What does a career in the sector look like?
Environmental consultants provide expert advice and assessment services to clients to minimise or eliminate environmental damage, or to ensure they comply with environmental regulations.
They work on a range of environmental issues such as air, land and water contamination, water management and recycling, emissions and climate change, renewable energy and environmental management. This is a common career path for geographers.
Tasks performed in this industry can involve modelling a particular environmental risk, taking field surveys, doing desk research, reporting on research findings or managing legislative issues.
Business-related activities are significant, so writing reports, managing staff and building relationships in the industry are all likely to feature in a career in the sector.
Experiences from professional geographers
I oversee the environmental aspects of major civil engineering projects, which means I am responsible for permits, management plans, processes, innovations, carbon savings, material approvals, and site inspections. I work alongside other project teams, and I am also involved in various Heathrow sustainability working groups such as Clean Vehicle partnership and Carbon Trust meetings.
Victoria Chater-Lea, Environmental Advisor, Ferrovial Agroman
In a typical week work will include research, report writing and attendance at client meetings. I also assist with wider business resource planning and bidding work on a less frequent basis. I work with a wide range of people including environmental consultancy specialists e.g. ecology, noise and air quality in order to draw on their wider knowledge. A lot of my work with others is coordination and management of specialists for information through a range of mediums.
Toby Wastling, Principal Consultant, Temple Group
I project manage and conduct a variety of global audit programs which involves confirming logistics, communicating with clients and managing budgets for the projects. I also conduct audits throughout the year in the manufacturing and technology, media and telecom (TMT) sector allowing me to explore behind the scenes of production lines and high-tech companies. These audits are conducted across the world, meaning I get the opportunity to work with colleagues in a plethora of different countries.
I also work on more niche projects identifying the main environmental, health, safety and community risks within establishments to deliver innovative solutions to complex issues. Other examples of work include: environmental permitting, legal compliance registers and Task Force on Climate Change work.
Sophie Leigh, Climate Change Consultant, Environmental Resources Management (ERM)
Webinar - Use Geography: Careers in Environmental Consultancy
Watch our webinar on starting a career in the sector with geography, with panellists Lucy Rushmer CGeog, Lucy Rymill and Jonathan Riggall CGeog.
Advice on getting a job in the sector
Geographers understand how natural processes and human activities affect environments – the fundamental business of environmental consulting. Students who have specialised in human and physical geography take up roles in this sector.
An undergraduate geography degree, or degree in a relevant subject, is a usual requirement. See our support for undergraduates and career advice for students for advice on how to make the most of your degree and plan your career.
Masters-level training is often required for roles and allows you to develop more specialised skills and expertise. See our advice on postgraduate study and options for a Master’s or PhD. An environmental practitioner apprenticeship is an alternative option.
Many environmental consulting companies have graduate schemes that are designed to train people from degree level towards a role in the company. Whether you're looking for graduate schemes or simply a direct entry job role, search around consultancies’ websites and be aware of application deadlines. One great starting resource is this list of environmental consultancies.
Skills and planning ahead
Demonstrating how you can apply your fieldwork skills might be very relevant for field-based roles. You could think about how your undergraduate dissertation, Master's dissertation or PhD thesis could relate to a future role in environmental consulting, and even reach out to companies or people in the industry to discuss or organise research.
GIS or data analysis skills or qualifications could also be an asset, particularly in roles involving modelling or mapping, for example. Some roles may need a driving license for site visits. Think about all of the opportunities in your degree to develop this expertise and skills (link making most of your degree).
However, these are only some aspects of consultancy work - look for opportunities that might match your skillset and your interests. Environmental consultancy could also involve, for example, managing client relationships. Communication and people skills are important too.
A work experience placement, or an internship (link to our page on this), can give you a clearer idea of the range of work consultancy firms undertake and provides valuable experience that shows your commitment to the sector. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals to ask for advice or a placement, as they’ll likely be happy to help. Volunteering in an environmental role locally can also be an option to demonstrate your interest and build skills.
LinkedIn is one way to find out about opportunities and make contacts - don't be afraid to reach out to talk about opportunities and developments in the sector. Check the webpages of major companies too.
If you are looking at a larger company where environmental consultancy may only be one of its specialisms, look for opportunities to engage with that part of its work via a placement, grad scheme rotation or in direct entry roles.
Developing your career
After beginning your career, continuing professional development (CPD) will be an important way to develop and demonstrate your progress. You may wish to explore options around joining a professional body and gaining professional accreditation – this demonstrates your commitment to professional development.
Options for environmental consultants include the Society and Chartered Geographer, CIWEM and Chartered Water and Environmental Manager and various providers of Chartered Environmentalist. Check out these accreditations to see what skills you might develop over your career.
Advice from professional geographers
Consulting is a rewarding but challenging career path requiring a range of skills. You have to be quite well organised, and be able to work and report efficiently. There are good opportunities for a diverse range of projects and work experience but you have to be interested in the subject matter as it can involve long hours and fieldwork. I would advise talking to other consultants before committing - but don’t be afraid to try it.
Andy Markham, Director, Hydrobiology
The key piece of advice I would give is to understand which companies do environmental consultancy. Pretty much any engineering company will have an environmental consultancy arm although this may not be immediately obvious, digging around on most websites will find some environmental capabilities. For general environmental consultancy, here is a broad list of companies to approach: Temple, Arup, Atkins, Arcadis, Mott McDonald, ERM, WSP, RSK, Jacobs.
Toby Wastling, Principle Consultant, Temple Group
Try and complete as many internships and work experiences as you can. I found that I had graduated university with no real relevant experience and struggled to get an environmental role. It’s really competitive out there, but once you are in, you are in! And lastly keep pursuing your passion - you will end up in the role one day. I graduated July 2016 and in November 2017 I landed my first proper environmental role, and now I’ve managed to become an Environmental Advisor (although I’m on a very steep learning curve!). There is also an element of luck of looking in the right place at the right time.
Victoria Chater-Lea, Environmental Advisor, Ferrovial Agroman
I found undertaking a range of different types of work experience during college and university very useful. There are lots of different roles within the field of environmental consulting such as ecologists, landscape architects, archaeologists and environmental town planners, so work experience can assist with finding out what is interesting to you and exploring where a career in geography can take you.
Sally Hadley, Graduate Environmental Consultant, WSP