Who is the environmentalist?

12th March 2012


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IEMA

Thinking of making a career change? Sarah-Jayne Russell profiles nine potential job roles, drawing on the key skills held by IEMA members

At first glance, a hydrologist, an energy consultant and a waste manager might not appear to have a great deal in common, yet IEMA’s 15,000-strong membership is made up from just this sort of diverse group of professionals united by the goal of ensuring a more sustainable future.

Alongside a respect for the planet and its limited resources, environment professionals share the belief that the best form of protection is helping organisations to understand their environmental impacts and the benefits of operating more efficiently.

This, of course, encapsulates a huge variety of elements from waste management and energy use, to remediation of contaminated land and modelling potential impacts of climate change, to say nothing of developing environment management systems and ensuring legal compliance.

This broad scope, alongside a growing appreciation by lawmakers and businesses over the past decade or so of the need to consider the environment, has understandably led to the explosive growth of specialist environmental roles. Some have grown out of existing professions, such as engineering, and require specific qualifications and skill sets; however, many environment professionals may be surprised how much of their existing knowledge and experience is transferrable.

An appreciation for legislation and ensuring compliance, accompanied by a broad understanding of environmental aspects and impacts and how organisations operate, are common to all roles. Meanwhile, the ability to collate and analyse data and communicate well are important skills for all environmentalists.

For those contemplating moving to a new environment role it is important to consider what extra specialist knowledge you need. Often a postgraduate qualification can be useful, but it isn’t always necessary, according to Anna Walton, principal consultant at WSP, who switched from a due diligence role to specialising in energy.

“If you have a burning desire for a subject, that will shine through in an interview and mean a lot,” she says. “You can always train someone to shore up their knowledge in an area or for specific tasks, but you cannot train someone to be enthusiastic and interested.”
Another question many environmentalists have to ask themselves is whether to use their skills in-house or consider a career in consultancy. Working as a consultant enables individuals to work across a variety of organisations and can offer greater freedom to introduce radical ideas, while those working in-house may feel more constrained by the culture of their organisation.

However, consultants are not often able to follow the implementation of their recommendations and see the final results, whereas those working in an organisation can. For many, the decision will come down to their personality and how they like to work.

For any IEMA member considering a career change, or new graduate just starting out, one top tip is to talk to other members about their experiences. Why not join the IEMA LinkedIn group or attend a meeting of your regional branch and learn more?

To get you started, the environmentalist looks into the requirements and starting salaries (not the actual salaries of the professionals featured) of nine very different environmental jobs and speaks to IEMA members about their experiences in those roles.


Environment manager circa £28,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree (environment or business) - required

Postgraduate qualification (environment or business) - desirable

Professional body membership (particularly IEMA) - required

Areas of knowledge and experience:

Environment management systems - required

UK and EU environmental legislation - required

Corporate social responsibility and wider sustainability agenda - required

Commercial awareness - required

Analytical skills - required

Good communication skills - required

Key responsibilities:

  • Ensuring compliance with all environmental legislation.
  • Developing, implementing and maintaining an environment management system.
  • Maintaining third-party certifications (ISO 14001, Carbon Trust Standard, for example).
  • Developing and implementing environmental strategies and projects.
  • Working with internal and external stakeholders to lessen impacts.

Tim Taylor, AIEMA, environment manager, RICOH

“I really enjoy the variety of my role and the involvement I have across the business. One day I could be in the field with a customer discussing sustainability or out benchmarking with peers, and the next I could be talking to our board about the impacts of raising energy and water costs on our profitability.

“Another great part of my job is getting to engage with a wide range of people, both internally and externally. We get great ideas from our staff on how to make better use of our resources and I am proud to say that I have been able to support our local community and other businesses by passing on what we have learned as a business.”


Environmental impact assessment (EIA) coordinator £20,000-£25,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree (preferably geography/environmental sciences) - required

Postgraduate qualification (EIA) - required

Professional body membership (particularly IEMA) - required

Areas of knowledge and experience:

Environmental impact assessment - required

Strong project management skills - required

Good communication skills - required

Planning regulation - desirable

Sector-specific expertise - desirable

Key responsibilities:

Coordinating the EIA process including:

  • confirming contracts, budgets and EIA programme;
  • briefing project specialists;
  • managing contact with the client and the environment specialists;
  • organising progress reports;
  • reviewing survey findings; and
  • drafting and reviewing the environmental statement.

Joanna Wright, MIEMA CEnv, principal environmental planner at LUC

“It is rewarding to see the finalised environmental statement, particularly when it demonstrates that environmental impacts have been avoided or minimised, and when consenting authorities provide positive feedback on its usefulness in decision making.

