Environmental Consultants


Exploring this Job

Join professional associations to learn more about environmental issues. Many organizations offer memberships for college students, and a few have membership categories for high school students and people who are interested in protecting the environment.

Be sure to visit such Web sites as http://www.greentechmedia.com, http://www.greenbiz.com, and http://www.grist.org. Three must-read books are Environmental Consulting Fundamentals: Investigation, Remediation, and Brownfields Redevelopment, by Benjamin Alter; The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy, by Lester R. Brown and Emily Adams; and Environment, by Peter H. Raven, David M. Hassenzahl, Mary Catherine Hager, Nancy Y. Gift, and Linda R. Berg. 

Attending conferences is another way to learn what industry leaders are discussing and to find out about potential employment opportunities. Green Power Conferences is a leader in hosting renewable energy conferences. Visit http://www.greenpowerglobal.com to learn about upcoming events.

Ask your school counselor to arrange an information interview with a consultant to discuss his or her career. Prepare a list of questions for the interview to learn more about the field, the pros and cons of the job, training requirements, and other opportunities that might be available to you.

The Job

Environmental consultants are problem solvers—applying their expertise in one or more environmental areas to help companies with matters ranging from disposing of hazardous waste, to developing green manufacturing practices, to ensuring compliance with complicated and constantly changing environmental laws. External environmental consultants work for large management consulting firms that have sustainability or environment-related practices. They are also employed by smaller, boutique firms that specialize in environmental consulting, focus on a specific subsector (such as energy efficiency), or provide environmental consulting services to a particular industry (such as energy or telecommunications). External environmental consultants work with clients on a project basis, and clients are billed by the hour for consultants’ services. Internal environmental consultants work as salaried employees for companies and other organizations. Others operate their own consulting practices and provide expertise to corporations, government agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations on a project basis.

Environmental consultants have a wide range of duties, depending on their employer and the needs of their clients. These are some examples of typical duties for environmental consultants:

  • Ensure that employers are in full compliance with government environmental regulations, and if not, work with regulators and company executives to remedy the problem
  • Advise manufacturers on how to remediate environmental contamination from pollutants, hazardous materials, and toxic substances
  • Create social-media campaigns that educate consumers about a company’s attempts to be more environmentally friendly
  • Prepare environmental assessments, environmental impact statements and reports, environmental impact reports, and related documentation required for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act
  • Provide recommendations to expedite the issuance of local, state, and federal permits for a variety of energy, land use, mining, development, and industrial projects
  • Help companies respond to environmental disasters (such as the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico); these services might include advice on how to address the disaster with the media, government officials, and the public and recommendations on how to actually respond to the disaster
  • Collect data through field surveys to establish a baseline condition for levels of pollution or contamination of a site or structure
  • Help a Fortune 500 manufacturing company determine the expected financial impact of a new environmental regulation
  • Perform environmental risk evaluations pertaining to a company’s manufacturing processes
  • Conduct feasibility studies for a proposed renewable-energy project
  • Conduct research to substantiate “green” marketing claims for ecoproducts
  • Advise companies on how to reduce their “footprints” on the environment and run their businesses in a more sustainable way
  • Meet with scientists, environmental policy makers, government officials, other consultants, corporate executives, and employees to gather information and brainstorm solutions to environmental problems
  • Create corporate environmental strategies to reduce emissions and increase investment in clean technology
  • Write reports that summarize their findings and recommendations, and present them to the client