As an environmental consultant you can apply your knowledge and problem-solving skills to help preserve the planet. To become an environmental consultant, you can choose among numerous courses of study and enjoy a comfortable salary once you graduate. The growing need for environmental consultants makes it a career with loads of advancement opportunities.
Environmental consultants, also called environmental specialists, work with government and private sector clients to find preventative or restorative solutions for environmental problems. The types of problems they confront can range from industrial pollution to naturally occurring hazards such as toxic molds.
Environmental consultants analyze situations by collecting data about and samples of elements such as industrial chemicals, building materials, water and soil that can yield clues to the origin of environmental issues. From the array of materials and data, the specialist can establish root causes of problems or prepare solutions. For example, a manufacturing client might task an environmental consultant with minimizing air pollution caused by its production process.
Environmental specialists work directly with clients in office settings and in the field. Consultants must produce technical reports that convey solutions the client can understand. Their work may require scientific knowledge of natural elements such as soil, water and air, as well as man-made materials that can affect the environment. Some environmental consultants also must possess knowledge of human biology and anatomy to understand risks to human health.
Typically, entry-level environmental consulting jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs that carry the “environmental science” title, but the course of study you choose may depend on the environmental issue on which you plan to concentrate. For example, if you want to focus your career on climate change issues, you might consider a degree in natural science, or a more specific area such as geology. Other areas of study useful to environmental consultants include biology, chemistry and physics.
Often, an internship is part of an environmental science degree program. By enrolling in an internship program, you can gain valuable experience while still in school and refine your area of interest before entering the workforce.
You can find entry-level jobs with an environmental studies degree, but advancing to upper management might require an advanced degree. For instance, if your plans call for a career in the federal government, a master’s degree in public policy might complement your undergraduate environmental education.
Environmental consulting is an ever-expanding field. Companies that offer green energy products and services, such as solar energy and rainwater harvesting, need environmental consultants to advise clients and support sales staff. Government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Park Service need environmental specialists to help plan infrastructure projects, avoid environmental disasters and craft public policy. Large corporations need environmental specialists to develop sustainable business practices and reduce environmental hazards in supply chains. Some environmental firms specialize in toxic cleanup, such as removing asbestos or restoring land, water or air contaminated by industrial pollution.
The list of environmental careers increases as new problems become apparent. Common environmental specialties include industrial ecology, climate change, environmental restoration, air quality and human health and safety.
In 2016, nearly 90,000 people in the United States held environmental science or environmental specialist positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). About 23 percent worked for consulting firms, while about the same number worked for state governments. Engineering companies and the federal government employed a combined 15 percent of environmental specialists.
Entry-level environmental consulting jobs pay around $38,000 to $47,000. In 2017, the median salary for all environmental consultants was nearly $70,000, according to the BLS. The median salary is the wage in the center of an occupation’s pay scale. Environmental specialists working for the federal government took home a median wage of more than $100,000. Engineering firms paid a median salary of nearly $70,000, while consulting firms offered around $68,000. State governments paid their environmental specialists a median income of around $63,000.
As the public’s interest in environment issues increases, and as corporations seek ways to protect the environment, careers in environmental specialties continue to expand. The BLS estimates the need for environmental consultants to grow by around 11 percent through 2026. Local and state governments likely will have the greatest need for environmental specialists, followed by private sector firms that provide consulting services.