follow you.

  9. Frank King

    ——Restorative employee health and productivity specialist——

    Excellent!!! Thank you so much for this; it is encouraging and motivational. I have been researching this type of thing for a few years but have not found much on the Internet, library etc. I am convinced that the natural healing that occurs in nature, especially the wilderness would be a new approach for helping the homeless who require a new approach in dealing with issues such as addiction, mental health issues, criminal justice system involvement or who have simply become discouraged to the point of giving up. I have worked in this field since 1982 and believe there are more effective, cost efficient ways of aiding those individuals that many agency programs do not know how to reach/help. The people working in these programs want to help and are a compassionate, dedicated group of people. It is my experience that we need to start looking for a new approach as it is needed!
    If you or any of your readers have suggestions or ideas I would appreciate hearing from you. My email address (if you can share this) is I live in Calgary AB Canada close to the Rockies but grew up in Manitoba and have enjoyed the wilderness all my life and know its healing and renewing qualities. Thank you for this article – it is a real breath of fresh air.

  10. Elizabeth Berry

    What a great list of career options. I respectfully add to it Feng Shui. At Touchpoints Feng Shui I practice nature-based Feng Shui emphasizing this body of wisdom’s origins in our essential connection to nature. In this approach to Feng Shui I help my clients work with principles of nature such as Yin/Yang and elements of nature including water, wood, fire, earth, and metal to create naturally balanced and supportive home and work spaces. This type of Feng Shui eliminates the “woo woo” factor that is often associated with Feng Shui. Rather, by grounding suggested adjustments in principles of nature, the wisdom is accessible and encourages a lively awareness of the benefits of being connected with nature right in the spaces where we live and work.

  11. T. Roberts

    A wonderful article! I am an educator that works in an urban setting but will always take the opportunity to get students out of the four walls in school and take field lessons in nature. By far, they learn more, bad behavior is neutralized a great deal and it’s a refreshing learning experience. As an educator, Id love to learn more about these upcoming Nature related education careers or where to find them in my area of NYC.

  12. Erin

    Thank you for this compiled list of careers aligned with nature! I don’t see the money being there yet, but earth’s drumbeats are louder and louder and more and more folks are jumping in where their hearts lead. My goal is to eventually be able to quit my desk job to provide nature reconnection exercises to caregivers who are hospital or homebound. I have a book, teaching videos, and workshops under development. If anyone would like to stop by my fledgling Facebook group,, I welcome any shared resources and input.

  13. Juliet Robertson

    Education consultant specialising in outdoor learning and play.

    When I began 7 years ago, it was the only way I could get to do what I wanted to do – creating the job from scratch. I’m interested in “ordinary” subjects and lessons happening outside such as maths, language, technology, etc.

    I am lucky to live in Scotland (UK) where learning outside and the benefits of children spending time daily in nature are recognised by our Government – still a long way to go though to ensuring this vision becomes a reality for all children.

  14. Eric

    Really like the idea of being a consultant to Cities,counties, and business!



  15. Amos Clifford

    There is also the whole field of nature and forest medicine. At shinrin-yoku we are developing and offering training and certification courses for guides who are leading walks and other outdoor activities for people with a variety of wellness and health needs, such as high blood pressure, stress, and more. We are remembering the essential need for connection with nature and mobilizing that for the health and wellness of humans and forests. A big part of our vision is to contribute to creating jobs for people who carry the calling to connect others with nature. Readers here may be interested in joining us for a walk, or for a leader training. See

  16. Jim Mumford

    Brilliant! And exactly the kind of work we do… There is still much to learn and perfect, but we are on the right track. Thank you Richard for reaffirming the value that can be yours from our green roofs, living and edible walls and interiorscaping.

  17. Ned Tillman

    These are real careers. Rich has hit it right on the nose. I have been a Bio-regional guide for the past 8 years and interest is growing. If you love history, science and talking to people about a sense of place, you might enjoy this career path.

    Author of The Chesapeake Watershed: A sense of place and a call to action

  18. Brenda Sullivan

    Hi – I am a horticulturist and horticultural therapist. I know that since 2008 work has dried up in Philly for landscaping, horticultural therapy, and education. Luckily, it seems promoting greening, nutrition, and healthy (non-pesticide/herbicide) gardening, has just improved with this year, along with the economy.

    Fact is, it does take time and education to learn about healthy living, in terms of our food and gardening practices, unless you had hippy parents like mine, who were organic about everything. Let’s hope the improvement in the economy lasts, and we can continue with this effort.

    I work at a senior community in horticultural therapy, and run a summer camp for at risk youth – and when I take the time to express these endeavors with older folks, and our new youth, they get it! We also see the medical profession finally expressing that pesticides, which are neurotoxins for insects (animals) may be causing problems for children – autism, being one of the most common these days.
    Thanks for this forum
    Brenda Sullivan

  19. Eric

    Summer Camp Designed Around Hiking, Kayaking, Fishing, etc with Free days Built into the schedule to do whatever they want (Lay in the Grass, climb rocks/trees, etc)

  20. Emina

    I have a silly question. What training is required for any of these nature-smart careers? I currently have a Master of Science degree in Environmental Microbiology and work for an environmental consulting company in a prairie city in Canada. I’m always been interested in urban design and have so many ideas for re/designing neighbourhoods, but felt trapped in that I would have to go back to university and spend another 6 years becoming an architect.

    • Richard Louv

      Thanks for the question, which is far from silly. It’s a question that I’ve asked the heads of academic programs, and they say their students are beginning to ask the same question. These potential and existing careers are varied enough that there’s no simple answer. This is one of the reasons that I’d like us to produce a “Career Guide to Connection People to Nature,” as a way to catalogue not only what jobs and careers now exist, but what might exist in the future — and to include training and college programs, recommended universities, and so forth. The best way to explore the possibilities is to monitor the Children & Nature Network’s news and commentary sections, as well as the research center. Some of these opportunities will need entrepreneurial pioneers to make them happen.

  21. Baby Miles

    Richard- Do you have current folks that you highly recommend and exist in each category? I am particularly interested in a nature-smart yard and garden specialist and an outside-in decorator. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Great article!

  22. Lovely Singh

    Richard- Do you have current folks that you highly recommend and exist in each category? I am particularly interested in a nature-smart yard and garden specialist and an outside-in decorator. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Great article!

    • Richard Louv

      Thanks for your note. Not readily available, no. But I’d recommend browsing through the back news pages of C&NN. I’ll bet you see a few examples there. Thanks much.



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