How to Become an Environmental Planner
Environmental planners formulate ecologically sustainable land development policies. They help to manage natural resources, ensure the safety of food and drinking water, and develop work procedures that are less hazardous to humans and nature. There are a wide range of duties, from meeting with public stakeholders, developers, and city councils, to creating designs and maps using computer programs, conducting field inspections, and monitoring environmental reclamation projects.
Getting the Right Education
Take relevant high school courses.Sign up for classes in science, like biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as math, like geometry, algebra, and calculus. Classes in geography, computer science, and English are also helpful. Taking relevant courses in high school will help you decide if you enjoy the subjects and also prepare you for the courses you’ll need to complete in college.
Obtain your Bachelor's degree.Environmental planners need at least a Bachelor’s Degree in one of the biological sciences or a related field. You can major in biology, botany, ecology, forestry, environmental science, or in natural resource management, environmental planning, or environmental policy.
Take a variety of classes.You'll also need classes in geography, landscape architecture, and computer science (notably computer modeling). You should also study mathematics (algebra and statistics), environmental law, and English (particularly technical writing for reports).
Pursue a Master's degree to specialize in a specific area.A Master's degree in environmental studies or environmental science may be required for some higher-level environmental planner jobs, such as a land use planner or a senior environmental planner. A Master's degree also provides an opportunity to specialize in a particular area of environmental planning, like urban planning.
Get certified as an environmental planner.Although not mandatory, getting certified as an environmental planner can boost your career. Certification is available through such organizations as the Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals, the American Institute of Certified Planners, or the National Association of Environmental Professionals.
- Organizations that are member-based also provide networking opportunities to help you further your career.
- Presently, most U.S. states don't require environmental planners to be licensed, although licensure is required for environmental engineers.
Become an intern.While in college, sign up for an internship with either a private company or a municipality. Private companies, like engineering or architectural firms, consult on environmental projects. Municipalities, like your local, state, or federal government, monitor and plan environmental improvements and ensure building projects conform to environmental regulations.
- Ask your advisor about internship opportunities, or contact agencies directly.
- The Student Conservation Association (SCA) provides many internship opportunities in all areas of environmental studies, so be sure to check out their website.
Find a mentor.Your college courses and internships are great places to find a mentor. Consider asking one of your professors or the person who supervised your internship to mentor you. You can learn how your mentor acquired the position they currently have, get answers to the many questions you might have, and ask for tips on becoming an environmental planner and finding a job.
Take an entry-level job.Getting an entry-level job will get you the field experience that many environmental planner positions require. Look for positions that will give you experience with local, state, and federal environmental laws. Most environmental planning positions require at least two years of experience in the field.
- You could take an entry-level job as an environmental planning assistant, a junior environmental scientist or junior land-use planner, or even a data analyst or technical writer.
Starting Your Career
Study the job market.It’s important to know what’s going on in the field of environmental planning, and to keep with with advancements. Find out where environmental planners are in demand, and consider moving to an area where there are more opportunities.
- To find opportunities for networking and read publications about environmental planning, visit the American Planning Association website at .
Apply with governmental agencies.Many governmental agencies need environmental planners to conduct field inspections, analyze data, prepare reports, make presentations to stakeholders, and to serve on committees for land and resource development. You can also apply to work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or a state or local agency with a similar focus.
Apply with private companies.Architectural and engineering firms also require environmental planners. You may be required to analyze natural resources to determine environmental risk, and develop plans to diminish, improve, or eliminate those risks. Areas of focus include drinking water, soil, garbage dumps and landfills, wastewater facilities, and sewers.
Apply with nonprofit organizations.Nonprofit organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy, and the Environmental Learning Center need environmental planners as well. Consider joining a nonprofit organization and putting the skills you’ve gained to work helping them raise awareness about environmental issues.
Prepare for interviews.If your application is of interest to a company they will ask you to interview for the position. Always arrive on time and dress professionally. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself and why you are the best candidate for the job. Bring an updated resume that lists your education and experience, as well as references and letters of recommendation to the interview, if possible.
Take a job in a related field.Similar jobs include environmental scientists, environmental engineers, environmental consultants, and environmental compliance inspectors.
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