Environmental consultants work on commercial or government contracts, addressing a variety of environmental issues. They cover a wide range of disciplines such as:
- assessment of air;
- land and water contamination;
- environmental impact assessment;
- environmental audit;
- waste management and the development of environmental policy;
- environmental management systems.
Major clients include the government (including local government and national regulatory organisations) and water-related organisations.
A career as an environmental consultant offers the opportunity for a structured professional path with the potential to specialise in an area of interest.
Day-to-day activities vary considerably due to the range of work covered by environmental consultants.
However, a key task is to identify whether land, air or water is contaminated, by means of desk-based research and field work, and then to undertake an assessment to identify if that contaminant source can have an adverse impact on a receptor, such as humans or groundwater, for example.
Typical activities include:
- managing legislative issues for clients and maintaining an awareness of how legislation impacts projects;
- conducting field surveys: collecting data to establish a baseline condition for levels of pollution or contamination for a site or area of consideration;
- interpreting data: this can include detailed assessment of data, often using software-modelling packages to identify whether 'contamination' exists in accordance with current legislation;
- development of conceptual models: this involves identification and consideration of the potential contaminant sources, critical pathways and receptors that could potentially have an adverse impact on the immediate and wider environment;
- report writing: completion of detailed scientific reporting, written in a manner that can be understood by non-technical people;
- communicating with clients, regulators and sub-contractors, e.g. analytical laboratories;
- researching previous investigations of a site to provide information to clients considering purchase;
- undertaking field work to identify previous activities on the site and any contamination.
- Graduate starting salaries typically range from £20,000 to £24,500. The exact figure depends on the particular specialist area and on whether there are skills shortages in the consultancy field. Locality is also a key factor and there can be wide variations depending on the geographical location of a job.
- Salaries for consultant grade positions, for those with an average of two to five years of experience, typically range from £22,000 to £33,000.
- Salaries for senior consultant grade positions, for those with an average of five to ten years of experience, typically range from £33,000 to £44,000. For those at principal consultant grade, usually with ten or more years of experience, salaries range between £38,500 and £55,000.
- Higher salaries are possible with postgraduate qualifications, experience and business skills. They are also more common when working in demand areas such as environmental impact assessment, contaminated land and waste management.
Income data from Acre. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Employers may offer additional benefits such as mobile phones, laptops, home working options, car allowances, company cars, pension schemes and share plans.
Working hours typically 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 out of doors on site visits. This varies depending on the project, and there may be periods of time when you are in the office for a number of weeks, and others when you are 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).
- Self-employment/freelance work is sometimes possible, although unlikely without considerable experience. There are opportunities for contract work.
- Increasing environmental regulation means that there is growing demand for consultancy services.
- Jobs are available in most areas, but more work is available in large towns and cities than in rural areas.
- Site-based work may require travel and absence from home overnight.
- Specialist skills are always in demand; and those with skills and qualifications in ecology, hydrogeology and air dispersion modeling, for example, will be highly employable and may command a higher salary.
Relevant degree subjects include:
- agricultural and horticultural sciences;
- biological sciences;
- chemical and physical sciences;
- environmental and earth sciences;
- social/economic/business studies;
- urban and land studies.
In particular, the following degree subjects may increase your chances of employment in this sector:
- ecology/wildlife management;
- engineering geology;
- environmental engineering;
- environmental management;
A good honours degree is the minimum entry qualification. If you are studying for a relevant degree, choosing a dissertation title which is relevant to your field of interest is important.
Ideally, 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. Search for postgraduate courses in
Candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- business skills and commercial awareness, as consultants operate in a very commercial environment;
- communication and presentation skills;
- IT skills, such as word processing and 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 time management skills, to manage several projects at one time.
A driving licence is usually necessary.
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.
However, employers may expect applicants to have relevant work experience and sometimes offer summer placements and work-based placements linked to Masters programmes.
Local councils may also provide project placements and you may find opportunities for volunteering with a local environment agency.
Student membership of a relevant chartered institution or society demonstrates your commitment to your career. It also gives you the opportunity to network with other professionals and market yourself to potential employers.
There are a large number of companies offering 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 such as environmental impact assessment or audit, across all industries.
The larger consultancies have generally grown out of companies that originally made their names in areas such as waste management, civil engineering or water and sewage.
The client bases of consultancies include all sectors of commerce and industry, as well as local and central government, in the UK and internationally.
Other employers of environmental consultants include:
- local authorities;
- central government;
- 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.
Consultancy forms the single largest recruiting sector for environmental specialists.
Legislation remains the major driving force for growth in the UK environmental sector, closely followed by new development and infrastructure/regeneration.
The strongest growth areas in consultancy are predicted to be climate change/emissions management and waste management and sustainability, followed closely by environmental impact assessment and contaminated land.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Acre - Jobs - recruitment agency.
- CIWEM Jobs Market
- Countryside Jobs Service (CJS)
- Earthworks Jobs
- ENDS jobsearch
- The Environment Post
- Environmental Data Interactive Exchange (EDIE)
- Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA)
- jobsgopublic - for jobs in local government.
- Nature Jobs
- New Scientist Jobs
- Opportunities: The Public Sector Media
- National and local press.
Recruitment agencies handle a large proportion of vacancies in this sector. Many have links advertised on the recruitment websites listed here.
Alternatively, you can find agencies online through the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).
To research companies and identify employers use directories such as the ENDS Environmental Consultancy Directory. Look for graduate opportunities on their websites. Approaching potential employers with a targeted speculative application can also be productive.
Most training is carried out on the job, learning from experienced colleagues.
There are many training organisations and institutions offering short courses to enable environmental employees to gain specialist knowledge or a specialist qualification.
For a list of environmental-related courses search Training Pages. Some short courses lead to professional qualifications. These are assessed by exams and/or a work-based project.
Training courses, conferences and networking events are often provided by chartered institutions and professional societies such as the:
These provide the opportunity to keep up to date with the latest industry developments and to network with other professionals. Gaining chartership of a relevant professional body can by useful for long-term career development.
Courses in environmental management are also available through the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA).
Support for anyone planning their own personal professional development is available through the IEMA Skills Map. This framework helps those in environmental jobs to gain an understanding of the knowledge and skills they will require throughout their careers.
Many higher education institutions offer distance learning courses leading to higher qualifications. See the ENDS Environmental Consultancy Directory for a list of relevant training and postgraduate courses.
The first two years of consultancy are typically spent gaining site-based experience, e.g. intrusive ground investigation, ecological surveys, ground and surface water sampling.
You will also be involved in:
- data assessment;
- desk-based research;
- liaison with sub-contractors, clients and regulators;
- report preparation and writing.
With experience, consultants may be asked to manage small projects in order to take on more responsibility.
Consultants generally progress to senior consultant grade when they have around five years' experience. Senior consultants are usually responsible for the management of staff, site investigations, contracts and the allocation of resources.
They are 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 at senior grade, consultants can move on to principal consultant grade, where responsibilities are mainly team management, commercial development and technical specialist.
Principal consultants are often required to have professional membership of an appropriate body or institution such as the:
- Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM);
- Geological Society.
Some consultants may progress further to director level.
Some vacancies are filled through personal contacts and word of mouth, so it is important to keep building up and maintaining contacts during the early stages of your career.
However, many vacancies are handled through specialist recruitment agencies. Willingness to relocate either within the UK, or abroad, may help to increase opportunities for career progression.