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Environmental Work | The Careers Service Environmental Work – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

The environment is a very broad employment sector, and it is likely to become even larger and more diverse in the future. An increase in environmental legislation has led to a greater number of opportunities within pollution control, waste management, recycling and carbon management. Likewise, increased public awareness of environmental issues has led to considerable investment in sustainable development and renewable energy sources. Many organisations have also realised that it is both practical and responsible to develop more efficient processes, use fewer natural resources and produce less waste. As such, sustainability and environmental work is no longer a niche market and has gradually been becoming more mainstream, with some large companies providing sustainability reports and audits in the same way they provide financial and audit reports. However, competition can be fierce and vacancies rarely exist for inexperienced graduates. Postgraduate qualifications may be required and short-term and/or low-paid jobs can initially provide valuable experience.

The range of employers who recruit in this area is wide and includes the following sectors:

  • Voluntary and charity sector, e.g. wildlife and habitat conservation charities and environmental NGOs, pressure groups, expeditions, and trusts.
  • Public sector, e.g. regulatory bodies, such as local authorities, the Environment Agency, research institutes, educational establishments, and national parks and monuments.
  • Intergovernmental and international sector, e.g. United Nations (UNEP, UNDP, FAO, WFP), international environmental think tanks and research institutes, commissions and consultative bodies.
  • Private sector, ranging from large, multinational companies to those involved in resource management, such as the water and forestry industries, nuclear, gas, chemical, electricity, oil and mining companies, environmental consultancies and research firms, eco-tourism businesses, and companies involved in alternative energy.
Types of job

Whilst the range of jobs in this sector is tremendously varied, people working in any area will be primarily concerned with the impact of people and industry on the environment – below are some examples:

Environmental conservation

Conservationists and ecologists work in a wide range of urban and rural environments to protect and improve the environment. Most begin their careers in field-based jobs, collecting and analysing data, and progress on to managing projects, liaising with stakeholders and developing strategy. There may also be a community education element to conservation roles.

The main employers are government bodies e.g. The Environment Agency, Natural England and DEFRA and local and national charities (find a list at Charity Choice).

It’s a competitive sector. Be prepared to build up experience through volunteering with conservation organisations. If you are interested in a specific organisation try to find out how they recruit (through an agency or specific websites?) so that you can target them in the most effective way. Use the resources listed at the bottom of the webpage to research your options.

Climate change

Many scientists are engaged in analysing and predicting climate change and developing models to assess its potential impact. The range of scientific disciplines is immense: remote sensing, atmosphere sampling and modelling, oceanography, study of ice caps, sea ice, glaciers and the extent of frozen tundra and carbon sequestration studies, to name a few. Experience of handling large datasets can be important. Non-technical roles also exist in creating strategies to mitigate the risks of climate change, in advocacy, campaigning and in education. Your work on climate change could be based in a university, a government body or the private sector. Charities and campaign groups are also active in this area.

Renewable energy

Please see our webpage on Energy careers for information about this popular sector.

Carbon management

Carbon management is a growth area as businesses and governments strive to meet national and EU carbon emissions targets. Opportunities exist in carbon auditing, carbon offsetting, carbon capture and storage, as well as in the development of cleaner industrial processes, sustainable procurement, low carbon energy generation and improved energy efficiency. Many businesses and government bodies are now developing carbon management plans. Some produce these in-house, others turn to the growing numbers of carbon management consulting firms.

Environmental protection & control

This involves pollution prevention and control, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations regarding industrial and other waste. The Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are the UK’s governmental agencies responsible for administering laws to control and reduce pollution. Large companies may have in-house teams looking after this area, but much of the work is undertaken by specialist consulting firms.

Environmental scientists & engineers

People working in this sector apply science and engineering principles to improve the environment, to clean up polluted sites and to provide clean water, air and land. They are often responsible for designing public and industrial water treatment systems, as well as conducting hazardous waste management studies, providing advice and developing regulations. They are concerned with environmental issues, such as the effects of acid rain, pollution and ozone depletion. See the Engineering, Energy and Scientific R&D webpages and the Prospects website for more information.

A large number of companies also promote holidays as ‘Eco-tourism’ – see The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) for more information.

Environmental law & litigation

Practitioners are concerned with a body of law that seeks to protect the environment that may be affected, impacted or endangered by human activities. Some environmental laws regulate the quantity and nature of the impact of human activities. An example might be setting allowable levels of pollution or requiring permits for potentially harmful activities.

