Environmental Consulting

The environmental consultants at PM Environmental understand the need to communicate in layman’s terms, so they can help you reduce uncertainty and understand the results. PM Environmental’s mission is to provide superior value through safe, cost effective and innovative solutions, creating maximum return while minimizing risk for our clients. Interested? Visit our home page to learn more about our environmental services and how we can help you. 

 

 

Environmental Consulting Career Advice

We realize that many students are interested in a career in environmental consulting. However, we found that there weren't a tremendous amount of practical resources where students could learn more about what a career in this field would look like. With that in mind, we asked some successful professionals their thoughts on career paths, advice on classes, starting positions and much more. 

 

Question 1

If a student were looking to get into environmental consulting, what courses should they focus on and what skills should will be most valuable in the industry and most important in helping them succeed?
 
It depends what type of consulting they are interested in. The environmental sector is really broad, and is probably going to continue to spread into different areas in the future. Clean Tech, Supply Chain, Environmental/Green Design, Sustainable Business Practices, etc. all have different areas of expertise; but, in general I would say focus on the hard skills (math, science, design, engineering, environmental economics, etc) that pertain to your area of interest. These are more marketable, are likely going to pay more, and are more difficult to learn/master once you are out of a college environment.
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
Students looking to enter the environmental consulting industry should do their research and determine what aspect of environmental consulting they are interested in making a career.  If environmental due diligence (i.e. Phase I ESA, Phase II ESA, etc.) is the area of consulting students wish to get into, students should focus on environmental policy, environmental chemistry, geology/hydrology, and writing courses. Most courses are not going to cover the basics of writing a Phase I or Phase II ESA, however, if you have a good background in the policy and science involved, you will stand out as an applicant and consultant. 
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
The environmental due diligence consulting that we do at AEI is primarily related to helping people evaluate property for the presence of contamination – it’s a bit like environmental detective work.  Environmental history plays a role in understanding how land use can affect property with legacy issues.  Geology and hydrogeology are important in regards to subsurface sampling and remediation of soil, soil vapor and groundwater.  GIS and geography can help with the presentation of the information that we gather.  One of the most important skills in environmental consulting, in my view, is the ability to take complex information and present it in a well-written, easily understandable format for the layperson.  Conducting research and preparing written findings of your research is one of the most important skills you gain during your studies. 
 Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants
 
There are many branches of environmental engineering. Examples include water (potable) and wastewater plant construction, operation and management, infrastructure impact planning, mining operation amelioration, energy conservation, etc. Other aspects include helping governments in the US and overseas develop environmental legislation and regulations for industrial, commercial and residential polluters or those industries that specialize in pollution cleanup.

In addition to technical courses, students should take a foreign language, economics, accounting or finance, political science/government, sociology and writing because consultants are required to be conversant with a range of issues and comfortable communicating with diverse groups of stakeholders.
Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC
 
Earth science, biology, chemistry, and public policy. Learn to write an intelligible report, unlike what engineers tend to crank out. Read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk & White, or some other such manual..
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
 
LEED AP then work on energy modeling and audits that show how to pay for improvements.
Chuck Lohre
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy
Question 2
If there is such a thing as a “typical career path” what would it look like?
 
Internship, associate, manager, director....I'd say that the corporate ladder in the environmental sector is much the same as anywhere else. Which sector you are working in will dictate a bit of how that path looks, and many people in the environmental field cross sectors throughout their career. 
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
A typical career path starts out with an internship or entry level consultant.  The next step depends on the specific type of consulting and the company you are working for.  You may transition to a project manager and find that is best for you, or you may have management opportunities and find that is the career path for you. 
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
In the environmental due diligence field, people generally start out assisting with field work or research under the guidance of a Project Manager.  They then grow into a Project Manager role where they are responsible for all aspects of the project.  Over time, they can progress towards more senior roles such as managing teams of Project Managers and providing technical expertise and working with clients directly. 
Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants
 

