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Careers Centre

Environmental sector

Sector Overview

This sector is predicted to continue to increase in the future offering a diverse range of employment opportunities. The growing prominence of environmental legislation, locally and globally, as well as the raised public awareness of environmental issues has led to more investment in this sector. Employers are now putting into place measures to produce less waste and use fewer resources which makes sense in terms of sustainability and also in this current economic climate. All these changes have led to increase in demand for environmental specialists/consultants although competition for these places is still fierce and vacancies normally require experience and/or postgraduate qualifications.

An increasing number of graduate jobs are on offer in energy, water, transport and utility companies – as there is a drive to pursue clean, renewable and sustainable practices. This is reflected in the growing number of St Andrews graduates recruited in this sector with companies such as NPower, Hydraun. SSE and Scottish Power. These posts offers some of the highest starting salaries in the Environmental Sector, around £30,000 (High Fliers Research 2014).

Case Studies

Videos produced by icould will give you an insight into over 80 environmental occupations within this sector. They include:

Environmental work attributes/skills profile

Key attributes/skills needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes while at university
Project management - the ability to manage a  piece of work and meet the objectives set. Depending on your degree, this may be demonstrated through your academic studies, especially if you completed a dissertation

Demonstrable interest in business, and commercial awareness

Keep up-to-date with business and sector news, and develop this through extra-curricular activity in student-run societies such as the Wildlife & Conservation and SVS (St Andrews Voluntary Service) Environmental Projects.

Join a professional body such as CIEEM which have up to date information on the profession and events which you can attend.
Strong communication & interpersonal skills

CEED offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice
Ability to organise time and work methodically whilst paying attention to detail
Leadership qualities and effective team working skills
Specialist skills  - for most outdoor work a clean driving licence is essential. Chainsaw qualification needed for many areas of countryside work, scuba diving for marine environment. Identification licence for protected species e.g. bats and newts.  Some voluntary organisations will put volunteer through training. Refer to the website Countryside Jobs for details.

Range of Employers

The extensive nature of this sector means that there is a vast range of employers from the obvious such as the Environment Agency to the unexpected such as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club who employed a St Andrews graduate as a sustainability consultant. The main sectors who recruit in this area include the following:

Nature of sector or roles


While the range of roles 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, and how this affects human and other lives. You could, for example, choose to work in an organisation concerned with protecting the environment, but in a support role, such as finance and human resources, as well as following a career that actually involves hands-on environmental work. It is also possible to work as an environmental specialist within another discipline.

The groups of jobs outlined below give some idea of the breadth and depth of this sector, but are not exhaustive:

For a more comprehensive overview of the wide range of jobs available, visit the Prospects website or CIWEM (The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management)'s job market website


How to gain experience/internships

There are a huge variety of career possibilities in the Environmental Sector and finding relevant work experience is a key element to successfully securing a graduate position. Although many opportunities available are on a voluntary basis, there are some possibilities for relevant paid work experience.

Any type of environmental work experience or work shadowing is valuable, even if it's only for a short time. Many vacancies may not be advertised, so it’s well worth considering making speculative applications to find opportunities.

Read a number of case studies written by St Andrews students on how to gain relevant environmental work experience.

It’s impossible for us to list every opportunity available, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

Opportunities in St Andrews
  • Transition (Twitter, Facebook) - are a group of St Andrews students and staff at the University who work together on environmental projects. To find out more about projects and how you can become involved email
  • SVS within the Student Union Building and Fife Voluntary Action have details of voluntary projects in the local area.
  • There are many opportunities available at the university to get involved in relevant societies, e.g. Oxfam and Greenpeace. STAAG (St Andrews Adventure Group) organise a lot of expedition-like activities. You can contact them on
Paid work experience / Internships

Some examples of organisations that offer paid work experience/project placements.

  • The npower Future Leaders competition sees university students from across the country take the lead in the push for sustainability. In the last 3 years the team from St Andrews has won twice being awarded the prize of a trip to the Arctic.
  • Shell Ideas360 is a global ideas competition for students to develop ideas that tackle the pressures on the world’s Food, Water and Energy resources.
Work shadowing Work-shadowing can also be a useful way of finding out more about a particular area, as well as providing a source of contacts. Be prepared to be proactive in your search and make speculative applications,including to large companies, since many will now also have a special department concerned with environmental issues.
Voluntary work / charitable organisations

Many of these organisations offer part-time, short-term and volunteering opportunities.


Opportunities (some at a cost), to get involved with environmental and sustainable development projects, often in countries that would be difficult to visit independently, offer participants the scope to acquire skills which can be useful.

Professional bodies/institutions

Becoming a student member of an environmentally-related professional body can help you make contacts, expand opportunities and gain a wider knowledge of the sector.


Opportunities to get involved with environmental and sustainable development projects. Many will expect participants to pay towards their costs.

Online searchable databases
  • The Careers Centre subscribes to Countryside Jobs: select "CJS weekly sign in" (right-hand side of the page) and use the subscriber's username and password (access via Subscriptions).

The following websites often advertise relevant environmental internship opportunities and/or have a list of recruiters to which you may wish to write speculatively:

How to get a (graduate) job

In some cases a postgraduate qualification is required for many careers in the environmental sector - see the 'Relevant Postgraduate Study' section for more details.

Graduate Recruitment Schemes

A number of major corporations offer environmental graduate recruitment schemes. Here are a few examples:

Newspapers / Journals

Jobs online

Recruitment Agencies

Consider registering with an environmental recruitment specialist, e.g.

Applications, interviews and assessment centres

The Careers Centre also has lots of general advice about making applications, attending interviews and assessment centres.

Relevant Postgraduate Study

In some cases a postgraduate qualification is required for many careers in the environmental sector. Further study may be at either Master’s or PhD level, depending on the particular career you wish to pursue. For example, while a PhD is important for a career in research, taught Master’s courses are popular when entering the field of environmental consultancy, or as conversion courses. Not all environmental lawyers or consultants studied law, or specifically environmental law, at undergraduate level, so it is worth exploring the different degrees, courses and options available.

At Master’s level there is an increasing number of specialist courses, it pays to spend time researching that the course will provide you with the correct experience to achieve your future career aim. A good indicator is the employment destinations of previous graduates, most admissions departments should be able to provide these.

Often, vocational courses that have a strong practical element and/or project placements in environmental organisations (through which you can make valuable contacts with potential employers) will provide you with enhanced job prospects. Talk to employers and find out which courses they particularly recommend.

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources

Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:


Countryside Jobs Online


General Environmental careers information

Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines


USA resources


The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.


Internships USA


Internships in the US - environmental work

This list is by no means exhaustive. It is simply designed to serve as a starting point.