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.