A.
In an entry level position, what types of tasks and responsibilities should a student expect to take on?
 
Sector (public, private, or nonprofit) and business size (large, medium, small) will play a large role in terms of what types of tasks and responsibilities an entry level employee will be faced with. In general, larger agencies tend to have more structured roles, opportunities, and larger budgets. Smaller companies and nonprofits tend to have more diverse needs, less structure, and less disposable income. Both of these can have pros and cons, depending on what your goals and needs are. I would say that after looking at sector and business size, the next variable is your manager or managing team. These people, and their working styles, will usually play a big role in terms of what responsibilities will be delegated to you and/or how open your managing team is to you taking initiative as a new hire.
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
Entry level tasks will focus on learning and building on various aspects of the area of consulting you have chosen.  The training period can vary, and within our company the first year is considered your training period. You will help with research, site visits, information gathering, report writing and preparation, and client communications. All of these will build on each other and as you become more skilled, the projects you are working on will increase in difficulty. As an entry level employee, you should take this time to ask questions and absorb as much information as you can from senior staff members because you will be able to apply all of that information to future projects. 
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
Example tasks would be conducting site research at local agencies or conducting soil or groundwater sampling at the site.
Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants
 
Most beginning engineers are assigned to a mixture of duties and projects that will teach them the basics of the industry in which they have chosen to work. They will hone their skills as mining engineers, dam designers, energy auditors, etc. They also may be asked to take some accounting or finance courses if they have not done so as undergraduates to prepare them for preparing budgets or capital justifications. They may be asked to go into the field to conduct environmental assessments. In most cases, the work, while interesting, is not glamorous. They may spend several years as part of a team conducting a survey of the water and geological resources in a site scheduled for development.
Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC
 
Grunt work, carrying gear around, helping more senior staff finish reports.
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
 
B.
What kinds of varying positions / jobs / experiences should a new hire seek out to become well-rounded as an environmental consultant and make them marketable in the industry?
 
In environmental work, I would say seek out projects/jobs/roles that allow you to flex some of those skills (math, science, design, engineering, sales, networking, legal work, etc)--especially skills that you can quantify and talk about in a resume. Project management, which many young environmental professionals do, can be a bit vague. It can be a hard sell. You should learn to back that up with either technical skills (that you can demonstrate you have used at work) or soft skills (Are you a good networker? Do you write really professional emails? Can people refer you to others?). Word of mouth, and having a great network, are really important in the professional world. Of course, in order for your network to work for you, you also have to be good at what you do. 

If you want to work abroad, you should definitely spend several months in that area--either as a volunteer or in a paid capacity. If you want to work in or with a country that speaks a foreign language, you should also speak that language.

Working in different sectors--maybe even all of them--would also be great. Unlike other industries, environmental issues cross all three sectors. Having experience working at a nonprofit, government agency, and for profit will give you insider knowledge about culture and operations of each of these types of businesses. It can also be very attractive on your resume, depending on what a particular job is looking for.

For me, when considering potential hires for entry level positions at a social venture startup, these two main things have popped up as "issues": (1) This person does not have the hard skills and/or experience we need for this specific project and (2) This person does not have the soft skills we need for someone to be a part of our team (they are a bit awkward, don't feel comfortable networking, their emails are a bit odd and unprofessional sounding). These soft skills will not be taught in school, you kind of have to learn by doing... and the earlier you start, the better.
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
Internships are valuable experiences and stand out on a resume and application. If you know your career path early in your college career, you should seek out internships with similar skills. As we all know, you do not necessarily know what your career path will be until your last year in college or even after you graduate. However, internships are still very important and will provide you with valuable skills that you will be able to apply to a future career. If you are unsure of your future path in the environmental industry, seek out a range of internships that include field work, data collection, report writing, etc. Any of these can be applied to an environmental consulting career.  
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
Conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessment research is a good place to start because you get exposed to the regulatory oversight agencies and reviewing the other phases of work that often occur (Phase II investigations and remediation projects).   However, it is a mistake to think of a Phase I position as an entry-level job.  Phase I ESAs can be very complex, depending on the type of site you are evaluating.  If you can work under the guidance of a top notch Phase I Project Manager, you will gain a great skill set and a well-rounded view of the overall industry.   Joining a Subsurface Investigation department as an entry level person can also be helpful in terms of understanding typical contaminants and how they behave in the subsurface of a property.
Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants
 
Study federal and state regulations and local industrial history.
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
 
 
 
Question 3
What differences are there between working for a large (national or international) environmental consulting firm compared to a smaller, regional one?
 
