Environmental communications officers disseminate information on environmental issues and events on behalf of their organizations. They can be involved in long-term activities, such as public information and education campaigns, as well as short-term activities, such as responding to a toxic spill. Environmental communications officers use their skills in writing, design, media relations, and networking to educate the public and encourage environmental protection and conservation.
Imagine you are standing at the back of a crowded press room, a sea of television cameras, spotlights, microphones, and notepads between you and your boss at the front. You are an environmental communications officer for a local conservation agency and your boss, the agency's president, is about to make an official statement on the recent municipal decision to halt development near a sensitive wetland. You know exactly what the statement will say because you are the person who wrote it.
As the conservation agency's environmental communications officer, you began working on this controversial wetlands development almost two years ago, when you first learned that a group of land developers proposed to drain and build on the wetlands. Your conservation agency was well aware of how sensitive and valuable the wetlands are, so you drafted a communications strategy to ensure that the agency's opposition to the proposed development was well understood and widely heard. You organized a series of informational evenings open to the public and made certain the media covered these events. You also ensured that all staff members within your own office were well informed on the issue and knew how to properly answer questions on the proposed development from the media and the general public.
Part of your communications strategy included educating local businesses about the environmental impacts of such a development. You also made certain your organization attended industry events and municipal council meetings to communicate your concerns. Months and months of your hard work have paid off, with the town council agreeing to protect the wetlands area.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental communications officer:
Environmental communications officers work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
In the field:
There are a number of places environmental communications officers can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental communications officer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental communications officer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental communications officer, the following programs are most applicable:
It is not necessary to be certified in order to work as an environmental communications officer, though some practitioners choose to belong to professional associations such as the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Canadian Public Relations Society, Inc. (CPRS).
“I know that I’m really passionate about these things, but I don’t know how they fit together.” This is what Saralyn Hodgkin wrote in her unconventional letter to the University of Calgary when applying for entry into the master’s program in Environmental Design. In Saralyn’s letter, these ‘things’ are sustainable community development, socially responsible business, and social entrepreneurship. Saralyn wanted to pursue a master’s degree where she could study these three concepts and their inter-relationship. “A lot of people told me those concepts don’t mesh…but I ignored them. I was passionate about what I was doing.”
Eight months later, she had completed and defended her master’s by illustrating how all three concepts were already successfully working together in the business world. Today Saralyn’s passion has translated into a job with an international non-profit organization that incorporates all three concepts. The Natural Step’s mission is to encourage change by making the concept of sustainability easier to understand and therefore easier to implement for everybody, from municipalities to private companies. As the program and communications manager, Saralyn spends much of her time communicating her organization’s goals, which is exactly what she loves to do. “I wake up every morning and I want to go to work. I want to go to work because the people are great, because my mandate is great, because what I do is great.” Currently, she’s driving the development of the organization’s new e-learning module.
This web-based communication tool encourages people to practise sustainability and shows them how to go about doing it. Saralyn’s other responsibilities include attending conferences, crafting fundraising proposals, and responding to requests for information. She never tires of getting the word out: “I like bringing the energy up in the room, and I like talking about what we do, who we are, or about the e-learning module.” But the number of opportunities to talk about sustainability can sometimes be overwhelming. “There are so many opportunities, you can’t possibly do it all. Sometimes you have to say no.” And because it’s a non-profit organization, there are financial and time limitations on how many people Saralyn can reach with her message. But these limitations have only made her a more effective communicator. “We are all leaders in sustainability. It takes the individual to recycle a bottle at home. It takes the individual getting involved with a local organization. It takes the individual to understand what the message means… It takes the individual, whoever they are!”