Environmental consultants salary survey: Do I need qualifications to earn more money?

Following the success and overwhelming response of edie.net and Environment Business magazine's 2004 survey of environmental consultants, we thought we would re-visit the results to bring you details of the sort of salary environmental consultants can expect.

Consultancies are one of the biggest employers in the environment industry landscape and are set to only grow further as new legislation means more companies will need advice about how to tackle the new procedures.

Our 2004 survey (see 20004 survey) examined responses from over 1,750 consultancy providers and purchasers, over 60% of whom were senior consultants, senior management or company directors. In addition, 83% were edie.net users and 57% were Environment Business readers.

It looked at which firm had the best reputation, how purchasers choose a consultant, which firm was the biggest and, in comparison to that, who had actually heard of them!

This time around, we’ve looked at the million dollar question: how much do people actually get paid!

We looked at different roles within consultancies and examined how salary relates to qualifications, and whether experience counts for more than academia in the real world.

In the 2004 survey, we found that, from a financial point of view, it made more sense to gain work experience than to write a PhD, as only 18% of those earning over £60K per year had academic qualifications at that level.

However, that is not to say that qualifications are not useful.

As can be seen from the graphs below, all of those starting out in the consultancy field nowadays have a Masters Degree or equivalent – indeed one could say it is now a pre-requisite for all careers in consultancy.

No matter what path you choose, from marketing and business development to scientist and junior consultant, it seems an MSc in a relevant subject is the only way to get started.

This is not to say that this reflects the academic nature of the post, more the fact that there is a well documented skills shortage for the environmental industries, and that a first degree of any kind is usually too general and broad to be applicable to any specific job. When you couple that with the fact that more people have first degrees now than ever before, it becomes clear that a specific, industry focused Masters is a must for new comers to be able to compete in the job market (see related story).

This isn’t the case for higher academic qualifications though. As was found earlier, only a relatively minor percentage of higher earning senior managers, company directors and senior consultants actually have a PhD, whereas those same higher earning consultants do have chartered, industry specific qualifications.

However, as can probably be expected, to be a senior, top paid pure scientist requires a PhD. All of the respondents earning £60K or above in this category had a PhD, as reflects the more academic nature of their post.

Across the board then, it would seem that, if it’s the money you’re after, academic qualifications are not the answer.

Sticking with the experience and chartered, industry specific qualifications is no quick route to riches either. Earning £50K in this game takes around 10 years on average, while a significant proportion of the top earners in senior positions have been working in the field for 20 years or more.

However, sticking at it can pay off – 80.4% of those in senior management positions earned over £30K per year, with 13.4% earning well over £60K.

So, how do the figures break down in each of the relevant categories.


Starting with the scientists – this seems to be the lowest paid category with approximately 84% of scientists earning less than £30K, while only 8% earn over £45K. Only 1.6% earn £60K or more per year, and all of those that do have a PhD and at least 10 years experience.

Junior Consultants

As can be seen from this next graph, all higher earning junior consultants have an MSc, while a majority (82.6%) of those in the lower income range (under £20K per year) have them too. It would certainly seem this is the basic ticket into junior consultancy.

The title ‘Junior’ will give some idea of how long one is expected to stay in this post, with the majority of respondents (66.6%) in all salary brackets having between two and five years experience. None of our respondents had been in a junior role for more than 10 years.

However, this lack of experience is reflected in the salary, with an overwhelming majority, 80.9%, earning £25K or less.

Marketing and Business Development

The marketing and business development side of environmental consultancy seems to show a lot in common with the results of the junior consultants, with 66% earning £30K or less, and more than half (52%) of those having less than 10 years experience.

Although Masters degrees are abundant in marketing and business development, the top earners have added a professional qualification and gained chartered status. This applies to 100% of those in the £40 – £45K bracket and a third, 33.3%, of those in the £50 – £60K bracket. Earning this amount can take up to twenty years, however.

Senior Consultants

Senior Consultants seem to have a far more even spread of qualifications and years of experience relative to their salary.

As can be seen, far more of the senior consultants have chartered qualifications than their junior counterparts, approximately 18.5% overall. This perhaps should not be surprising as it takes time to reach ‘senior’ status, and to get chartered qualifications which are usually paid for by employers. So, some years experience are generally needed before the company will be willing to invest in you.

Of those earning over £30K, 25% have chartered qualifications.

Despite that, however, none of the senior consultants earning over £60K have chartered status, although 50% of them do have a PhD.

Senior Management and Directors

Senior Managers and Directors are always going to be the top earners in any line of business, as well as being the ones with the most experience. Nearly half of the senior managers in the £40 – £45K bracket have over 20 years experience in the job.

The senior managers also have the most chartered qualifications between them, as one would expect – 73.35% of senior managers earning over £50K have chartered qualifications, as well as 46% of those earning over £30K.

They also have the most experience, with a majority having had over 10 years in the post.

The Directors’ figures, however, tell a different story. Of those that responded, only 32% overall have chartered status, and only 22% of top earners.

However, the Directors’ figures are confusing and inconclusive. Many senior executives these days take on a number of Directorships with various companies, spreading their income across a number of businesses. This means that we cannot be entirely sure that, under years of experience, respondents are registering their total years experience as a Director, or years experience as a (part-time) Director at this particular job.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the results of this survey. Please let us know if you feel that the results don’t match your experience of the sector, they will help us compile the next consultants survey later this year. We would also be keen to hear if you find the information provided useful, or if there are any additional questions we should be asking or attempting to answer next time. Please use the feedback form for any comments.

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