Category: Environmental consulting

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.

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.

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.