How to become an Environmental Consultant

What Environmental Consulting Entails

Environmental consultants typically work for private or governmental organisations in areas supervising, auditing or implementing adherence to environmental regulations and legislation.

Environmental consultants provide public and private sector clients with advice on environmental issues such as soil contamination, water pollution, air quality, environmental impact assessments, environmental audits, land and environmental management, waste management and the development of environmental policies.

The actual tasks performed by an environmental consultant include a mixture of scientific data collection, data analysis, auditing, the development of an environmental management systems and producing environmental reports, especially in support of development applications or compliance audits.

Environmental consulting is also increasingly in demand to develop policies and procedures that help companies run their business in environmentally-conscious ways, so as to develop a strong ‘green friendly’ brand and reputation.

The largest job growth in the industry will be in the private sector, but there will also be a demand for qualified environmental scientists in the public sector. Environmental Consultant Job Duties include:

  • Identifying any site contamination by conducting site assessments
  • Identifying potential sources of contamination that can have adverse impacts on the immediate and wider environment
  • Conferring with clients, regulators and sub-contractors
  • Using software-modelling to project pollution outputs under various different conditions
  • Preparing detailed scientific reports that can be easily understood by the general public
  • Maintaining current knowledge of pertinent legislation and how it can potentially impact clients

Educational Requirements

To become an environmental consultant, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental science, environmental studies, geology, environmental engineering, or a closely related field is typically the minimum requirement.  Additional skills in communications and business management can also be very helpful. A master’s degree isn’t necessary for getting an entry-level job with an environmental consulting firm, but employers will often give preference to candidates who have earned a graduate degree.

Career Development

Career progression is usually associated with an increase in direct experience in a specialised aspect of environmental consulting in the field. As you gain more experience managing small projects and get around 5 years’ worth of experience in any niche of environmental consulting, you will be in a position to graduate to the level of a senior-level consultant.
Junior consultants will typically spend time gaining site-based experience by performing duties such as:

  • Intrusive ground investigation
  • Performing ecological surveys
  • Ground and surface water sampling
  • Data assessment
  • Desk-based research
  • Liaison with sub-contractors, clients and regulators
  • Report preparation and writing

Being a senior-level consultant usually involves managing the allocation of project resources. Depending on the size of the firm, environmental consultants may also be 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, and this is where business and communication skills can assist in your career development.

Skills Needed to Become an Environmental Consultant

In order to become effective in a career as an environmental consultant, you need to have a certain set of skills, knowledge and competencies, including:

  • An ability to complete projects on time, and within budget
  • Excellent research skills
  • An ability to take complex information and present it in a well-written, easily understandable format for clients
  • An ability to prepare spreadsheets and be able to present graphs and charts to clients
  • Excellent data analysis skills
  • You need to be knowledgeable in the latest environmental laws and regulations in order to ensure clients are compliant.
  • You also need hard skills that pertain to your area of interest, such as math, science, design, engineering, environmental economics, and others.

Drivers of Employment

Consultancy is the single biggest recruiting sector for environmental professionals. Environmental law, new development, mining and vegetative regeneration are the main drivers of Environmental jobs.

There are a large number of firms offering environmental consulting services, and quite a few of the smaller ones focus their work in particular sectors like mining, agriculture and farming, contaminated land management or infrastructure development.  Others specialise in specific services, such as environmental impact assessment or audit, across all industries.
The bigger consultancies have more often than not grown out of firms that originally made their names in areas waste management, civil engineering or water and sewage.

Customers and employers of environmental consultants include local authorities, central governments, non-governmental and wildlife organisations and conservation organizations.
In the longer term, employment prospects for environmental consultants are likely to expand in developing economies in regions like India, China and South America.
The strongest growth areas in consultancy are forecast to be climate change/emissions management and waste management and sustainability, followed closely by environmental impact assessment and contaminated land.

Environmental Consultant Salary

The salary level of environmental consultants can vary greatly depending on your level of education, experience, your niche of expertise and where you work, but at the time of writing, a reasonable expectation is between $75,000 to 150,000, depending on your experience and seniority.

The Importance of Sanitation in Aged Care Cleaning Practices

Reducing the likelihood of illness and infection in aged-care facilities is vital. Maintaining an aged-care environment that is consistently clean and sanitised is the first line of defense in protecting the health of this vulnerable population of residents. Not only does proper hygeinic practices and procedures reduce the risk of spreading infections and making seniors sick, but it also helps to keep the staff who work in these facilities healthy so they can provide these much-needed services.

What is Involved in Ensuring Aged-Care Facilities are being Cleaned Properly?

When it comes to ensuring seniors are well cared for, cleaning and sanitizing are an important part of the process. There are several areas of consideration when dealing with aged-care facilities that are of importance to the health of everyone involved. These processes include frequent and proper hand washing, cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and objects, changing linen and personal items on a regular basis, and using personal protective equipment.

