Environmental managers, also increasingly known as sustainability managers, are responsible for overseeing the environmental performance of private, public and voluntary sector organisations.

They develop, implement and monitor environmental strategies, policies and programmes that promote sustainable development.

Environmental managers examine corporate activities to establish where improvements can be made and ensure compliance with environmental legislation across the organisation.

Environmental managers have a wide remit and will review the whole operation, carrying out environmental audits and assessments, identifying and resolving environmental problems and ensuring necessary changes are implemented.

They also carry out important staff training and ensure all members of the workforce recognise and understand their own contributions to improved environmental performance.

Responsibilities

Environmental managers have an extremely varied workload and one that usually entails a range of strategic tasks, such as:

  • developing and implementing environmental strategies and action plans that ensure corporate sustainable development;
  • taking the lead on sustainable procurement for all goods and services;
  • coordinating all aspects of pollution control, waste management, recycling, environmental health, conservation and renewable energy;
  • leading the implementation of environmental policies and practices;
  • ensuring compliance with environmental legislation and keeping up to date with UK, EU and international regulation and legislation;
  • liaising with relevant bodies such as local authorities, public bodies and competent bodies;
  • auditing, analysing and reporting environmental performance to internal and external clients and regulatory bodies;
  • carrying out impact assessments to identify, assess and reduce an organisation's environmental risks and financial costs;
  • promoting and raising awareness, at all levels of an organisation, of the impact of emerging environmental issues, whether
  • legislative or best practice, on corporate, ethical and social responsibility;
  • developing and implementing environmental management systems to continually improve the impact of the organisation on the environment;
  • coordinating public hearings and consultations on environmental matters;
  • managing relations with the board of directors, senior management and internal staff;
  • training staff at all levels in environmental issues and responsibilities;
  • participating in environmental education and research;
  • negotiating environmental service agreements and managing associated costs and revenues;
  • writing environmental reports, assuming the lead responsibility with the company;
  • being proactive about corporate social responsibility issues and taking action to ensure these are met;
  • setting organisational sustainability targets, and developing plans to meet those targets and oversee their delivery.

Salary

  • The range of typical starting salaries is around £18,000 to £30,000, depending on experience. It is common for graduates to start on around £22,000.
  • The median salary after 15 years' experience in sustainability is £51,000.
  • Salaries vary considerably according to the geographical location, sector and size and nature of the employing organisation and the level of professional experience offered. London salaries are weighted to allow for the higher cost of living.
  • The IEMA reports that its members, based in business and industry, earn significantly more than their colleagues in other parts of the economy.
  • Environment professionals working in the mining and quarrying sector earn the most, while those working in the public sector earn the least.

Income data from the IEMA Practitioner's Survey 2015. Figures intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary according to the industry. The public sector typically has working hours of 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Flexitime and other benefits, including a final salary pension scheme, health insurance and an option to work from home, are sometimes available. In the private sectors, hours are more likely to vary, with some weekend work.

Part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations.

What to expect

  • The proportion of time spent in an office, or on site, varies according to the employer, the exact role and any particular requirements of specific projects.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are possible in environmental consultancy.
  • Work opportunities exist throughout the UK and some organisations offer the opportunity to travel and work overseas.
  • Figures from the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) show that over 50% of professionals work in organisations employing 1000+ people.

Qualifications

Although this is a career open to all graduates, it would be useful to posses a degree or HND in one of the following subjects:

  • bioscience;
  • earth sciences;
  • ecology;
  • energy;
  • environmental engineering;
  • environmental health;
  • environmental sciences or management;
  • engineering with a sustainability focus.

A relevant degree or postgraduate qualification provides the necessary skills for employment in this field. However, a business qualification or experience in the area of business activity carried out by a company, may be considered as important as knowledge of environmental aspects.

There are plenty of postgraduate qualifications in the sector, but some can be quite specialised. Care should be taken to ensure there are plenty of opportunities in the chosen field.

Once employed, postgraduate diplomas offer the chance to develop particular interests. For students, the equivalent length of practical experience is viewed on a comparable level.

According to data from the institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), approximately half of environmental and sustainability professionals have a Masters degree or higher. Membership of a relevant professional body is desirable by employers.

Search for postgraduate courses in environmental management.

