Doing her best for the environment

WHAT does a day in the life of a environmental consultant entail?

WHAT does a day in the life of a environmental consultant entail?

A day in the life of an environmental consultant is incredibly varied.

There is a healthy combination of working out of doors by way of site investigations and inspections, fulfilling office tasks such as report writing and dealing with people through the public participation process, engaging with authorities and liaising with project team members such as architects and engineers.

With the key aim of the job being the promotion of responsible and sustainable developments, environmental consulting takes place throughout the life cycle of the project. During the planning and design phase the work primarily involves managing and coordinating the various tasks required in order to conduct an environmental impact assessment process.

During the construction phase the role shifts to monitoring and auditing construction activities, and during the operational phase an environmental consultant would assist developers in managing the long- term sustainability and "greening" of a facility through the implementation of an environmental management system.

Ultimately, an environmental consultant needs to make recommendations to minimise negative environmental impacts and find ways to optimise the benefits of a proposed development, where possible.

Since legislation dictates that the public be involved in environmental processes, an important aspect of being an environmental consultant is the engaging of key stakeholders and the public on proposed developments.

Involving the public translates to making presentations to them and having the capacity to facilitate issues in a manner which would allow for constructiveresolutions.

Why did you decide on this career?

On completing my first year at the University of Toronto I was faced with choosing my courses for the following year based on a dedicated career path.

The year was 1989 and environmental issues were becoming topical in the media. While becoming a lawyer was at the forefront of my choices, through engaging with my career guidance counsellor I discovered that environmental science was the career of the future. My decision was to argue for the environment.

How did you get into this career?

When I completed my degree in Canada, I came back to my South African roots. I studied for a Master's at the University of Cape Town. My first job was as environmental adviser in a PR company.

In 1998 legislation was promulgated requiring certain development proposals to conduct independent environmental impact assessments. I moved into the role of an environmental assessment practitioner and started Chand Environmental Consultants in 1998.

What's challenging about the job?

At times, there are competing needs between what the developer would like to achieve and what the surrounding public envisage.

This creates conflict that requires sensitive and creative negotiation to resolve. Being the facilitator of this process can also mean I am criticised by those who don't believe I have done a fair job. Sometimes a "thick skin" is required.

What do you love most about your career?

I love many things about my career. Firstly, I love engaging with a variety of people from many sectors of society. The professionals I deal with are often visionaries, making it exciting to be involved with project teams. I lead a team of eight dynamic women who are a pleasure to work with, so being in the office is very fulfilling.

Also, the consulting jobs around Africahave allowed for wonderful travelling experiences. Most importantly, it is incredibly rewarding to see the environmental input positively influence the design of a proposed development.

What type of person would make a success of this position?

A successful environmental consultant needs to have excellent communication skills, good organisational and report writing abilities and, most importantly, the capacity to think creatively when trying to find a balance between development and conservation needs.

What subjects do you need to pass in high shool to study towards this career?

Biology, geography, mathe matics, chemistry and physics. A second language would be helpful.

What does one study at tertiary level to get into this career?

A three-year degree in environmental science will get you an entry-level job. An Hhonours or a Master's is advisable in my company. I value practical experience.

What is the entry-level salary for this job ?

A basic starting salary should be about R10000 a month. The type of degree attained and practical experience should influence this figure.