Environmental management is a popular career choice for graduates and is particularly suitable for those with an interest in sustainability

Environmental managers, increasingly known as sustainability managers, are responsible for overseeing the environmental performance of private, public and voluntary sector organisations. Examining corporate activities, you'll establish where improvements can be made and ensure compliance with environmental legislation across the organisation.

You'll also create, implement and monitor environmental strategies to promote sustainable development. Your wide remit means you'll review the whole operation, carrying out environmental audits and assessments, identifying and resolving environmental problems and ensuring necessary changes are implemented.

Responsibilities

As an environmental manager, you'll need to

  • develop and implement environmental strategies and action plans, to ensure corporate sustainable development
  • take the lead on sustainable procurement for all goods and services
  • coordinate all aspects of pollution control, waste management, recycling, environmental health, conservation and renewable energy
  • lead the implementation of environmental policies and practices
  • ensure compliance with environmental legislation and keep up to date with UK, European Union and international regulation and legislation
  • liaise with relevant bodies such as local authorities, public bodies and competent bodies
  • audit, analyse and report environmental performance to internal and external clients and regulatory bodies
  • carry out impact assessments to identify, assess and reduce an organisation's environmental risks and financial costs
  • promote and raise awareness, at all levels of an organisation, of the impact of emerging environmental issues
  • implement best practice in areas of corporate, ethical and social responsibility and address any issues arising
  • develop and implement environmental management systems to continually improve the impact of the organisation on the environment
  • coordinate public hearings and consultations on environmental matters
  • manage relations with the board of directors, senior management and internal staff
  • train staff at all levels on environmental issues and responsibilities
  • participate in environmental education and research
  • negotiate environmental service agreements and manage associated costs and revenues
  • write environmental reports, assuming the lead responsibility with the company
  • set organisational sustainability targets, and develop plans to meet those targets and oversee their delivery.

Salary

  • Starting salaries range from £18,000 to £30,000, depending on experience. It is common for graduates to start on £22,000.
  • The median annual salary for the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) members is £38,180.

The IEMA reports that its members, based in business and industry, earn significantly more than their colleagues in other parts of the economy.

Income data from the IEMA Practitioner's Survey 2016. Figures are 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 IEMA show that over 50% of professionals work in organisations employing 1000+ people.

Qualifications

Although this career is open to all graduates, it may help if you have 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.

If you wish to undertake postgraduate study and specialise in a specific area be sure to research your area of interest to ensure there are sufficient employment opportunities.

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 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 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
  • display a high level of computer literacy
  • show commercial awareness and an understanding of business
  • be self-motivated and 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:

Job opportunities are often advertised on the websites of environmental companies. Not all new positions are advertised however, 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.

Professional development

You will need to keep abreast of environmental legislation, compliance and reporting requirements through training and continuous professional development (CPD). Becoming a member of a professional body will help you do this and will also help you structure your professional development, particularly in the early stages of your career, by identifying your needs and providing solutions.

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:

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 need to manage a wider brief, embracing CSR and the implications of environmental management for corporate strategy.

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.

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