If you are 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

An environmental consultant works with organisations on a range of environmental issues, offering expert advisory and assessment services to ensure that possible damaging effects are managed or eliminated.

You may be responsible for ensuring that your client or your employer complies with environmental regulations.

You could work on commercial or government contracts, addressing a variety of environmental issues. They cover a range of disciplines such as:

  • air, land and water contamination;
  • environmental impact assessment and flood risk;
  • waste management and recycling;
  • renewable energy opportunities;
  • environmental management systems.

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.

Responsibilities

As an environmental consultant, you may work across a range of specialist areas or just focus on one aspect.

Typical activities include:

  • looking at the suitability of new developments, like housing, power stations, wind farms or other large sites that may impact the environment;
  • conducting field surveys and collecting data about levels of pollution or contamination on a site or area of consideration;
  • interpreting data, which can include using software-modelling packages, and report writing;
  • managing legislative issues for clients and maintaining an awareness of how legislation impacts projects;
  • developing conceptual models, which involves identification and consideration of potential contamination;
  • 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.

Salary

  • Graduate starting salaries typically range from £22,000 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 where the job is.
  • 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 consultants, with an average of five to ten years experience, typically range from £33,000 to £44,000.
  • For those at principal consultant grade, with ten or more years experience, salaries are in the region of £38,500 to £60,000.

Higher salaries are possible with postgraduate qualifications, experience and business skills. They're also more common when working in in-demand areas such as environmental impact assessment, contaminated land and waste management.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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 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 or 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.
  • You may get additional employee benefits like a mobile phone, laptop, car allowance or company car, pension schemes and share plans.
  • 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 modelling, for example, will be highly employable and may command a higher salary.

Qualifications

Relevant degree subjects include:

  • agricultural and horticultural sciences;
  • biological sciences;
  • chemical and physical sciences;
  • engineering;
  • environmental and earth sciences;
  • social, economic or business studies;
  • urban and land studies.

In particular, the following degree subjects may increase your chances of employment in this sector:

  • chemistry;
  • ecology or wildlife management;
  • engineering geology;
  • environmental engineering;
  • environmental management;
  • geography;
  • geology;
  • geophysics;
  • hydrogeology.

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 could be 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 environmental consultancy.

Skills

You 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 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 time management skills, to manage several projects at one time.

A driving licence is usually necessary.

Work experience

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.

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 environmental impact assessment or audit.

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, infrastructure and regeneration.

The strongest growth areas in consultancy are predicted to be climate change, emissions management, waste management and sustainability, followed closely by environmental impact assessment and contaminated land.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies handle a large proportion of vacancies in this sector.

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.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

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.

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:

Training courses give you 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).

Career prospects

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 become a principal consultant, where responsibilities focus on team management and commercial development.

Principal consultants are often required to have professional membership of an appropriate body or institution such as the:

  • 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.