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Environmental compliance career paths and how to get started

Career paths for green professionals interested in environmental compliance.

As the world continues to move toward eco-conscious business models and lifestyles, green career paths are becoming more abundant and diverse. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the environmental sciences are projected to grow by a staggering 11% between 2020 and 2030. Amongst the growing green job sectors are opportunities for an environmental compliance career.

Environmental compliance encompasses a broad range of laws, regulations, and standards put in place by federal, state, and local governments. This regulatory framework is meant to protect human health and the environment from harmful pollutants. With environmental regulations in place, organizations are forced to consider the impact that their operations have on the environment and implement best management practices to improve upon their impact on the environment. 

Organizations have turned to hire environmental compliance professionals to help ensure that they stay in compliance with the ever-changing laws and regulations. This article will review what environmental compliance job is and how to get a job in environmental compliance. 

How to Get a Job in Environmental Compliance?

There are several different ways to put yourself in place to land a job in the field of environmental compliance. In most cases, a four-year degree is required from an accredited university. Degrees that will help you land a job in environmental compliance include environmental science, environmental engineering, conservation science, chemistry, chemical engineering, sustainability, or any other natural sciences-related field.

If a four-year degree is not achievable, then have no fear. It’s possible to work your way up to an environmental compliance position from a laborer position. Laborers interested in environmental compliance should volunteer for duties related to environmental compliance in their workplace. For example, individuals working at a factory should volunteer to manage hazardous wastes or for inspection duties. A construction worker should volunteer to conduct stormwater inspections or to maintain BMPs. From there, a laborer should request to get more involved with recordkeeping.

Laborers and graduates should both consider pursuing professional environmental certifications, which can greatly enhance career prospects. For example, a Certified Hazardous Materials Management (CHMM) certification will greatly enhance an individual’s ability to land environmental compliance jobs at facilities that manage hazardous materials. Acquiring a Certified Environmental Storm Water Compliance Professional (CESCP) certification will greatly enhance an individual’s ability to land an environmental compliance job in the stormwater discipline in the construction industry. 

Environmental compliance duties vary from organization to organization. Many environmental compliance professionals will be responsible for a broad range of environmental disciplines. Specialist positions will be responsible for having an in-depth knowledge of a specific environmental discipline. Learn as much as you can about the many different environmental compliance disciplines to increase your chances of landing a job. Disciplines to read up on include hazardous and solid wastes, stormwater, wastewater, air quality, wetlands, and more. 

Check out our Environmental Compliance: Business Basics article to learn more about the environmental compliance disciplines and how they apply to a business.

Environmental Compliance Career Path

Environmental compliance career paths are not much different than with any other career. At the bottom of the ladder, you will find mainly administrative and fieldwork. As you progress, you will become more entwined with the operational side of the business and how environmental compliance impacts operations. Eventually, you will rise to a supervisory or managerial-level role where you oversee the entire environmental compliance program.

Let’s explore a typical environmental compliance career path:

Environmental Technician

Entry-Level | $42,382/year 

This entry-level position will be responsible for a majority of the grunt work associated with a career in environmental compliance. This includes taking samples of waste, air, and other mediums on a regular basis. It could also involve moving 55-gallon drums around safely and ensuring that waste is disposed of correctly. The main function of the job is to monitor and investigate sources of pollution. An Environmental Technician typically needs an associate’s degree or two years of postsecondary education, although may require a four-year bachelor’s degree.

Environmental Specialist

Entry to Mid-Level | $52,313/year 

The next step in most environmental compliance careers is an Environmental Specialist role. In this role, an individual will specialize in one or two specific disciplines. For example, an individual may be asked to become a subject-matter expert in air quality. This role is typically more documentation and oversight orientated. If the organization does not have an environmental technician on staff, then the environmental specialist may be doing fieldwork in addition to compliance oversight and documentation responsibilities. Many environmental specialists find joy in a healthy balance between deskwork and fieldwork. Most environmental specialist positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences or a related field. 

Environmental Scientist

Entry to Mid-Level | $56,755/year 

An Environmental Scientist position is very similar to an environmental specialist position. In fact, they are often used interchangeably. The jobs typically have a similar balance between deskwork and fieldwork. Environmental scientist positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences or a science-related field. 