Other environmental laws are preventive in nature and seek to assess the possible impacts before the human activities can occur. While many countries worldwide have accumulated impressive sets of environmental laws, their implementation has often been poor. Nowadays, environmental law is seen as a critical means of promoting sustainable development. Policy concepts such as the precautionary principle, public participation, environmental justice and the “polluter pays” principle have informed many environmental law reforms in this respect.

The environmental law sector encompasses legal careers in a variety of public and private organisations, including providing legal advice, prosecuting offenders for breaches of environmental law, and advising on environmental law and policy initiatives. For more information see our pages on Solicitors and Barristers, as well as the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) and Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD).

Environmental policy

Policy is usually decided at a national or international level. International Environmental Co-operation involves assessing global, regional and national environmental conditions and trends, addressing existing and emerging environmental issues at the global and regional levels and bringing environmental experts together. For example, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acts as a catalyst, advocate, educator and facilitator to promote the wise use and sustainable development of the global environment. It works with other United Nations entities, international organisations, national governments, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and civil society to achieve this.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Environment Directorate works together with the 30 member countries of the OECD and selected non-members to improve country environmental policies.

Organic Agriculture

Research and opportunities associated with Organic Agriculture are increasing, as demand for organically produced food rises. Organic farming systems have been designed to produce food with care for human health, the environment and animal welfare. For more information see World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF).

Environmental Pressure Groups

Working with environmental pressure groups often means adopting a highly visible public profile, although not all groups are frontline. Opportunities in many of the smaller groups for paid work are few, but volunteers are often needed. The purpose of the groups is to increase awareness of particular environmental issues, and to campaign directly for change.

Entry points

A postgraduate qualification is often required to follow a career in the environmental sector. Further study may be at either Masters or PhD level, depending on the particular career you wish to pursue. For example, whilst a PhD is important for a career in research, taught Masters courses are popular when entering the field of environmental consultancy. Not all environmental lawyers or consultants studied law, or specifically environmental law, at undergraduate level – however they are all qualified solicitors or barristers (in the UK), so it is worth exploring the different degrees, courses and qualification options available.

There are a wide range of specialist courses at the Masters level, providing a focus on particular environmental issues. Consider:

  • How relevant is the course to the environmental field within which you want to work?
  • What do students leaving the course go on to do? Contact the institution offering the course and ask about destinations data.
  • Does the course have a strong practical element? Often, vocational courses that have a strong practical element and/or project placements in environmental organisations (through which you can make valuable contacts with potential employers) will provide you with enhanced job prospects.
  • Talk to employers and find out which courses they particularly recommend.
Skills & experience

Skills needed

While environmental work is of particular interest to life scientists (eg: those who have studied subjects such as biology, biochemistry, zoology etc.), as the sector expands and diversifies, other disciplines are becoming increasingly involved. Apart from having a good degree and a real commitment to the work, other useful skills include the following:

  • The ability to work in a team
  • Strong communication skills
  • Computer literacy
  • Relevant environmental/practical knowledge and experience
  • Appropriate postgraduate qualifications
  • Self-confidence – particularly if you are in a role in which you need to convince others about an environmental concern
  • In some areas, a degree of commercial awareness
  • And, if you are thinking of working internationally, an additional language.

Getting experience

There aren’t many graduate programmes in the environment sector and they are usually found within large energy, infrastructure firms and environmental consultancies such as AECOM, so it’s essential that you try to proactively find relevant work experience, even on a voluntary basis.

  • Volunteering: Some environmental charities provide excellent volunteering opportunities. For example, The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) have full details of their schemes on their website. Similarly other organisations, such as the Centre for Alternative Technology or Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trusts, offer voluntary placements. The Environmental Change Institute (ECI) at Oxford University also runs a sustainability internship programme
  • Work-shadowing can also be a useful way of finding out more about a particular area, as well as providing a source of contacts. Be prepared to be proactive in your search and make speculative applications, including to large companies, since many will now also have a specialist department concerned with environmental issues.
  • Internships: Some companies offer summer internships for students in the penultimate year of their university course. Students on postgraduate courses are also often eligible to apply for these. Internships typically last eight to thirteen weeks and are most common in large environmental or engineering consultancies or power generation companies. Applications open early in the autumn and closing dates are usually between December and March.
  • The Internship Programme, run by the Careers Service, offers internships in all sectors, worldwide, including a significant number in the environmental sector. This is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students.
  • Some college JCR/GCR committees have an “Environment Officer” post – undertaking this role could enhance your CV by demonstrating a commitment to the subject area.
  • Expeditions – opportunities to get involved with environmental and sustainable development projects, often in countries that would be difficult to visit independently, offer participants the scope to acquire skills which can be useful. Examples include Raleigh International and Frontier.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Food Programme (WFP) offer internship and voluntary opportunities. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) volunteer programme is designed to expand FAO’s human resources capacity by providing opportunities for individuals to contribute their services on a voluntary basis to FAO. Those selected for the volunteer programme will be utilised in areas according to their qualifications and the needs of the organisation. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) offers internships and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a source of internships in the US

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer, the status of the employer and the location of your employer as employment laws vary from country to country. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship in the UK, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

Many environmental organisations are small, and have only occasional vacancies that arise on a sporadic basis, so you may have to be proactive and contact companies you are interested in yourself. See our webpage on Making Speculative Approaches.