Handwashing

Everyone knows that proper handwashing technique is an important part of stopping the spread of germs and microbacterium that can make seniors, and the employees who work with seniors very sick. Ensuring that staff are properly trained in handwashing techniques is the first line of defense against illness and outbreak in an aged-care facility.

Cleaning Surfaces and Objects

Regular cleaning and sanitizing of high-touch surfaces, including kitchens and bathrooms, is important to reduce the risk of illness and infection. Areas such as kitchen counters, bathroom sinks, and toilets all need to be cleaned thoroughly using the proper cleansers and sanitisers to remove harmful bacteria. Cleaning should be done on a regular basis, daily in some cases, and sanitizing should be done weekly or more, depending on the surface. For example, in the kitchen areas of an aged-care facility, all surfaces need to be sanitized before each meal is prepared. There are special rules that need to be followed in a kitchen that prepares meals for people, especially when dealing with seniors.

Changing Linen and Personal Items

Part of the fight against bacteria involves ensuring aged-care facilities are changing linens and personal items on a regular basis; especially if someone has become ill. This might mean changing toothbrushes or bedsheets to reduce the likelihood of the illness returning. Bacteria can live on personal items long enough to cause a second outbreak, so it’s important to maintain clean living areas after a person has been sick.

Personal Protective Equipment

When working in aged-care facilities, it is important to the health and safety of everyone involved that staff, and even residents, wear personal protective equipment in the event of an outbreak or potential outbreak. In everyday life, workers will wear personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks to prevent the spread of bacteria between themselves and aged-care facility residents; but during an outbreak, the importance of reducing the spread of infection is increased.

Sanitation is Vital to Aged-Care Facilities

Ensuring that every surface and work area has been sanitised is crucial to the health and safety of those who work and live in aged-care facilities. Companies who are contracted to clean and sanitize aged-care facilities must work to the highest standards, and it is important to work with a cleaning company that has quality assurance certification, such as ISO9001. This certification means that the company, and its cleaning staff, recognize and maintain high standards of cleanliness to ensure the wellbeing of those who work and live in the facilities they clean. Working with an experienced cleaning company ensures that sanitation processes are set up, and used on a regular basis to prevent the spread of infection, illness, and disease in aged-care facilities. It takes a great deal of work to ensure a facility is as clean as possible at all times, and that responsibility should not be left up to the inexperienced cleaners out there. When working in aged-care facilities, lives depend on a clean place to live and work.

The Role Environmental Consultants play in Supporting Air Quality

Clean air is a basic requirement of human health and air pollution is a major environmental health problem. The air we breathe impacts our health and wellbeing and is critical to supporting the amenity of all Australians, both at work and at home.

While Australia’s air quality is good, there are ongoing challenges. Some pollutants such as particulate matter and ozone still exceed national ambient air quality standards in urban areas, and concerns over industrial emissions still affect many communities.

Environmental consultants play an important role in maintaining air quality and addressing the impacts air pollutants have on human health and the environment. Among other things, this involves assessing the performance of businesses in achieving environmental approvals, and managing their ongoing operations and compliance with regulations designed to keep workers and the community safe from air pollutants.

Atmospheric scientist with experience in air quality consulting, odour measurement, dust and odour impact assessments understand the key air quality issues faced by businesses and how best to provide solutions that meet the expectations of environmental regulators and the community.
This can require the monitoring of air quality and odour in the workplace, gas sample laboratory analyses including soil vapour assessments; meteorological monitoring, modelling and data analysis; air and odour dispersion modelling and impact assessment; the assessment of regional climate and its variability; and the clear and concise reporting and communication of complex ideas and outcomes, to all stakeholders.

An example of this kind of work in action is shown in the video below, where Melbourne based environmental consulting company Atma Environmental demonstrate the application of soil vapour testing, to measure the seeping of volatile contaminants present in soil or groundwater, into the atmosphere, which can be particularly dangerous in buildings and enclosed spaces. If these toxic chemicals are not identified and people get prolonged exposure to them, they can lead to chronic health problems or terminal illnesses.

Governments and business working together with the guidance of environmental consultants can identify actions that can be taken to deliver strategic approaches to address air quality, and one such area is in the development of systems to maintaining air quality in industrial manufacturing environments.

In these circumstances environmental consultants specialising in the design, use, deployment and monitoring of Materials Extraction Systems to control dust, fumes and other toxic air pollutants. These types of systems use industrial ducting components to build Fume extraction, dust extraction, and dust collection systems.

