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13th June 2016


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the environmentalist reports on the new IEMA membership structure and its revised skills map

The new IEMA membership structure and revised skills map are the culmination of three years’ work. But it is just the start of the what the institute believes will propel the profession to a position where it can influence the big policy and business decisions, and mobilise the resources to reshape the future on a global scale.

‘The membership changes will gear the profession up to achieve bigger things,’ says chief executive Tim Balcon. ‘Being a transformational change agent at all stages of our careers is not just about climbing a ladder. Life as an environment and sustainability professional is about a continued journey of achievement, one of learning, collaboration and leadership. The new membership structure and changes to the skills map support this.’

From vision to reality

Taking the lead from members in its 2013 consultation and as part of its Vision 2020, IEMA has been positioning itself to equip and build an active community of professionals who are willing, able and empowered to transform the world to sustainability. This positioning includes the new membership structure, which replaces the framework that has been largely unchanged since 1999.

Revealing details of the review of the structure in the July 2014 issue of the environmentalist, Balcon said the changes were necessary because of the closer integration of environment and sustainability into organisational activity in recent years and an increasing eagerness among businesses to enhance their sustainability and financial performance based on the contribution of IEMA members. ‘To be on the front foot on this we are reviewing our membership structure, mapping it against a changing economy, shifting policies and the skills our members have. This ensures that our professional hierarchy is something that businesses worldwide can identify with,’ he said.

An online survey of members had 1,226 responses. IEMA also worked with employers to ensure the new levels reflect what they require of environment and sustainability practitioners. The member consultation and conversations with businesses and others revealed that the existing levels did not accurately reflect the knowledge, experience and responsibilities of many members’ roles. Members said IEMA ought to narrow the gap between Associate (AIEMA) and Full (MIEMA) membership, while feedback from universities and employers suggested that the institute should adapt its Graduate membership to better reflect the years of learning and knowledge accrued through study. Meanwhile, Full members and Fellows said their membership needed change in order to remain relevant and valuable throughout their careers.

Key to achieving IEMA’s vision to transforming the world to sustainability is to bring in non-specialists who need access to the information and learning the institute offers. To this end the new structure makes it more attractive for professionals in non-specialist roles to join as Affiliate members.

Claire Kirk, head of professional standards at IEMA, says the new structure makes the value of membership and the opportunities for progression clearer, and provides employers with greater clarity on what to expect from IEMA members at different levels. ‘We’ve ensured that value and relevancy are at the heart of each of the revised membership. It is crucial that the features and opportunities are not only useful in the short term, but that they contribute to members’ ability to progress and develop. It’s also hugely important that employers gained some clarity about what membership provides, and for the first time we can give that to them,’ she says.

The new structure

The old membership structure consisted of six levels, from Student to Fellow, whereas the new one adds a Practitioner grade (PIEMA) – see panel, right.


University students on a degree course focusing on the environment and sustainability and those thinking about coming into industry are encouraged to join IEMA at this level. IEMA says this level of membership gives studies a real-world context, connecting students with the people who already do the job they are aiming for, providing valuable insight into what they can expect from a career in environment and sustainability. It also says being a student member is a good way to demonstrate to future employers that you are serious about building a future in the environment and sustainability profession.


Affiliate membership of IEMA has traditionally been the choice for those wanting to learn more about the environment and sustainability agenda – usually those in other professions, such as finance and HR. This remains the case and Affiliate continues to be a non-professional level of membership in the new structure. IEMA says Affiliate gives the wider professional community a way to benefit from the connections the institute can provide.

‘Our work resonates far beyond the environment and sustainability profession, and we’re here to support everyone who shares our goal of a bright, sustainable future. By becoming an IEMA Affiliate you can tap into a wealth of information and expertise, while connecting your work with the world’s largest network of environment and sustainability professionals,’ says the institute.

New Associate

IEMA describes Associate membership as the gateway into the profession and says the AIEMA qualification is a way to achieve professional recognition for the knowledge gained on the job or through vocational training. ‘You do not have to have a conventional academic background in environment and sustainability to be an Associate member. As part of our worldwide community you get quick access to the training, support and industry knowledge you need, while gaining recognition for your knowledge and understanding, and building your network within the profession,’ says IEMA.

In a change to the assessment process for Associate membership, entry is via an online multiple choice exam, which applicants can complete in their own time, or the IEMA Foundation Course (see ppxii–xix for the latest courses).


Graduate is the academic route into IEMA membership and is designed for those who have graduated within the past three years and are starting their careers in the profession. IEMA describes GradIEMA as a launchpad for those who want to take on a transformational role in business.

‘The suffix is the mark of all you’ve learned in your degree and an absolutely essential asset when you apply for jobs,’ says the institute. ‘Graduate membership is a decisive first career move and the start of your progression towards becoming an IEMA Practitioner, as you apply your skills and knowledge.’

Graduates can join by providing proof of graduation from an approved or relevant degree or programme.


The PIEMA level is described by IEMA as a new stop on the membership journey, is designed to bridge the perceived gap between Associate and Full membership that was highlighted by members in the consultation. IEMA describes a Practitioner as ‘the benchmark for environment and sustainability professionals’ and ‘for working experts who are driving change. It is a natural step from Graduate or Associate membership and is a recognised route towards Full IEMA membership.’