Skills

You will need to:

  • understand and utilise systems thinking to carry out problem solving;
  • show initiative to recognise emerging problems and pro-actively develop solutions using methods such as systems thinking;
  • negotiate and organise;
  • stimulate and manage change;
  • demonstrate strong leadership and influence;
  • demonstrate a high level of computer literacy;
  • show commercial awareness and an understanding of business;
  • be self-motivated and be able to motivate staff at all levels;
  • communicate effectively, both orally and in writing;
  • manage projects as well as produce and deliver presentations;
  • establish effective networks within the company and with external organisations.

Work experience

Most employers look for candidates with work experience, even at junior levels, so relevant work experience, gained through vacation or sandwich placements, is advantageous. Experience gained through voluntary work can also be very helpful.

Becoming a student member of relevant societies, institutes or charities will not only increase knowledge of the sector and show commitment to potential employers; it will also provide essential opportunities to network and make useful contacts. It is also important to keep track of developments and changes in the sector.

Upgrading to professional membership levels will add industry-recognised qualifications to your CV, increasing your employability.

Employers

Around half of environmental and sustainability professionals work in business and industry; with many of these working in small environment/sustainability teams or as individual professionals. Manufacturing, engineering and construction/civil engineering are the most common professions.

Around 30% of sustainability professionals work as consultants.

Environmental managers are employed in national, regional and local government and statutory agencies, which include the:

Local authorities have environmental responsibilities in key areas of:

  • education;
  • health;
  • housing;
  • transport;
  • waste disposal.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also have an influence over environmental issues, and opportunities can be found in organisations such as:

Work for NGOs, however, is not highly paid and is often voluntary. It is also very popular with graduates seeking vital work experience, so positions are highly competitive.

There are hundreds of environmental consultants in the UK, covering areas such as:

  • impact assessment;
  • waste management;
  • climate change;
  • contaminated land;
  • integrated pollution prevention and control;
  • noise management;
  • sustainability.

Teaching and research opportunities exist within the higher and further education sector, and in general business there is a broad demand for environmental managers.

Within retail, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an expanding area with a diverse range of issues. Ethical and environmental concerns are pertinent to every stage of the retail operation from sourcing products, packaging, waste and recycling, and energy use.

Look for job vacancies at:

In most instances, organisations recruit graduates directly, rather than through recruitment agencies, however they are still a useful source of vacancies.

Not all new positions are advertised, and it is still common for jobs to be filled through speculative applications and word of mouth, especially with small businesses or in the voluntary sector.

Increasing awareness of environmental issues means there are a large number of job opportunities, though in turn this makes the subject a popular career choice and therefore fairly competitive.

Work opportunities are not just limited to the environmental sector, however. It is possible to work as an environmental specialist and promote sustainable development in practically any career field.

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

Professional development

It is essential to keep abreast of environmental legislation, compliance and reporting requirements through training and continuous professional development (CPD).

Attending internal and external training courses, relevant seminars and conferences is an effective way of keeping up to date with current issues and refreshing knowledge. Some short courses can lead to further professional qualifications.

Courses and other events are offered on a regional and national basis by a range of professional bodies, including:

For future career development, consider gaining professionally recognised membership of a professional body. Professional bodies also produce up-to-date information on issues and developments in environmental management through journals and briefing documents. Being a member of a professional body will also help structure your professional development over your career, particularly in the early stages by identifying your needs and providing solutions.

Published monthly by Environmental Data Services (ENDS), The ENDS Report provides the latest news and official reports on environmental policy for members, although a free trial is available.

The Society for the Environment (SocEnv) brings together professional bodies across the disciplines of water, waste, ecology, environmental science and management, including IEMA, IEEM and CIWEM.

Career prospects

The need to meet environmental legislation, be cost effective, and be seen to be environmentally responsible are all driving forces within the profession. These affect how businesses operate and spur growth in areas such as:

  • corporate social responsibility (CSR);
  • environmental impact assessment (EIA);
  • environmental management and auditing;
  • waste management.

Those aiming for the top of the profession will increasingly need to be able to manage a wider brief, embracing CSR and the implications of environmental management for corporate strategy.

There is no typical career path in environmental management, as each post tends to be unique and progression depends on the employing organisation.

In some organisations, there may only be a small number of specialised environmental posts. Larger organisations will offer more opportunities, perhaps with the possibility of taking on a more senior corporate role, or a wider role encompassing other activities.

Professional qualifications and continuous training are an integral part of career development, and the diverse nature of the profession offers opportunities to move into different areas of work in order to gain new skills and experience.

There are also opportunities to join the growing number of environmental consultancies, become self-employed or move into the education field.