Geotechnical Engineering and Structural Foundations

All manner of infrastructure, including houses, high rise office towers, roads, bridges, dams and tunnels need their proposed site, and sometimes the surrounding areas, to be analyzed to ensure their construction plans meet required engineering standards. The foundations of any piece of infrastructure transmit the weight bearing load from the structure to the earth. As you can imagine, it is critical that the foundations are strong enough to hold the weight of the building, even under irregular conditions like flood and earthquakes. The primary considerations for foundation support are bearing capacity, settlement, and ground movement beneath the foundations. Bearing capacity is the ability of the site soils to support the loads imposed by buildings or structures.

Geotechnical Engineers

Geotechnical Engineers are the people who analyse the geotechnical conditions on a site and the way they will interact with a building, to determine the structural engineering requirements of construction projects. Geotechnical engineers a design the foundations of structures based on the load characteristics of the structure and the properties of the soils and/or bedrock on the site. They are responsible for ensuring that the structural foundations are within prescribed engineering tolerances. To do this they take soil and rock samples, analyse these, and when they have completed their analysis, write reports that provide advice to civil and structural engineers, architects, construction personnel and landscapers on the most appropriate methods and materials to use when undertaking construction in an area.

Geotechnical Project Considerations

Geotechnical engineering project begins with a review of a project needs, to define the required material properties of construction materials, followed by an investigation of soil, rock, and bedrock and how these properties will interact with the proposed structure.
This usually involves a geotechnical investigation and requires a Geotechnical engineer to:
•    Calculate the magnitude of the loads to be supported;
•    Perform Geotechnical investigations to explore the subsurface of the proposed construction site;
•    Identify soil parameters through field and lab testing and, on the basis of the findings;
•    Design, or make recommendations about the design of building foundations, so they are constructed in the safest and most economical manner possible.
Subsurface Geotechnical Investigation
To obtain information about the soil, rock and groundwater conditions below the surface, some form of subsurface exploration is required. For this to happen, geotechnical engineers use various methods to obtain relevant samples so they can determine the physical properties of the soils and rocks at the site.

Laboratory Testing

Laboratory testing is performed on site samples, for example the soils and building materials(e.g. concrete) to measure a wide variety of its properties, and these results are then used by geotechnical engineers to make appropriate recommendations about building materials and construction methods.

Contaminated Land Consulting

One particular niche of environmental consulting is Contaminated Land Management. A specialised contaminated land management consultant is required when property is rezoned from a commercial zone to a residential zone, or if a request has been made to remove land from the Contaminated Sites Register.

Contaminated Land Consultants are often required required by property developers when they are buying (or selling) land suitable for commercial or residential development.

For property owners and land developers, the most important thing to understand about purchasing land that is potentially contaminated is the risks involved. Frtom a legal standpoint, land owners are responsible for the remediation of contamination on their land. For this reason, it’s essential to investigate a property’s contamination status prior to purchase, to avoid purchasing expensive environmental liabilities along with the land.

The primary service an environmental consultant specialising in contaminated land provides is site contamination reports. These reports determine the risk of or the extent of contamination on a site. This is often referred to as a Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI), or a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment.

A PSI will identify the likelihood of, plus and any potential sources of contamination, the location of potential contamination, any potentially affected media (soil, groundwater, etc) and any human and ecological receptors. A full Preliminary Site Investigation includes the following:

  1. Identification and description of the site,
  2. An overview of the site history (zoning, occupants, historical uses, aerial photos, ownership, processes, interviews, etc);
  3. An analysis of the environmental setting (geology, hydrogeology, topography, etc);
  4. A site reconnaissance visit to visually inspect the site (and surrounds) for contamination;
  5. An initial conceptual site model; and
  6. Optionally (if warrented) limited contaminant sampling and analysis at areas of possible concern.

A PSI may conclude that there is a significant potential for contamination (in which case further studies should be conducted).  However, if a thorough preliminary investigation shows a history of non-contaminating activities and there is no other evidence or suspicion of contamination, further investigation is not required. On the other hand, if a Preliminary Site Investigation (PSI) identifies a likelihood of contamination and the available information is insufficient to enable site management strategies to be devised, a Detailed Site Investigation, or DSI, may need to be conducted. This is sometimes referred to as a Phase 2 Environmental Site Assessment, which is an investigation stage.

A Phase 2 ESA sets out to delineate the vertical and lateral extent of site contamination – usually with the site’s proposed land use in mind; or to inform about any appropriate site remediation or management options. At this stage soil is always tested and groundwater and/or surface water is tested where the past use of the site means there is a risk of contamination; or if the soil is contaminated with compounds that can contaminate groundwater, or if a surrounding site is known to be, or is potentially contaminated, and there is a risk of the contamination migrating to your site. Where a properly planned and executed DSI demonstrates that the site is not contaminated, no further works are required and a report authenticating the sites clean status is issued.

