An Inside View: Environmental Consulting

“As an environmental consultant, my main responsibility is to provide excellent service to our clients.” – Emily Forbes, ONE Environmental Group

Environmental consulting firms are viable workplaces for many Forestry and Environmental Resource graduates. Environmental consultants assess environmental impacts associated with the building or modifying of infrastructure in a diverse number of fields depending on their client base. The job is very client-driven; consultants navigate clients through environmental regulations, providing a high-quality service to businesses across the country and sometimes the world.

However, not every consulting firm operates in the same way. In fact, consulting firms often function differently depending on their size. Environmental Consulting firms can range from large companies with offices across the world to smaller, local firms with a smaller, close-knit teams of employees.

To inclusively describe the environmental consulting field, we interviewed consultants from three different sized firms: Laura Cloninger from AECOM, Jackson Mathis from Moffat & Nichol, and Emily Forbes from ONE Environmental Group.

AECOM 

AECOM is a large infrastructure firm with offices in 7 continents and chosen as one of Fortune 500’s World’s Most Admired Companies. AECOM’s Environmental Services include a broad spectrum of focuses including Climate Adaptation and Sustainability, Environmental/Social Impact Assessment and Permitting, and Air Quality Consulting and Engineering.

Laura Cloninger is currently in the process of training as a Project Manager and has worked in the air quality group of AECOM for 9 years. As a member of the air quality group, she prepares air permit applications for clients building new facilities or modifying existing facilities. The permit applications include air emissions calculations, an analysis of what air regulations could apply to the facility, and the types of air emissions sources and control devices are going to be installed or modified in the facility. Consultants in the air group help their clients through the application process and maintain compliance with their permit.

When asked what Laura likes best about working for AECOM, she responded, “I believe in the purpose and outlook of the company, feel that management cares, and work with smart and caring co-workers and supervisors. I have now developed a career that I overall enjoy. It requires attention to detail, effective communication, customer service skills, and challenging myself.” As a mother to a 14-month old, Laura has found support working with AECOM and feels AECOM has given her an appropriate work-life balance while transitioning into motherhood.

Moffat & Nichol

Moffat & Nichol is a mid-size to large infrastructure firm with 36 offices in 7 countries. They advise clients in a variety of global markets such as marine terminal, energy, urban development, and transportation.

Jackson Mathis is an Environmental Planner with Moffat & Nichol. Jackson had always wanted to work with or for Moffat & Nichol because of a previous beach re-nourishment service the company performed in Oak Island where his family had a house. After he further researched the company, Jackson chose to work for Moffat & Nichol because of their large coastal presence and he wanted to gain more experience working alongside engineers.

When asked about his responsibilities with Moffat & Nichol, Jackson replied, “As an environmental planner, my duties include day-to-day coordination with project teams, review and preparation of environmental technical reports, preparation of feasibility and planning studies, leading various tasks associated with transportation and community planning projects and overseeing project deliverables and subconsultants’ tasks.” While Jackson’s job includes a fair share of planning and developing office work, he also travels into the field as an Environmental Scientist to delineate wetlands or perform Threatened and Endangered Species surveys.

ONE Environmental Group

ONE Environmental Group is a smaller consulting firm assisting clients across the country on a variety of services including air compliance, storm water consulting, and stream restoration. ONE Environmental Group’s mission statement is “Work together as ONE to build successful relationships, craft inspired solutions, and develop future leaders – ONE client, ONE project, ONE team member at a time.”

Emily Forbes is an Environmental Consultant for ONE Environmental Group. This specific company was a great fit for Emily because she enjoys “being part of a close-knit team and working on a diverse portfolio of projects.” A typical work week includes a mixture of days in the office writing reports and a few days in the field completing inspections and site visits. While the previous interviewed consultants had a main focus area, Emily works on a variety of projects including but not limited to groundwater, soil, and soil gas sampling and stormwater inspections and Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans.

After interviewing consultants from different firms, the main theme of advice is clear: NETWORK!

Establish strong connections with peers, supervisors, and instructors during internships and co-curricular activities. After creating these connections, keep in contact with them. You never know who can pass down information regarding potential employment opportunities. Also, these connections will show potential employers you have someone vouching for your work ethic. Here are a few specific examples from our interviewees:

  • During Laura Cloninger’s time as an ETM major at NC State, she secured an internship with the NC Department of Air Quality (NCDAQ). While working with NCDAQ, Laura connected with a fellow intern from NC State who ended up working for AECOM following graduation, which is how she learned AECOM had an open position in the air quality group.
  • Emily Forbes heard about her current position with ONE Environmental Group from an ETM alum during her senior year. Emily responded to the email announcement advertising for an entry-level environmental scientist, interviewed a week later, and was presented an Offer of Employment a week after graduation.

Environmental consulting may be a great fit if you would enjoy collaborating with companies to creatively solve environmental challenges while helping them maintain compliance with regulations. However, size matters when considering employment with an environmental consulting firm. Smaller companies may have employees simultaneously working on projects with different focuses, while a larger company may have a group focus more on one facet of environmental regulation for their client. Depending on the size and client base, some companies are better for employees desiring primarily office work, while other companies require more hands-on field work. When considering an environmental consulting firm for employment, conduct research regarding the size of the company, their mission statement, and their client base.

Written by: Leslie Smith