“Successful EIA coordinators know that it is really important to develop a personal understanding of the specialist topic areas that you are coordinating. You also need strong project management skills and good communications skills. Patience and a sense of humour also help.”


Ecologist £16,000-£20,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree (preferably life sciences) - required

Postgraduate qualification (environmental studies/ecology) - desirable

Professional body membership (particularly the Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management) - desirable

Areas of knowledge and experience:

UK and EU environmental protection legislation - required

Environmental impact assessment - required

Strategic environmental assessment - required

Good communication skills - required

Good analytical skills - required

Specialist interest in a specific species or group - desirable

Key responsibilities:

  • Ensuring organisations remain compliant with UK and international legislation in regard to ecology, particularly in development projects.
  • Organising and carrying out habitat surveys, surveys for protected species and consultations with stakeholders.
  • Data collection and analysis.
  • Assisting in the delivery of environmental impact assessments.
  • Liaising with consultees.
  • Compiling technical reports and environmental statements.

Cheryl Gogin, AIEMA, ecologist at Enims, working on long-term secondment at EnterpriseMouchel

“The most enjoyable part of my job is working and engaging with people from all levels of an organisation. In the morning I may be giving a toolbox talk to an on-site contractor and in the afternoon I’ll be having a meeting with engineers about a multimillion-pound project.

“People sometimes don’t appreciate the breadth of knowledge required to be an ecologist and the types of projects we get involved with. We develop a working knowledge of a broad variety of industry sectors so we can work with designers right from the conception stage of a development to bring about the best result for the environment. It isn’t just about protected species!”


Environmental engineer £22,000-£25,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree in engineering/environmental sciences - required

Postgraduate qualification in specialist area (noise, contaminated land, energy, for example) - required

Chartered engineer status - desirable for senior roles

Areas of knowledge and experience:

Good technical knowledge in primary discipline - required

Numeric modelling - required

Risk assessments - required

Good communication skills - required

Environmental impact assessment - desirable

Strategic environmental assessment - desirable

Key responsibilities:

  • Ensuring design of development projects meets relevant legal and environmental requirements.
  • Compiling design reports and specifications.
  • Reviewing and assessing designs.
  • Carrying out environmental modelling activities.
  • Working across project development teams to ensure engineering requirements are met.

Jason Collins-Webb, AIEMA, principal environmental engineer at Foster Wheeler

“I am able to directly influence design and encourage environmental improvements from the outset of a project and feel that I am making a real difference. Also, by working within a multidisciplinary team, I get to learn from and pass on my own knowledge of different engineering skillsets.

“The ‘engineering’ part of my job title gives the impression it’s primarily a technical role; it is, but it is more than that. You need to have a good understanding of environment management, sustainability, regulation and social issues, as well as commercial awareness and management skills.”


Environmental management systems auditor circa £30,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree (preferably environment management, earth sciences or chemistry) - required

Postgraduate qualification (environment management/sciences) - desirable

IRCA auditor qualification - desirable

Professional body membership (particularly IEMA) - desirable

Areas of knowledge and experience:

Environment management systems, such as ISO 14001 - required

Auditing skills - required

Good IT skills - required

Good communication skills - required

Time management and planning skills - required

Other management system standards - desirable

Key responsibilities:

  • Conducting on-site assessments of organisations’ environmental management systems against relevant standards or specifications, such as ISO 14001 or ISO 50001.
  • Conducting interviews.
  • Analysing documentation and processes.
  • Producing factual surveillance and initial assessment reports which are used to make recommendations for certification decisions.

Graeme Bruce, AIEMA, client manager – environmental specialist at BSI

“The most enjoyable aspect of my role is the variety of organisations and people I come into contact with. It gives me great satisfaction to see organisations interpreting and using standards to gain tangible benefits relating to environmental performance, workforce engagement and customer perception.

“Working as an auditor includes the verification of information to ensure accuracy and impartiality, such as environmental statements and emissions data, which provides a great challenge.

“No two days are ever the same and you can never predict the outcome of an assessment visit in advance.”


Quality, health, safety and environment manager circa £30,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree (preferably environment/quality/health and safety/management) - required

Postgraduate qualification (environment/quality) - desirable

IRCA auditor qualification - desirable

Professional body membership (particularly IEMA/IOSH) - desirable

Areas of knowledge and experience:

Management systems for quality, environment and health and safety - required

Understanding of international standards (ISO 14001/ISO 9001/OHSAS 18001) - required

Auditing skills - required

Good communication skills - required

Key responsibilities:

  • Developing and maintaining management systems for quality, environment and health and safety.
  • Managing the integration of approaches to quality, environment and health and safety.
  • Ensuring requirements of third-party certifications are met.
  • Developing an audit programme and conducting audits.

