If you're passionate about protecting the environment and have an understanding of the realities of running a business, then a career as an environmental consultant could be for you
As an environmental consultant you'll work with organisations on a range of environmental issues. You'll offer expert advisory and assessment services to your clients with the aim of minimising or eliminating environmental damage.
You'll usually be employed by a consultancy firm and work on a range of commercial or government contracts, addressing a variety of environmental issues. You may be responsible for ensuring that your client complies with environmental regulations.
Types of environmental consultant
You may work on a number of environmental issues or specialise in one area, such as:
- air, land and water contamination
- environmental impact assessment and flood risk
- waste management and recycling
- emissions and climate change
- renewable energy opportunities
- environmental management systems.
As an environmental consultant, you'll need to:
- conduct field surveys and collect data about levels of pollution or contamination on a site or area of consideration
- carry out desk-based research, interpreting data which can include using software-modelling packages
- write reports and share findings with multi-disciplinary colleagues, clients, sub-contractors (such as analytical laboratories) and regulators
- advise on best courses of action based on research findings
- develop conceptual models, which involves identification and consideration of potential contamination
- research previous investigations of a site to provide information to clients considering purchase
- undertake field work to identify previous activities on the site and any contamination
- look at the suitability of new developments, like housing, power stations, wind farms or other large sites that may impact the environment
- manage legislative issues for clients and maintain an awareness of how legislation impacts projects.
- Graduate starting salaries typically range from £22,000 to £25,000.
- Salaries for consultant grade positions, for those with an average of two to five years' experience, typically range from £22,000 to £35,000.
- As a senior consultant with five to ten years' experience, you could expect to earn up to £45,000. This could rise up to around £60,000 in a principal consultant position.
Higher salaries are possible with postgraduate qualifications and when working in in-demand areas such as environmental impact assessment, contaminated land and waste management.
You may receive additional employee benefits like a mobile phone, laptop, car allowance or company car, pension schemes and share plans.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Your hours may include regular extra hours, but not shifts. Some consultancies may operate a flexi-time or overtime system. Weekend working may be necessary in order to meet client deadlines and when carrying out survey work that is dependent on good weather.
What to expect
Work is office based with time spent outdoors on site visits. This varies depending on the project, and there may be periods when you're in the office for a number of weeks, and others you spend on site. As consultants gain more experience, the amount of office-based work increases.
Environmental consultants usually work as part of a small multidisciplinary team, although some contracts may involve conducting solo field work (away from home).
There are opportunities for contract work but self-employment or freelance work is rare without considerable experience.
Increasing environmental regulation means that there is growing demand for consultancy services.
Site-based work may require travel and absence from home overnight.
A good honours degree is the minimum entry qualification. The following degree subjects in particular may increase your chances of employment in this sector:
- ecology or wildlife management
- environmental and earth sciences
- environmental engineering
- environmental management
- sustainability and environmental management.
If you're studying for a relevant degree, choosing a dissertation title which is relevant to your field of interest could be important.
A work-based placement through an employer will build the best contacts and experience. Entry is unlikely with an HND only.
In addition to a first degree, applicants often have a relevant postgraduate qualification or work experience in the field they are interested in.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- business skills and commercial awareness, as you'll be operating in a very commercial environment
- communication and presentation skills
- IT skills, such as word processing and the use of spreadsheets and presentation packages
- project-management skills, as time and resources are allocated to projects and need to be monitored and adhered to
- organisation and good time management, as you'll often need to manage several projects at a time
- a driving licence - this is usually necessary, as you'll be visiting different sites.
Although many posts ask for experience, employers don't always insist on this and a number of consultancies have established graduate training schemes in order to train up junior staff.
Relevant work experience such as summer placements and work-based placements linked to a Masters programme is useful if you can get it. Local councils may provide project placements.
Volunteering can be a good way of gaining some experience and your local environment agency will likely advertise opportunities on its website.
Most environmental consultants are employed by consultancy firms, which are hired by the public sector and by commercial organisations. They work with companies in the manufacturing and production sector, where environmental management is a fundamental concern.
A large number of companies offer environmental consultancy services in the UK, and many of the smaller ones concentrate their work in particular industries. Others specialise in particular work, such as environmental impact assessment or audit.
Other employers of environmental consultants include:
- local authorities
- central government departments, such as the Environment Agency (EA)
- non-governmental and wildlife organisations
- pressure and conservation groups.
In the longer term, opportunities are likely to be increasing further afield in the developing areas of India, China and South America.
Look for job vacancies at:
- CIWEM Jobs Market
- Countryside Jobs Service (CJS)
- Earthworks Jobs
- ENDS jobsearch
- Environment Jobs
To research companies and identify employers use directories such as the ENDS Environmental Consultancy Directory. Look for graduate opportunities on their websites and consider making speculative applications.
The first two years of consultancy are typically spent gaining site-based experience, such as intrusive ground investigation, ecological surveys and ground and surface water sampling.
Much of your training will be carried out on the job, where you'll learn from experienced colleagues.
You can gain additional specialist knowledge or qualifications by completing short courses, offered by training organisations and institutions. Some of which are assessed by exams and/or a work-based project.
Membership of chartered institutions and professional societies can offer you career guidance, opportunities to network, training, conferences and events and webinars and informative publications. Relevant bodies include:
- Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
- Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)
- Geological Society
It's important to keep up to date with the latest industry developments and to use the resources offered by professional bodies for your ongoing CPD and long-term career development.
With experience, you may be asked to manage small projects in order to take on more responsibility.
You'll generally progress to the position of senior consultant when you have around five years' experience. At this level, you'll usually be responsible for the management of staff, site investigations, contracts and the allocation of resources. You'll be involved in business development, with responsibility for marketing the business to new clients and developing relationships with existing clients, as well as identifying and submitting tenders for new work.
After a number of years in a senior role, you can move on to become a principal consultant, where you will focus on team management and commercial development.
Further progression to director level may be possible in some cases. Alternatively, you could move into other related areas such as research and consultation or policy and campaigns.