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:
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.
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.
Please see our webpage on Energy careers for information about this popular sector.
Sustainable management of processes and resources is a growth area as businesses and governments strive to meet national and EU environmental impact targets. Opportunities exist in carbon management, 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 develop sustainability policies and procedure. Some produce these in-house, others turn to the growing numbers of sustainability 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).
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.
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 & special interest advocacy
Working with 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 issues, and to campaign directly for change.