Environmental Consultant

Entry to Mid-Level | $64,036/year 

Environmental Consultants typically make better money than individuals working in environmental compliance directly for an organization. Consultants often work long hours and have unstable careers thanks to inconsistent workloads and contracts. It’s a high-risk, high-reward career. Many organizations outsource their environmental compliance responsibilities to environmental consultants who have experience in their industry. Environmental consultants should expect to work with several different organizations and on several different projects at any given time.

Environmental Compliance Officer

Mid-Level | $67,667/year 

An Environmental Compliance Officer is typically more on the auditing and inspecting side of things. These individuals conduct in-depth inspections and audits of organizations in an effort to exploit areas of noncompliance. They are sometimes government workers and sometimes employed by private entities who help organizations prepare for periodic government audits from regulatory agencies. Regulatory environmental compliance officers may have the ability to issue fines, stop-work orders, and more. 

Environmental Coordinator

Mid-Level | $67,667/year 

Environmental Compliance Coordinators are typically responsible for oversight of an environmental compliance program. They coordinate environmental initiatives within an organization and ensure that operations and these initiatives are seamlessly integrated. A coordinator typically has a team of environmental technicians or other similar individuals that are responsible for most of the boots-on-the-ground work. Coordinators are needed at organizations that have many different compliance initiatives or projects going on at the same time. The coordinator is responsible for ensuring that all initiatives or projects are collectively in compliance to protect the organization as a whole.

Environmental Compliance Manager

Mid to Advanced-Level | $121,559/year 

An Environmental Compliance Manager typically reports directly to a C-Suite executive or a director-level position. In most organizations, a managerial position is the highest position possible for an environmental compliance professional. The lucrative position is responsible for environmental policy and procedures within an organization. They are responsible for the oversight of the entire environmental program, the budget of the program, and the supervisory responsibilities of everyone else on the team. 

Other Environmental Compliance Careers

There are plenty of other careers that overlap with environmental compliance initiatives. Below is an example of a few:

Environmental Health & Safety (EHS)

Entry to Advanced-Level | $64,302/year

Professionals in EHS careers may wear many hats, including the hat of environmental compliance. As the environmental regulations continue to expand and become more complex, organizations are handing off environmental compliance responsibilities to designated professionals. In smaller organizations, EHS jobs are more than capable of balancing environmental health and human safety. 

Environmental Engineering

Entry to Advanced-Level | $76,949/year

Environmental engineers are often responsible for the design of environmental controls in manufacturing or construction. These engineers focus on ensuring that the design of a certain component or project is compliant with the environmental regulations. In some cases, environmental engineers are asked to go above and beyond the environmental benchmarks and drive sustainability initiatives. Environmental engineers are commonly seen in air quality jobs where the monitoring of stack emissions and other machinery is important.

Environmental Law

Entry to Advanced-Level | $112,444/year

Environmental compliance is the heart of environmental law. Environmental lawyers take a deep dive into the federal, state, and local laws and regulations. These lawyers provide legal counsel to organizations, individuals, or on behalf of government entities to protect the environment. The career path typically starts as a paralegal and can advance all the way up to a partner of a firm.

Looking for a career in environmental compliance? This article explores environmental compliance career trajectories, how to land a job in environmental compliance, and other careers that overlap with the environmental compliance discipline. 

Looking for more great resources to guide your green career search? Check out our Free list of 100 sustainability and green career ideas

Further reading:

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Author: Jordan Pogorzelski holds a BA in Conservation and Environmental Science from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He started his career at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources working in the Bureau of Waste and Materials Management. Soon after, his life goals brought him out to Salt Lake City, Utah to work as the Stormwater Program Coordinator at the Utah Department of Transportation. He also works as a part-time Sustainability Research Coordinator for a start-up called AMAST, an online wholesaler marketplace for construction materials. Jordan is currently pursuing an MBA with a specialization in Sustainability Management and Analytics at Concordia University. In his free time, Jordan enjoys the many recreational opportunities that Utah has to offer. He likes to explore the outdoors by hiking, camping, fishing, and snowboarding. 

1 thought on “Environmental compliance career paths and how to get started”

  1. Interesting article.
    Environmental compliance covers various areas, so expanding knowledge across disciplines like hazardous waste, stormwater, and air quality is always ging to help. For me, education, hands-on experience, and certifications are key to success in this field. But above the work is so diverse that adaptability and versatility also matter in the world of environmental compliance.

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