A recently published global survey by IEMA has revealed that sustainability and environmental professionals are some of the most satisfied workers out there. Why? Well, when we look at the overview of the environmental and sustainability profession, as depicted by the IEMA survey, it’s hard to think of a reason why somebody wouldn’t be happy: salaries are increasing including entry level graduate roles, professional development is supported and encouraged by employers and workers are highly qualified, regularly keeping their knowledge up-to-date. Not to mention the ‘nature’ of their work is morally rewarding – pun intended.
The survey, which was released in April 2016, is based on over 1,000 responses from IEMA members worldwide. Of these, 82% of participants reported that they were satisfied with their career – the highest number ever recorded for this group and comfortably exceeding the 77.6% of the general working population who consider themselves satisfied at work, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Speaking to "BusinessGreen" Tim Balcon, Chief Executive of IEMA, said there were multiple reasons why sustainability executives were broadly happy in their chosen careers;
"Quite simply these professionals say that the jobs they do are rewarding. There is a real sense of doing something ethical and positive with their careers that usually chime with their core beliefs and intrinsic interests in nature. Plus salaries are on the rise and employer support for professional development is high. All of that adds up to satisfied workers who really bring their best to work." 
Happy with healthy salaries
In 2015 the median earnings of an environment and sustainability professional reached £38,180, with the average being £43,812. This compares favourably against the national average wage of £27,600 that was reported by the Office for National Statistics in November, as well as against comparable occupations. A survey by the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) magazine in February 2016 revealed the average salary for health and safety managers fell between £37,500 and £39,999. Clearly organisations are recognising the importance of the role of an environment and sustainability professional.
It doesn’t stop there. The IEMA survey also reveals that salaries are in fact on the rise, with two thirds of participants reporting a pay rise in 2015. Balcon predicts that this increase is set to continue over the upcoming years, commenting,
"Looking at the average stats from recent years I think we can predict that salaries will continue to rise. We are already seeing a £5,000 rise in the average salary since 2011 so the current trajectory looks promising. I don't think this is just down to inflation either; as more and more businesses wake up to the threats and opportunities of environment and sustainability these skills will become increasingly valuable."
Unsurprisingly, the IEMA survey showed that qualifications and experience have a major influence on pay; those with more experience and expertise tend to reap the biggest rewards. IEMA membership status is a good proxy for experience and the build-up of skills and knowledge over time.
That said, it’s also good news for those just starting out in the profession. Graduates can expect to earn around £24,500, £500 up from the previous year and on par with other graduate roles within industries in which environment and sustainability professionals’ work: energy, engineering and industrial, construction, public sector and consultancy.
Location, location, location and salaries
Perhaps one of the most uplifting findings of the IEMA survey is that of the expected salaries by region. Most pay surveys show that people working in London and the South East typically earn more than those working in other parts of the UK. This is not the case in the environment and sustainability profession. The 2016 survey results confirm what was noticeable last year: there is generally a more equitable picture of pay levels for practitioners across the country, making the dreaded London commute a lot less necessary.
Gender gap for salaries
It’s not all good news however. A closer look at the statistics shows a gap in pay between male and female workers. Although younger women tend to earn slightly more than their male colleagues in the early years of employment, this changes after the age of 25 where the gap in earnings widened last year to £7,000, equating to a 16.7% pay gap. This is still a smaller gap than the UK average of 20% reported by the BBC. IEMA have acknowledged that work needs to be done to address this issue as a promoter of best practice in business today;
“Work needs to be done by business to bridge the gender pay gap however; there really is no room for any form of inequality in such a modern and diverse profession that represents the very best professional values.”
Watch this space, ladies.
Developing knowledge and skills
The healthy earnings of environmental and sustainability professionals are a reflection of the high level of skills and qualifications offered by workers. IEMA members who took the survey tend to be highly qualified with 93% of respondents having higher academic qualifications.
About one third went on to complete a second qualification, 45% of which was in environmental management or assessment. These figures suggest that many practitioners are keen to develop their knowledge and skills in environmental management to further their career.
Continuing professional development
IEMA requires its members to carry out Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to demonstrate a commitment to the development and maintenance of professional competence and knowledge and industry standards. This can be done through a combination of training, learning and practical experience and through the support of others.
In 2015, 91% of respondents reported that they undertook some form of CPD by means of IEMA webinars, attending CPD workshops or training courses, reading The Environmentalist or attending an IEMA certified training course. Half of respondents reported that the main motivation for undertaking this professional development is to develop knowledge and skills in their current role.
Benefits of CPD
ISO 14001:2015Half of respondents reported that the main motivation for undertaking this professional development is to develop knowledge and skills in their current role. This commitment to development is valued by employers of IEMA members; participants of the survey reported that their development activities helped enhance their organisation’s environmental performance, enabled them to help upskill colleagues, boosted their sustainability performance and had a direct positive impact on their organisation’s reputation.
Practitioners also reported that their CPD activities had led to direct financial savings for their organisation including reduced overheads, reduced taxation due to the actions spurred by their development and reduced insurance premiums.
Of course the savings of IEMA training development activities were not wholly financial. After all, IEMA’s main objective is to help organisations achieve global sustainability. The activities of IEMA members resulted in their organisation reducing energy use, reducing pollution, cutting general and carbon emissions and reducing water consumption. Unsurprisingly the majority of participants reported that their training was funded by their organisation; a reassuringly win-win situation for all.
Overall, IEMA’s more experienced survey respondents said that the environment and sustainability profession offers a rich and rewarding career that makes a real difference and offers variety. With more and more businesses and industries waking up to the scale and scope of environment and sustainability opportunities, it looks like this is just the tip of the iceberg for a promising and growing profession.
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