For starters: bureaucracy. Larger companies have much bigger food chains, and rely more heavily on bureaucratic processes to get things done. Smaller companies have more of an opportunity for a more democratic or "flat" hierarchical structure--but that is not necessarily always the case.

Second, opportunities and/or requirements for travel and professional development will likely vary between the two.

Third, benefits--and that could go in either direction. Environmental companies tend to be a bit more socially-minded and often offer great "quality-of-life" benefits, but that is really dependent on company culture.
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
Smaller firms typically allow their staff to “wear more hats” which allows for more variation in your job responsibilities.  If you join a growing smaller firm, there is often more opportunity to advance to levels of more responsibility quickly.  A larger firm may offer more opportunity to work on extremely large or complex remediation jobs or the ability to work internationally. 
Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants
 
Larger international or national environmental consulting firms, or the environmental divisions of a large construction or international development firm may work on larger projects in more locations. Smaller firms tend to work locally or partner as subcontractors to larger firms for a piece of a large contract, foreign or domestic. The contract manager usually comes from the larger firm. I am an international consultant who has been a project manager as well as a subcontractor to large multinational corporations.
Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC
 
Large tends to be more for big or quick spill cleanups under EPA oversight; small tends to be more geared towards local conditions such as endangered species, watershed issues, etc.
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
 
 
Question 4
If you had one piece of advice for a student looking to get into a career in environmental consulting, what would it be?
 
Develop your professional skill-set as quickly as possible. Get networking. Everyone hates it, but there is no substitute for it.
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
Do your research. Self evaluate your skills and match those with an aspect of environmental consulting that is consistent with those skills. 
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
When you get your first job, be a hard worker.  Show your company’s management that you are up to any challenge.   Opportunities will open up to you from there.   Internships are also great.  We’ve hired a few people that originally worked for us as interns.   
Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants

Technical advice-Water - access to clean water and the reuse of process water and wastewater- is the single most important issue affecting the world today. Life does not exist without water.

Personal advice- Learn to write well and to be comfortable speaking with people of different backgrounds.
Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC
 
Get a job with a government agency first for the experience. Stay there if you can.
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
 
 
Question 5   
Based on your experience, what are the most surprising or unexpected elements about working in environmental consulting?
 
In general, it's less about what I learned in school, and more about how well you do the job. But, I always love how often I get to use economic principles in my job and use project design skills from school when analyzing impact.
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
The most surprising aspect of environmental due diligence is the standardization of the process. Although every state has their own regulations, I have had experience completing Phase I ESA reports throughout the eastern and southeastern United States because of the standardized process. 
 
The most unexpected element is the number of industries you will encounter and the manufacturing processes you will have an opportunity to observe.  
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
Every state has a unique regulatory environment so working in Michigan can be quite different from working in Illinois, even on the same type of project. 
Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants
 
The most surprising aspect of environmental consulting is the extent to which projects are subject to politics, both in the US and abroad.
Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC
 
Congress yanking funds from programs.
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
 
Not wanting to study to pass the LEED AP exam and then go on to work on projects.
Chuck Lohre
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy
 
 
Question 6  
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your career?
 
