Environmental Manager

Environmental managers work in both the public and private sectors and are responsible for managing projects to lessen environmental impacts and ensure that all applicable legislative requirements are fulfilled. They are also involved in activities such as environmental awareness projects, sustainable development, fundraising, and public consultation programs. Often responsible for managing the work of others, environmental managers may also be involved in training personnel on environmental issues. To be a good environmental manager, you need a broad understanding of environmental issues combined with expertise and a lot of experience in project development and management.

At a glance

Imagine you are standing at the front of a large boardroom introducing yourself to 15 environmental experts. You are an environmental manager and this is your new team. You have been hired by one of the country’s largest oil and gas companies to create an environmental management strategy for a new refinery it proposes to build next year. Your job is to ensure that the proposed refinery complies with all provincial and federal environmental regulations, both in construction and operation. Your management strategy will act as a step-by-step guide for how compliance will be achieved and maintained. As an environmental manager, you are not only an expert on environmental policy and legislation, but also a skilled manager of staff. You begin this project with research, coordinating each team member and assigning some to examine provincial and federal legislation, others to study similar refineries and their strategies for complying with regulations, and another group to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment. You also consult with project stakeholders, for example area residents, government officials, and the company’s executives. All this research and consultation will give you an idea of what must be done to ensure compliance, as well as identify any constraints that might affect your management strategy, for example time or budget constraints. With this information, you can determine the scope of work required and the kinds of resources needed, including how many people and with what expertise. From there, you put together your environmental strategy action plan, which will be presented to all stakeholders and will detail what the company wants to achieve, how it will do it, how long it will take, and how performance will be measured. Once all concerned parties approve the action plan, you can begin implementation. When fully realized, your environmental management strategy will ensure that the construction and operation of the refinery satisfy all environmental requirements and comply with regulations.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental manager:
  • Develop and implement environmental strategies, for example strategies for sustainable development, resource conservation, and waste reduction.
  • Coordinate public hearings and consultations on environmental issues and incorporate feedback into management plans.
  • Develop pollution control, pollution prevention, and recycling programs.
  • Coordinate all aspects of resource use, pollution prevention, waste management, environmental health, risk assessment, and employee involvement.
  • Direct public consultation activities, communications, and education plans involving environmental issues.
  • Manage environmental research projects, including managing staff and budgets and coordinating activities.
  • Ensure compliance with relevant legislation, operating approvals, and Environmental Management Systems certification.
  • Prepare compliance reports for regulators, including analyzing and interpreting environmental monitoring data.
  • Train staff and others and ensure corporate environmental awareness.

Work environment

Environmental managers work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
  • Drafting, implementing, and evaluating environmental strategies, compliance plans, and management systems
  • Preparing environmental impact statements
  • Coordinating public hearings and consultations on environmental matters
  • Coordinating the work of environmental technicians and staff
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, government officials, and stakeholders
  • Training and instructing staff on new environmental policies and management systems
In the field:
  • Making presentations to stakeholders, clients, contractors, and the general public
  • Visiting sites and conducting site inspections and reviews
  • Participating in environmental research

Where to work

There are a number of places environmental managers can find employment. They include:
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Land-use and conservation agencies
  • Environmental consulting companies
  • Industry, including manufacturing, forestry, oil and gas, and mining
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental manager, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Geography
  • English
  • Computer Science
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental manager is a university graduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental manager, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Environmental Management
  • Environmental Policy
  • Natural Resource Management
  • Natural Science
  • Environmental Engineering
It is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an environmental manager, though most practitioners choose to belong to professional associations and, where eligible, apply for professional status, for example Professional Engineer or Professional Biologist. In addition to technical requirements, environmental managers require graduate studies and a lot of experience in project management.

Role Model

Helmut Epp

Helmut Epp took a very interesting route to his current management work. He spent ten years in East Africa, three of them in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. There, he put his geography and remote sensing skills to work on local development projects. When he returned to Canada, he went to work for the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing in Saskatoon, followed by remote sensing work in Yellowknife and then his current job. Now he is a manager with responsibility for the work of twelve people in three sections: Computer Systems, Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems. Not only must he manage the work of those twelve, he must maintain relationships with clients for the services of the Remote Sensing Centre, like the Federal Government and private industry which purchase its services. "In this job, technical skills, including the ability to use scientific principles of investigation, are very important", says Helmut. "And even though I have a master's degree, I will continue taking management courses, which can really help when you're managing large groups of people."