Edie’s consultancy survey shows that the consultants expect to see tackling carbon emissions, waste management and advising on renewable energy will be the big growth areas in the next few years.

Climate change and waste are also the key issues that their client base expect to need help with.

David Nancarrow, director of Atkins’ water & environment division, told edie that this fitted in with his own view.

“I think that’s definitely the way we see things going, particularly with the carbon,” he said.

The need for addressing CO2 emissions is now widely accepted, he said, and Atkins itself is now considering carbon across all its activities, not just within its water & environment division.

This is an increasingly common stance to take across the corporate landscape.

“It’s an issue that’s now very much on the boardroom agenda,” said Mr Nancarrow.

“They don’t necessarily know what to do with it yet, but it’s there.”

Nigel Clark, marketing director of Enviros, said the boom in waste management consultancy would likely continue for some time to come.

“Because of the tax escalator on landfill and because councils are targeted around the recycling rates, it actually costs more money not to do anything in the waste sector,” he said.

“There’s a tremendous driver there for the local authorities to do something. I’m sure it’s going to be impacted to some extent by the financial situation but there’s plenty of opportunities there for consultants.”

Mr Nancarrow agreed that waste management was in the ascendance.

“Waste is an issue that the UK has been slow to grapple with but it’s starting to gain pace,” he said.

“There is work for consultants at all stages, from planning strategies to helping to deliver facilities.”

He said corporate attitudes had shifted on the issue of carbon following the publication of Nicolas Stern’s report into the likely financial impacts of climate change.

“It’s something that Stern’s made tangible,” he said.

“[The report] had the effect of capturing the attention of people in the City.”

Atkins has recently been talking to bankers and other investors keen to understand carbon and how it will play a part in markets in the future.

There is also a growing sense of urgency when it comes to environmental issues, he added.

“People are starting to realise that this isn’t an issue for their great grandchildren, but rather one for their children,” said Mr Nancarrow.

Government spend, with its increasing emphasis on low or zero carbon, has also acted as a driver to encourage suppliers to look carefully at the carbon footprint of their products or services, he said.

Asked if the economic downturn is likely to reduce demand for the services of environmental consultancies, he said: “It may have some effect but the smarter companies are realising that actually it makes energy efficiency even more important and energy savings mean carbon savings.

“It’s also still a reputational issue – if you’ve got one major company in a certain field acting in this area, the others realise that they can’t afford to be left behind.”

That does not mean there won’t be changes, added Mr Nancarrow.

“I think probably the emphasis will move – people are going to be cautious and thoughtful at the moment and [the need for environmental action] might need to be re-presented.

“There will be more talk about resource efficiency and people realise that the time is right for that sort of prudence.”

Mr Clark said the list accurately reflected the realities of the market.

“I don’t think there’s any really big surprises in there,” he said.

“I think even before we had any of the economic downturn, they were top of people’s lists. What we see with the economic downturn, if anything, is it kind of exacerbates those because that’s where customers are really looking for support at the moment.

”The two things people really want to know at the moment is ‘can you help me save money’ and ‘can you help me to do anything to meet compliance’ and all three fall into those areas.”

While energy, waste and carbon will remain the big three for the time being, Mr Nancarrow said that water was one to watch in coming years too, saying people’s perceptions were likely to see a transformation as they had with rubbish and energy.

He pointed to the Starbucks running tap scandal, which had outraged the public and led to condemnation from the Environment Agency, and said that water footprinting could be the next big thing, as people started to see it for the precious resource it was rather than a limitless one.

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