Environmental consultants play a vital role in helping organisations minimise their damaging impact on the environment by providing them with expert assessments, analysis and advice.
To help you explore environmental consultancy as a career, in this article we’ll look at the sort of work you could do, the skills you need and how you can get into this competitive area of work.
Daniel Crockatt works as a Junior Climate Analyst at a large environmental consultancy called Green Element Ltd. Dan was kind enough to tell us a little about his role and career journey, and provides some great tips on how to get ready for a career in the environmental sector.
What does environmental consultancy involve?
Careers and job titles vary widely depending on the employer and exact position. Environmental consultants may have a broad or more focused role.
You might carry out environmental surveys, analyse and interpret data (e.g. on land, air or water contamination), or conduct environmental impact assessments (EIAs) prior to building development.
The work may involve giving advice to organisations on issues such as waste management and recycling, flood risk and energy usage. Some consultants provide advice to landowners, construction companies and manufacturers on their legal responsibilities, such as to protect habitats and/or certain species.
The work often involves writing scientific reports, presenting your findings and giving recommendations.
We asked Dan about his job. “My main role is to help companies calculate their annual carbon footprint. We collect emissions data from all scopes of an organisation’s activity and then analyse the data to identify ‘hotspots’ – i.e. the largest areas of emissions. We then recommend ways the organisation can reduce their emissions within these hotspots so that their environmental impact can be reduced. We also assist clients with the environmental reports they have to produce, such as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting.”
Where could I work as an environmental consultant?
Most environmental consultants are employed by private consultancies that undertake contracts for commercial and government bodies. Some consultancies (especially the smaller ones) specialise in certain areas of work or focus on particular sectors.
Environmental consultants can also work for local authorities, conservation bodies, central government organisations, such as the Environment Agency, and major employers involved in areas such as energy, planning and waste management.
Although you could find yourself spending much of your time in an office, you are likely to also conduct site visits and go to clients’ premises for meetings, so your job can involve outdoor work and travelling.
Would I suit a career in environmental consultancy?
Along with scientific understanding you need commercial awareness and excellent analytical skills. As you may have to work on a number of projects at the same time, the work calls for an organised and methodical person with good time management skills.
To work in environmental consultancy you need to be confident using computer software, writing reports and presenting. Communication and teamworking skills are also important.
How do I get into environmental consultancy?
Some employers provide opportunities for non-graduate assistants or technicians to undertake routine support work, but the majority of people enter environmental consultancy as graduates.
Relevant degree subjects include environmental science, ecology and environmental management, but broader-based science, geoscience or technology degrees may also be acceptable, especially if these give you the opportunity to take relevant modules.
Some degree and postgraduate courses are accredited by professional bodies, such as The Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES), Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) or The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).
Dan’s Tip: “Research course content carefully to make sure that any programmes you are considering cover the sort of topics that interest you (e.g. environmental management or EIAs). Selecting a course that has modules specifically relating to these areas will provide an excellent foundation of knowledge.”
For entry to a relevant degree course you need A levels/Highers or equivalent. Most specify at least one science subject (e.g. biology, chemistry, geography or maths). A relevant T level, BTEC National or another equivalent qualification may be acceptable instead of A levels/Highers, but check the entry requirements carefully with individual universities and through UCAS.
If you don’t have the necessary entry requirements, some degree courses are offered with a foundation year to give you the required grounding.
Alternatively, you could take a relevant foundation degree or HNC/D. These work-related programmes generally take two years full time or longer on a part-time basis and, with further study, you may be able to top up to an honours degree.
In England, the degree apprenticeship for environmental practitioners can be an entry route into environmental consultancy. You would train with an employer and study part time for an approved or accredited honours degree in environmental sciences or a related subject.
Employers often seek people with postgraduate qualifications. A postgraduate programme may also be suitable if you want to specialise in a particular area of study or if you have taken a broader-based undergraduate degree.
A few postgraduate courses are available specifically in environmental consultancy, but other subjects are also relevant. Some undergraduate programmes include an integrated masters and take one year extra to allow for more in-depth study.
Dan’s Tip: “Keep an eye out for courses that offer internship opportunities or a year in industry. This will give you a great opportunity to gain professional experience within the environmental sector.”
Once in employment, apart from learning on the job, you may attend short courses and other training events, such as those run by professional bodies. Some employers offer structured graduate training programmes. If you don’t already hold a postgraduate qualification, you may be encouraged to gain one through part-time study.
Dan’s Tip: “When seeking employment in the environmental sector, research employers carefully. You’ll want to make sure that they undertake the specific area of work that interests you (e.g. environmental management, EIAs or building sustainability consulting). Looking for companies that are 'B Corporation certified' is a good way to find out how committed they are to operating with consideration given to their social and environmental performance.”
Dan’s journey into an environmental career
“During my degree in biology I gained an interest in environmental issues. After doing a foundation course in environmental management I went on to take an MSc in environmental science for sustainability. This was a very practical course that developed many of the skills I needed for the industry including data analysis, EIAs and geographic information systems (GIS). I also took an ‘environmental internship’ module; this involved spending one day a week over six months at Green Element and this eventually led to me being offered a permanent position!”
What opportunities are there to progress in environmental consultancy?
With experience you can normally specialise or gain promotion to a more responsible role, such as managing projects. Further promotion can be to senior consultant and ultimately higher-level management positions, although to take advantage of such opportunities you may need to change employer.
Some experienced environmental consultants set up on their own or in a partnership with other consultants. It’s possible to spend some time working overseas or move into research, teaching, or science communication, journalism or publishing.
If you meet the necessary experience, knowledge, competence and other criteria you can apply for Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv), Registered Environmental Practitioner (REnvP) or Registered Environmental Technician (REnvTech) status through a licensed professional body.
This can improve your career prospects. Find out more through the Society for the Environment. Alternatively, other types of professional status, such as Chartered Scientist (CSi), may be more appropriate.
Dan’s Tip: “Becoming a member of a professional industry body, such as the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA), IES, CIEEM or CIWEM, (I joined the IEMA) will give you access to many educational and professional development resources as well as excellent opportunities to network with others in the environmental sector.”
How can I find out more about careers in environmental consultancy?
You can also find careers information through some of the professional bodies mentioned in this article.
Have a look at vacancies to get an idea about the range of jobs available with different employers. Specialist recruitment sites include environmentjob, Environment Jobs, EnvironmentalJobs and GreenJobs. Certain professional bodies - including CIWEMjobs and IEMAJOBS – have their own recruitment sites.
For the right person, environmental consultancy can be an interesting, varied and rewarding career. Getting your first job can be a challenge, but if you take the advice given in this article, it’ll put you in the best position possible.
Debbie Steel, April 2023
With a background working with apprentices and teaching in further education, Debbie was employed as an in-house careers author before establishing herself as a freelancer. As well as co-authoring numerous careers books, Debbie has produced resources and web content for a range of high-profile clients. She is an enthusiastic proponent of impartial and reliable careers information.