Environmental Planners


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Environmental planners rely on solid math, science, and communication skills in their work. Be sure to take classes in math, ecology, geology, natural sciences, environmental studies, history, political science, English, and software and design programs.

Postsecondary Training

Federal, state, and local governments require environmental and urban planners to have a master's degree from an accredited program in environmental or urban planning. A bachelor's degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design provides a solid foundation for graduate studies. The Planning Accreditation Board (PAB, http://www.planningaccreditationboard.org) accredits undergraduate and graduate degree planning programs. As of December 18, 2019, PAB had accredited 75 master’s and 16 bachelor’s programs at 79 North American universities. Many schools now offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in resource and environmental planning and environmental studies. Graduates can specialize in such areas as land-use or code enforcement, community development and redevelopment, natural resources and environmental planning, urban planning, transportation planning, and economic planning and development.

In addition to course work in environmental planning, undergraduates also study earth sciences, architecture, economics, law, finance, health administration, and management. Environmental planners regularly use computer models and statistics in their work, so these classes as well as computer science and geographic information systems classes are recommended.


Some colleges and universities offer certificate programs in environmental planning. For example, the University of California at Davis provides a Land Use and Environmental Planning Certificate Program that features 14 required and elective classes. Required courses include Urban Planning and Design Studio; Community Involvement and Communication in Planning; Financial Aspects of Planning; Planning in California: An Overview; Environmental Planning and Site Analysis; and Planning and Environmental Law. Contact schools in your area to learn more about available programs. 

Other Education or Training

The American Planning Association offers audio/web conferences, workshops, self-directed study options, and online courses. Recent offerings included Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Areas, Planning Ethics and the Law, Sustainable Zoning and Development Controls, Planning for Climate Change: Adaptation and Mitigation, and Managing Complex Relationships in Planning. The Canadian Institute of Planners also provides continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Certification is voluntary and can broaden an environmental planner's opportunities for work. The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP, a division of the American Planning Association) offers certification to applicants must meet educational and professional requirements and pass an exam. To maintain certification, planners must participate in ongoing professional development activities to keep their skills fresh and to stay up to date on trends, technologies, and best practices. In addition, the AICP offers the certified environmental planner credential, an advanced designation to those who have earned the lower-level certification, worked in the field for eight years, passed an examination, and met other requirements. 

The Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals (a subsidiary of the National Association of Environmental Professionals) offers general certification to environmental professionals. 

To date, New Jersey is the only state that requires planners to be licensed. Licensure is granted to applicants who pass two exams, one that focuses on general knowledge of planning, and a second that tests knowledge of New Jersey planning laws. Michigan requires registration to use the title "community planner." Registrants must have professional work experience and pass national and state exams in order to receive the community planner title.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring planners should obtain several years of experience in the environmental planning field as assistants or in other positions.

A myriad of skills and character traits are required to adeptly and successfully handle the job of environmental planner. Creative and analytical thinking are key components. Planners need to be able to incorporate numerous details into their plans and visualize the effects of their designs. Diplomacy and flexibility are called upon regularly in this type of work. Planners collaborate with various team members and clients and must be able to constructively resolve differences of opinion to keep projects moving forward as well as to keep design aspects in compliance with environmental regulations. Strong knowledge of environmental policy and laws, as well as laws specific to the projects on which they are working, is required for all levels of environmental planning. Clear, strong communication skills—both written and verbal—are also essential for day-to-day tasks, including making presentations, discussing and negotiating various aspects of projects and contracts, and instructing and managing other staff and team members. The ability to work independently and as part of a team is also intrinsic to the job at all levels.