Practitioners are likely to be:

  • delivering and improving sustainability in their organisation’s infrastructure, products and services;
  • working within defined policy or regulatory contexts; and
  • supporting the development of the overall body of environment and sustainability knowledge.

Kirk says someone with Practitioner membership will have the knowledge and experience to work effectively in an operational environment or wider sustainability role. ‘Employers have told us this is what they are looking for,’ she says. ‘They have asked for a level of recognition providing confidence that our members can get on with the job and deliver, and in this new level they absolutely get that.’

Indeed, several employers have worked with IEMA to help raise the level of competence of their environment and sustainability practitioners.

Practitioner membership is open to anyone with the right competencies. Achieving PIEMA status is via an online professional assessment, which includes providing evidence of workplace achievements. IEMA says the PIEMA suffix demonstrates to employers that the individual is equipped, connected, fully up to date and in touch with learning opportunities that will help them deliver their sustainability programmes.

The Practitioner grade should make it easier for Associate members to upgrade by providing a stepping stone to Full Membership and chartered status. Indeed, the institute already provides support, through workshops and mentoring, recently helping experienced Skanska UK staff achieve MIEMA and chartered environmentalist status, for example.

Full member

IEMA describes Full membership (MIEMA) as the gold standard for environment and sustainability professionals who are setting the agenda and leading initiatives within their organisations.

‘If you’re working to turn a sustainability vision into action then Full membership is right for you,’ says the institute.

MIEMA is for experienced environment and sustainability professionals with a strong record of achievement and who are playing a key role in their organisations. They are likely to be practitioners who are actively:

  • putting a vision into practice;
  • improving the sustainability of their organisation, its products or services and new developments; and
  • contributing to the overall body of knowledge.

Practitioners wanting to become Full members must demonstrate what they have achieved by sharing their story with their peers. MIEMA is open to anyone with the right knowledge, capabilities and experience, and is the next step for Practitioners who have stepped up to lead this agenda, and a natural route towards IEMA Fellow.

‘Members told us that as their careers progress often the scope of their roles broadens. Therefore, the standard has been revised to ensure it remains relevant to members at this stage in their career,’ Kirk says. ‘However, of equal significance is the way we assess the standard. Upgrading to Full member and gaining formal recognition for skills and experience is a big moment in any members’ journey, and the changes we’re making will reduce some of the stress that often comes with any assessment process.’

IEMA says Full members help make companies future-proof, bringing the resources, connections and influence that can enable organisations to deliver on a sustainability vision.


Fellow membership is recognition of substantial achievement in the environment and sustainability profession. IEMA describes a FIEMA a ‘new kind of leader’: someone who is challenging the norms and transforming the world.

The institute recognises the nature of leadership is changing, with leaders increasingly required to demonstrate a strong record in sustainability and who are being called on to step up and lead. ‘IEMA Fellow is the definitive mark of these new advocates for change,’ it says.

It says Fellows are: ‘proven, visionary leaders in business and across the sustainability profession. They are people at the head of major national and international organisations, and those who stand out because of their sustained record of achievement and innovation. Ambassadors for transforming the world to sustainability, with the drive to turn vision into action.’ To apply for FIEMA status*, an individual must be able to demonstrate, through a professional assessment, that they are a visionary leader and ambassador for sustainability.

A skilled workforce

The changes to the membership structure form part of IEMA’s drive to support businesses in accessing the environment and sustainability skills needed to survive the challenges facing them and outlined in the institute’s 2014 report Preparing for the Perfect Storm: skills for a sustainable economy. These include rapid population growth, increasing volatility of materials supply and energy prices, and rising climatic uncertainty and extreme weather.

Despite the mounting challenges, just 13% of organisations told IEMA that they had the right levels of environment and sustainability skills to survive. IEMA believes that, in providing more attractive, meaningful and valuable memberships that reflect the career journey of environment and sustainability professionals, the gap between the supply and demand for environment and sustainability skills can be tackled, enabling organisations to operate effectively in a changing and uncertain world.

* IEMA is developing new standards for both Full members and Fellows and these will be rolled out later in the year.

The updated skills map

To support its new membership structure, IEMA has revamped its skills map, which was first introduced in 2011. The new version embeds sustainability into all members’ career paths. ‘The updated map and membership level changes are about IEMA supporting members to step up, build stronger links across all areas of the organisation, such as finance or human resources, and lead on environment and sustainability with confidence and pride,’ says Claire Kirk, head of professional standards.

The changes also reflect the position IEMA outlined in its Skills for a Sustainable Economy position statement in 2014. It called on ‘all professional bodies to review their standards and competencies to ensure they recognise the role their members will play in delivering the transformational change needed to enable a sustainable economy’. At the time, IEMA noted: ‘Competence frameworks focused on current experience and historic demands may not be capable of delivering the skilled individuals needed to transition to a sustainable future.’

The new map covers three key areas:

  • core knowledge – fundamental knowledge and understanding of sustainability and how it translate in a business context;
  • depth of knowledge in a technical discipline – including understanding of key policy and legislative frameworks; knowledge of tools, techniques and systems; understanding the complexities in delivering sustainable change in products and services; and familiarity with innovative and good practices; and
  • skills key to working in environment and sustainability – including communication, leadership for change, project and programme management, and problem-solving and resolution.


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