Lowellyne James, AIEMA, quality safety environment manager at Capital Cooling

“I act as a catalyst for engaging both internal and external stakeholders with changes to reduce our environmental impacts, develop a safety culture and improve customer satisfaction.

“Though engagement at times may spark heated debates on the various initiatives that are proposed, there is a consensus that sustainability is a core value of the organisation. This holistic, people-centred approach has meant that I have been able to contribute to Capital Cooling winning the Scottish Green Award for best green small business in 2010 and the ACR News Contractor of the Year Award in 2011.”


Hydrologist £20,000-£25,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree (environmental sciences/civil engineering) - required

Postgraduate qualification (environment/water management) - desirable

Professional body membership (particularly IEMA/Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management) - desirable

Chartered environmentalist (CEnv) - desirable

Areas of knowledge and experience:

Risk assessment - required

Numeric modelling - required

UK and EU regulation - required

Good communication skills - required

Civil engineering and infrastructure - required

Key responsibilities:

  • Undertaking hydrological assessments.
  • Developing soil and groundwater strategies.
  • Carrying out contaminated land assessments.
  • Designing remediation projects.
  • Flood risk/hydrology modelling.
  • Managing water use.

Rupert Evans, AIEMA CEnv, director of Evans Rivers and Coastal Ltd consultancy

“There are various training courses and research documents which help you learn the various hydrological principles and processes and how this can be applied to work-based projects.

“I have been working on hydrology and flood-risk projects for the past 10 years and found that by becoming a CEnv and completing a master’s degree allowed me to progress further with my career and also demonstrated my technical and managerial ability. This has also inspired me to set up my own flood risk and hydrology consultancy firm, which I enjoy very much.”


Waste manager £25,000-£30,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree (preferably environmental sciences) - required

Postgraduate qualification (environmental science) - desirable

Professional body membership (particularly IEMA/Chartered Institution of Wastes Management) - required

Chartered environmentalist (CEnv) - desirable

Areas of knowledge and experience:

UK and EU waste management legislation - required

Risk assessment - required

Hazardous waste management - required

Recycling processes and technology - required

Health and safety management - required

Good communication skills - required

Key responsibilities:

  • Managing the operational process of both non-hazardous and hazardous waste disposal.
  • Ensuring legal compliance.
  • Delivering effective recycling and waste management strategies.
  • Ensuring a healthy and safe working environment.
  • Maintenance of environment management systems.
  • Management of contracts with suppliers/clients.
  • Compiling and presenting reports

Simon Jury, AIEMA, contract manager at Veolia Environmental Services

“Recycling and waste management is a service industry, and working with customers to reduce their waste and to control what remains in a compliant, sustainable and efficient way is what makes the job rewarding. It is also a very challenging sector with a rigorous legislative framework surrounding it that will surprise many.

“As our understanding of the fragility of the environment to particular chemicals has advanced, so has the legislation to prevent their release. Undertaking my BSc and MSc has been particularly helpful in providing me with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate that complex regulatory landscape and ensure legally compliant waste disposal.”


Energy/carbon consultant £25,000

Qualifications:

Undergraduate degree - required

Accreditation as display energy certificate assessor - required

Accreditation as energy performance certificate assessor - required

Postgraduate qualification (preferably business/environment/energy/engineering) - desirable

Professional body membership (particularly IEMA/the Energy Institute) - desirable

Areas of knowledge and experience:

UK and EU regulation on energy and carbon management - required

Analytical/assessment skills - required

Good communication skills - required

Good IT skills - required

Key responsibilities:

  • Performing on-site surveys of buildings’/organisations’ energy consumption.
  • Modelling/analysing energy use.
  • Writing reports/presenting findings.
  • Developing, implementing and advising on strategies to minimise energy use.
  • Ensuring clients’ legal compliance.

Anna Walton, AIEMA, principal consultant, integrated energy management team, WSP

“The most rewarding aspect of my role is helping clients to improve their environmental performance and to realise exactly what they are capable of and how they can achieve their goals. When you see that happen you feel as though you are really doing some good.

“As a consultant you have the freedom to shake things up and be a bit daring with your recommendations. Also, working for a big consultancy means I can help my clients to consider other sustainability aspects and like preparing them for what we think might be coming on the legislative horizon.”

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