The lack of large mainstream graduate recruiters in the sector makes it essential that you network as much as possible, and let your contacts know if you are available for work. Likewise, be aware of current environmental issues. Often, if you are willing to work on a short-term, voluntary basis for an employer, then you are in a stronger position should a paid vacancy arise.

Other sources of job opportunities include the New Scientist and The Guardian, both available at the Careers Service. You will also find vacancies on the internet, for example on the Environmental Data Services (ENDS) website and the environment and sustainability recruitment website ACRE. In addition, many environmental charities advertise jobs on their websites, e.g. TCV and Friends of the Earth. Local and county councils will also advertise environment-related positions on their respective websites.

 

Equality & positive action

  • STEMM Disability Advisory Committee provides support for disabled students and workers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Use the portal section of their website for a comprehensive set of links to relevant groups and projects.
  • WISE promotes female talent in science, engineering and technology. Their extensive website showcases case studies of female role models in technical roles.

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Green Careers – Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future, Jim Cassio & Alice Rush

Journals

We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • New Scientist

Podcasts of past events

Careers in Environment & Renewables

Interested in finding out more about careers in the Environment? Listen to Nick King, an environment professional with over 30 years experience in sustainable development, climate change mitigation and adaptation, talk about his extensive career working in both the UK and abroad and providing advice on developing your career in this sector.

External resources

General information and vacancies

Sector vacancies

Institutes, directories & research councils

Environmental conservation & management

Environmental protection & control

Environmental science & engineering

Sustainable development & renewable energy

Environmental law

International environmental co-operation

Organic agriculture

Pressure groups

This information was last updated on 05 February 2018.
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Recent blogs about Environmental Work

Get guidance during the vacation!

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on June 21, 2018.

The Careers Service offers e-guidance during the vacation period, so that you can get careers advice even if you’re not in Oxford. If you have a careers advice question, send an email to guidance@careers.ox.ac.uk.

We will be running this service throughout the summer, from Monday 25 June until Thursday 27 September 2018. A Careers Adviser will normally reply to your email within two working days.

If you are still in Oxford you can also come in to have a discussion with a Careers Adviser – our normal advice appointments are available to book on CareerConnect.

If you require any further clarification of our services, or have a specific enquiry, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us: reception@careers.ox.ac.uk or telephone 01865 274646.

Internship Opportunity for PhD Students

Posted on behalf of Foundry. Blogged by Elleanor Thornton on June 19, 2018.

Three month paid internship aimed at PhD students to start ASAP!

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Transition into Data Science: Masters, PhDs & Researchers

Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on June 18, 2018.

Science 2 Data Science, is a UK data science bootcamp offering five weeks of intensive, project-based training to help analytical PhDs and MScs transition to careers as Data Scientists. Their annual ‘virtual’ training will run in October 2018 and is now open for applications from qualifying students – including anyone within 12 months of completing their current research commitments.

The demand for data scientists in many industries is growing rapidly and participating in a data science bootcamps can help highly numerate post-graduates to gain experience in commercially relevant projects to help them transition smoothly from academic research into industry.

To apply:

Visit S2DS.org – the deadline is midnight BST on 13 July. There is a one-off £800 registration fee, but we believe that there are no additional costs.

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London Graduate Fair

Posted on behalf of University of London. Blogged by Karan Karasinska on June 14, 2018.

The London Graduate Fair will be taking place at Senate House, London, WC1E 7HU on Wednesday 20 June, 11.00-17.00.

  • Thousands of graduate jobs
  • Meet employers face-to-face
  • Free CV surgery
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Entry is free, register now.

Postgraduate Study in the USA: Seminar 19 June, London

Blogged by Abby Evans on June 14, 2018.

The US-UK Educational Advisory Service will be running Postgrad USA on the evening of Tuesday 19 June – a 3-hour workshop held at the University of Notre Dame in London. The event is for UK students interested in postgraduate study in the United States, covering a number of topics, including:

When: Tuesday 19 June
Where: University of Notre Dame, London

Registration for the event is open now.

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Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.