Environmental Planner


Environmental planners are responsible for developing short- and long-term plans for land use in urban and rural areas while balancing considerations such as social, economic, and environmental issues. They also contribute to environmental impact assessments. Environmental planners can be involved in a range of fields, including strategic, commercial, and industrial development, as well as heritage, tourism, and integrated resource planning. Environmental planners work on a range of scales, from local planning to regional and national strategies.

At a glance

Imagine standing at the front of a small boardroom, patiently checking your equipment and glancing through your notes one last time while you wait for everyone to arrive. You are an environmental planner and today is a big day for you. You will present the first draft of your report on a proposed highway to a group of city aldermen, an environmental advocate, and community representatives. This proposed highway is supposed to skirt the southern edge of the city limits and alleviate traffic congestion on inner-city roads, but the proposed route also crosses a few environmentally sensitive wetlands. As one of the city’s chief environmental planners, you’ve been tasked with finding a way to build the highway without threatening the local environment. As an environmental planner, you balance the economic demands of the city’s growth with the environmental concerns associated with urban expansion. When you first reviewed the preliminary route for the highway, the easiest solution to protecting the wetlands seemed to be moving the route to go around these areas. In some sections, this idea worked, so you redrew the route a little closer to the city limits. But in other sections, the wetlands were too big to go around, so now you must come up with a plan for constructing the highway through the wetlands with minimal environmental impact. You start by consulting experts in the field, including wildlife biologists and wetland ecologists, for recommendations on how to move the wetlands. Perhaps by enlarging the wetlands outside of the highway, the birds and other inhabitants will nest and burrow far enough away from the road they won’t be affected by the traffic. Your plan will also include the construction of barriers to minimize the impact of noise pollution, as well as drainage maps to prevent contamination from vehicles and the road. Your report will address all these considerations and outline how the new highway can be built without threatening the sensitive environment.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental planner:
  • Create designs and maps using computer programs.
  • Meet with various groups, including other planners, public stakeholders, industrial proponents, developers, city councils, special interest groups, and the general public.
  • Review proposals regarding development and amendments to bylaws, as well as research and review legislation and policies from other jurisdictions.
  • Strategize, develop, and manage planning processes.
  • Develop and implement plans at various levels, including ensuring legal compliance.
  • Present project ideas to individuals and groups.
  • Review and interpret maps, aerial photos, data, and field investigation reports.
  • Participate in public inquiries on land or resource development.

Work environment

Environmental planners work in a variety of locations, including: In the office:
  • Doing paperwork, analyzing data, and preparing reports
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, government departments, colleagues, and experts in the field
  • Participating on committees for land and resource development
In the field:
  • Travelling to and conducting field inspections of sites for proposed development and sites under construction, including taking measurements and photographing features
  • Monitoring environmental reclamation projects
  • Making presentations to stakeholders, clients, contractors, and the general public
  • Responding to requests from clients

Where to work

There are a number of places environmental planners can find employment. They include:
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Private consulting firms
  • Universities, colleges, and research institutes
  • Not-for-profit organizations
  • Industrial, commercial, and residential development firms

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental planner, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Geography
  • Computer Science
  • Legal Studies
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental planner is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental planner, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Environmental Planning
  • Urban and Regional Planning
  • Sustainable Development
  • Geography
  • Land Reclamation
  • Natural Resource Management
Although it is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an environmental planner, many practitioners choose to belong to professional associations. The requirements for membership vary among provinces.

Skills

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with business skills. Learn how the ECO Academy can help you build the essential skills needed for a successful environmental career.

Salary

Environmental planners at all levels make between $66,500 and $90,893 per year in Canada, with an average salary of $80, 500.

Role Model

Craig Lawrence

Craig Lawrence’s passion for urban planning began at an early age with Lego—as a child, he spent hours building towns with the colourful building blocks. He never would have dreamed his playtime passion could develop into full-time work. "I didn’t even know there was a field of study called planning until university…and not until my second year of university, when I started urban studies, did I realize you could find a job as a planner.” Today Craig, who has a B.Sc. in human geography and a B.A. in urban studies, is completing his master’s degree in urban planning while working full time as the director of planning for the Town of Chestermere, Alberta. Despite the demands on his time, Craig enjoys helping Chestermere and its residents "grow smarter,” in a more environmentally conscious way. When at work, Craig spends much of his time revising the hundreds of development applications he receives and meeting with community developers. He not only considers Chestermere’s current rapid growth, but also creates long-range plans for how it will look in years to come. But, Craig points out, planning is much more than simply having an idea of what a town should look like and carrying it out. "You have to be able to sell your arguments. You have to be technically sound, but your idea won’t go anywhere if you can’t convince people and you can’t sell your idea to either town council or residents.” Working in a burgeoning community has its drawbacks. When the issue is a town’s development, people become outspoken. As Craig says, "You know you’re doing your job when everyone is angry with you.” According to him, this is bound to happen when you put the town’s development ahead of other needs, as he often must. But Craig thrives on the challenge. "[Environmental planners] have the ability to influence people’s opinions through development plans and public consultation. We are able to introduce new ideas about how we can develop in an environmentally sound way.” Because of being able to introduce new ideas, Craig says he will never outgrow his love of being able to shape and mould his community.