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Environmental adviser: construction job role

Environmental advisers ensure that construction projects comply with environmental regulations and achieve the environmental targets set by the client.
In your interview discuss topics such as smart cities, population growth and climate change.

Environmental advisers aren’t new to the construction industry, but few graduates know about the job. Its purpose is to offer environmental support to construction sites. That is, to help ensure environmental regulations are complied with and to achieve environmental targets set by the company and the client, for example sending zero waste to landfill. It involves liaising with site teams, the client, stakeholders and a wider environmental team within the business. The job is sometimes combined with a corporate social responsibility or community involvement role, as environmental impacts are often of great concern to the public.

Most environmental adviser graduate jobs are found with contractors out on site. There are some roles with consultancies, where your environmental expertise will feed into designs. Either way, you are likely to eventually specialise in a particular area of the business, such as M&E (mechanical and electrical) or infrastructure, or in a particular type of regulation or environmental factor, such as BREEAM or dust. You are also likely to work across a number of sites or projects simultaneously.

The environmental adviser’s day job

An environmental adviser typically spends about half a week writing reports and collecting data – and the rest of the week reacting to that data. The work might involve:

  • creating site waste management plans to achieve waste targets
  • investigating carbon footprinting (for example, tracking the workforce’s commute)
  • checking that timber is responsibly sourced
  • ensuring that the site complies with biodiversity recommendations.

Sometimes this involves taking practical action – you might spend part of your day rooting around the site’s bins or checking that suppliers have washed their wheels. Sometimes the work involves creative thought – you will be generating new ways to meet the set targets.

You will liaise with the project team (in particular the site manager), suppliers and contractors, the environmental team – and perhaps health and safety advisers and community relations teams. A major skill is finding the best way to communicate your points to a wide variety of people, with differing levels of environmental knowledge.

Starting out as a graduate

Initially, you will workshadow an experienced adviser, visiting a wide range of sites and building up a network with other environmental advisers. You’ll also become familiar with the processes for compliance – the teams don’t tend to assume much knowledge before you start. A typical first task often involves putting together a waste management plan.

Graduates can also study for a professional qualification with the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA). If they become specialists in a particular area, such as water, they may also find it beneficial to join a related professional body – for example, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).

As you gain experience, you might end up leading a team as a sustainability manager or you might specialise in a particular area.

Degrees and skills required

Some employers will accept any degree discipline, but most prefer subjects related to the environment and land. At Skanska, out of a team of 60, all have a background in the environmental sciences or geography.

Good environmental advisers have:

  • excellent communication and influencing skills, winning colleagues and members of the public around to their point of view
  • tenacity
  • motivation to achieve set targets – they are goal-oriented
  • excellent organisation skills and focus – they are not easily sidetracked, despite the wide-ranging nature of the role
  • the ability to think creatively and innovatively
  • a genuine passion for sustainability

Finding environmental advisory graduate jobs

Many graduate environmental jobs are advertised as individual vacancies rather than formal graduate schemes, although if you join a large employer you are likely to join in its initial training for all graduates. Key words to search for on TARGETjobs and elsewhere include environment, sustainability, carbon, adviser and coordinator.

It’s wise for students to join IEMA – many entry-level job descriptions ask for applicants to be a member.

Getting industry work experience

Environmental advice work experience can be hard to find, although there are some specific placements with large construction employers. Any paid or voluntary environmental experience you can get with a charity or local authority will stand you in good stead.

Tip for job hunters: explain your passion

Graduate applicants are expected to have a broad knowledge of sustainable issues and trends. In the case of site waste management, for example, the emphasis has moved away from achieving a high recycling level and more towards ensuring that there is zero waste. You should be genuinely enthusiastic about, and be able to discuss, topics such as smart cities, population growth and climate change. You should be able to explain why carbon, for example, means something to you.

This is a good job for you if you want…

  • To be on a continuous learning curve
  • A varied workload and day
  • To advance environmental agendas and mitigate the impacts of changes to the built environment

TARGETjobs would like to thank Alice Jennison, environment adviser and community investment coordinator at Skanska UK plc, for her help with this article. She has a BA in geography and international development from the University of Sussex.