Essentially being my own boss and being really creative and strategic about solving social and environmental problems.
A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
The most rewarding aspect of my career is the ability to be a resource for our clients.  We have clients that are just as knowledgeable as we are, and we have clients that have never even heard of environmental due diligence. I am able to provide valuable information to clients on both ends of the spectrum, and in between. 
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
I love working with our clients to find solutions to environmental issues, and I love building a collaborative team with my co-workers. 
Holly Neber
President and a principal at AEI Consultants
 
The most rewarding aspect of my career is the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people around the world.
Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC
 
Doing public education. It’s amazing how concerned but uninformed people still are about all this stuff.
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
 
It's the future.
Chuck Lohre
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy
 
 
Biographies

A. Lauren Abele
COO, Pipeline Fellowship
 
Prior to her involvement with Pipeline Fellowship, Lauren worked in the nonprofit sector in economic development, environmental issues, and women’s empowerment. A long-time sustainability advocate, Lauren has analyzed the Kyoto Protocol with the U.S. Department of State in Brussels and worked on environmental projects in both Spain and Australia. Her interest in social and environmental issues led to her involvement in social entrepreneurship where her focus has been on strategic planning, social impact assessment, and executing mission-based business strategies.
 
She currently serves on the New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE) Events Committee and is a former Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of New York City (YNPN-NYC) board member.
Lauren has a B.A. in English Literature and Environmental Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.P.A. in Economic Development and Comparative & International Affairs from Indiana University’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). She is also a proud School for International Training (SIT) alumna. You can find Lauren on Twitter (@laurenabele).
 
 
Holly Neber
President, AEI Consultants
 
 Holly Neber is President and a principal at AEI Consultants, a national environmental and engineering firm headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area.  AEI performs environmental and engineering due diligence, investigation and remediation projects with 14 offices located across the US.  Holly’s educational background consists of a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas and a Masters of Education from Holy Names College.   She is a Registered Environmental Assessor (REA) in California, and oversees the day to day operations of AEI.  AEI’s website is www.aeiconsultants.com
 
Carla Sydney Stone
Founder & Principal, International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC
 
Ms. Carla Sydney Stone is the founder and principal of International Development & Technical Assistance, LLC, a firm that delivers projects that improve people's lives. It provides consulting services to companies, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies. Ms. Stone has a proven ability to initiate and build international partnerships to achieve results. A mining engineer, with additional training and certificates in water and wastewater operations, she also acts as a consultant to governments on the critical areas of environment, human capability, and resource management. She has considerable experience in developing, managing and implementing training programs, project management and public information programs for stakeholder support.

Carla Stone is a graduate of Columbia University's (New York) Henry Krumb School of Mines with a B.S. degree in Mining Engineering, Geophysics Option and M. S. degree in Mining Engineering and Mineral Economics. She also holds certificates in Wastewater III (Delaware) and Water Operations (Delaware). She is a Member of the Board of Directors of People to People International, Delaware Chapter, a Past Member of the Board of the World Trade Center Institute Delaware, and serves on the International Council of Delaware. She also is a member of the Water Environment Federation, the Society of Mining Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, and the Project Management Institute. She has been Chair of the Council of Economics of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers. She also served as Economics Committee Chair for the Delaware Delegation to the White House Conference on Small Business.
 
Kristin Dawkins
Staff Consultant, PM Environmental
 
 
Bob Carlson
President, Green Knight Environmental
http://rlcarlson.wordpress.com/
 
Chuck Lohre, LEED AP+
Green Cincinnati Education Advocacy

Cell 513-260-9025, chuck@lohre.com, http://www.green-cincinnati.com
126A West 14th Street, 2nd Floor, Cincinnati, OH 45202-7535
877-608-1736, 513-961-1174, Fax 513-961-1192
In 2007 we started to promote LEED by holding afternoon seminars as forums for prominent LEED pioneers to address the community of architects, engineers, contractors and the public. From there we started to volunteer with the Cincinnati Regional Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and helped develop their web site and trade show exhibit materials. Promotion doesn’t come without education and we registered our offices as a LEED CI project as well as Chuck Lohre passing the LEED AP exam. After developing educational materials for the Fernald Preserve Visitors Center we created classes to help individuals pass the LEED AP exam with one-on-one mentoring and tutoring. With the push to achieve LEED AP status by June 30, 2009, several classes were held. A unique aspect of the classes was actual tours of many regional LEED projects. We received LEED Platinum May, 5, 2011 on our office.

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