On the other hand, if it demonstrates that the site is contaminated; further investigation to inform decontamination requirements or to clarify potential human health risks may be required, depending on the proposed land use of the site.

Environmental auditing of a site can be a protracted exercise involving soil and groundwater assessment, human health risk assessment, determination of “clean up to the extent practicable” of contaminated groundwater, and off-site testing.   A contaminated land audit may identify environmental contamination issues that require rectification or management and this can be costly.

In some circumstances a complete and total clean up of contaminated land is not required. A contaminated land audit may be completed on a site that contains some ‘residual contamination’, and the auditor may issue a ‘Statement of Environmental Audit’ so that development on this land can then proceed, as long as the contamination is in keeping with acceptable land use.

Where a Statement of Environmental Audit is issued, it may contain certain conditions, particularly if the site has been found to be a source site of contamination.  Sites with a completed Statement of Environmental Audit may require an ongoing Groundwater Quality Management Plan, Soil Contamination Management Plan, or Further soil/health-risk assessment requirements.

Why Australia Needs National Legislation to Regulate Ecological & Environmental Consultants.

There is currently no regulatory body to assess an environmental consultant’s competence, and to suspend or ban them if they act incompetently and/or unethically. This leaves consumers open to wasting money on incompetent consultants, and even worse, in some states and territories legislative loopholes this allows development proponents to choose environmental consultants who favour their interests over the public interest.

In NSW and most Australian jurisdictions environmental consultants, whose work is often relied upon by assessing authorities such as Councils, are largely unregulated, yet their reports can make or break development proposals. Only in some jurisdictions are there rules that allow authorities to specify a level of competency for a consultant preparing some specialised assessments.
The lack of regulation also means that decision-makers are assessing projects from small scale clearing of native vegetation to accommodate a house, through to major clearing for mining and infrastructure projects (some of which GetUp and other NGOs are campaigning against) based on the advice of consultants chosen and paid for by the proponent.

Under these circumstances, it is far too easy for an applicant to influence a consultant to give them a favourable report. Coercion and bribery occurs. “Give me what I want and I’ll pay you extra; don’t give me what I want and I won’t pay you even though you’ve done the required work”. This favours corruption, not the public interest.

No wonder many EIAs are found wanting. The public rightly has little trust in the project assessment process, and particular distrust of consultants chosen and paid for by developers.

The ICAC investigations into corruption in NSW have revealed that illegal donations from property developers have been filtered through ‘slush funds’ and the like, and appear to have bought political influence. Little wonder then that neither Labor nor Coalition governments have regulated environmental consultants. This wouldn’t favour the interests of developers who don’t want their projects competently assessed by consultants who report in the public interest.

We need to regulate environmental consultants at all level of government where such consultants are relied upon to give authorities advice about the effects of development and other projects. We need to ensure consultants are competent and ethical, and we need the ability to sanction them and ultimately ban them for repeated and/or serious offences. Let’s get some faith restored in the assessment process for the protection of a Australians. I am also an environmental consultant who wants to be able to report what I see rather than being lent on by clients to ‘turn a blind eye’, and threatened with non-payment if I ignore my duty to report without prejudice.

What’s the Difference between Environmental and Ecological Consulting?

Ecological and environmental consulting are closely related disciplines. The main difference between the two is that the Environmental Consulting is a more overarching field that incorporates many elements of Earth and life sciences, to understand various natural processes.  Ecology, on the other hand, is usually more focused on how organisms interact with each other and with their immediate surroundings.

An important difference between ecology and environmental science is the goal of research in each discipline. Unlike environmental scientists, ecologists tend to focus their research on very specific populations of living things, such as a certain type of grass or a group of fishes. Ecologists seek to understand how populations interact, reproduce, and thrive within an ecosystem. They concentrate mainly on immediate factors such as food preferences, predation, and sexual selection within a group. Through careful observation and historical research, they explain the developmental and evolutionary adaptations that influence a species and their work is particularly important where development may threaten a species habitat, particularly if the species is rare or endangered.

Environmental scientists conduct field and laboratory studies to learn about a range of factors that influence an area. Like ecologists, they study living things and their behaviour’s in detail. In addition, they consider the impacts of climate, geological processes, temperature changes, and water cycles on sites and ecosystems. A strong educational background in the scientific method is necessary in both ecology and environmental science.

Professionals in both fields conduct rigorous, ethical, highly controlled studies and record their findings in detailed reports. When governments and industries set new standards, they usually consult professionals with backgrounds in these fields to provide expert advice. Environmental scientists might be contracted to analyze pollution levels and other risk factors near an industrial plant. Ecologists are needed to determine the welfare of certain populations and suggest ways to better protect endangered species. By combining the information gathered by scientists in both disciplines, authorities can create effective policies and make better decisions and regulations to ensure that development is managed in a sensitive way that protects our environment.