2007 Salary Survey: Catching the Wave

Jul 01, 2007

The waves at Waimea Bay in Hawaii, infamous for being the largest and most dangerous in the world, have nothing on the extreme ups and downs of the recent environmental job market.

Just like world-class surfers, you and your fellow environmental professionals must be prepared to meet the challenges of wild rides. Adaptability in your job is the key to success. Now more than ever, embracing change with a positive attitude is crucial in our rapidly changing environmental industry.

Strong Cross Currents
Certainly, the environmental field has gone through some important changes in recent years. The respondents to our survey offered many candid opinions about the changes they are experiencing in their jobs and trends they see impacting environmental professionals now and in the near future.

Projected Increased Demand for Environmental Jobs
"The current trend of ‘green' thinking has the potential to increase the demand for environmental professionals. Companies that years ago did not concern themselves with such issues are now beginning to realize that it is advantageous to incorporate this new philosophy into their daily routine," said a male plant-level manager from Tempe, Ariz.

Echoing this optimistic outlook, a female division-level manager from New York stated, "I think that there are excellent opportunities in the environmental health and safety (EH&S) field as regulatory compliance becomes better understood and integrated at the company/institutional level. Also, I predict international growth to be explosive, potentially raising salaries both here and abroad. American environmental professionals will be well positioned to use their expertise."

A male consultant from Cambridge, Mass., agrees with these upbeat projections. He said, "Environmental protection is becoming and more essential, from water resources management to reducing greenhouse gases. Over the next five years, I predict that salaries will increase because the demand will rise, especially if climate change regulations hit the books in the next five years."

Another respondent saw a small silver lining in the trend of U.S. manufacturers moving offshore. A male project manager from Columbus, Ohio, pointed out that as industries move offshore, the cessation of operations will create increased remedial business opportunities in the short term. However, he also noted that "the same move offshore will also create fewer opportunities in the long term, beyond five years, since there could be less industry requiring ongoing environmental services."

Looming Retirement for Baby Boomers
The graying of the environmental profession was another trend noted by several respondents. "We will lose over 50 percent of our current engineers due to retirement within the next 5 to 10 years. Newer and younger employees will be brought on at starting salaries. The mentoring and training of these new staff will place additional burdens on the remaining staff and organization," commented a female regulatory compliance specialist from Boise, Idaho.

"There is a continuing trend toward ‘commoditization' of environmental management, due to cost pressures and lack of new environmental rules... the result being that older, more experienced practitioners are forced out while younger, cheaper personnel combined with compliance software are deemed sufficient," noted a male engineer from Radford, Va. He also pointed out that a countervailing trend is to meld safety and/or security into the EHS position... which can increase salary but dilutes the environmental function and number of positions.

Bush Administration's Legacy
Another important factor impacting related to the environmental profession that several survey respondents discussed was the impact of the Bush administration.

"The current presidential administration is making efforts to reduce or abrogate compliance and advancement of defensible environmental laws and policies," a male scientist from Westford, Mass., said. "The personnel and fiscal policies and 'interpretations' being put into place will slow the growth of this field and jeopardize the environment into the next generation. Policies are too politically based and willfully ignore scientifically based public health and environmental concerns. We will be at a technological disadvantage to address issues without the impetus from the government to move forward. The result will be that instead of being the leader in environmental technology, we will look to outsource our solutions to Europe, Japan and other up-and-coming technology leaders just as we increasing outsource many other needs."

Along the same lines, a female engineer from Grand Rapids, Mich., criticized "the conservative Republican administration and how they continue to railroad and diminish environmental policy for the sake of big business." Likewise, a male consultant from California said, "The demise of the Republican administration in Washington, D.C., will only help swing the pendulum back toward actually protecting the environment and worker health and safety."

Even more outspoken, a male environmental lawyer from Chicago said, "If the federal administration changes hands, environmental compliance enforcements and enactments will increase. More students pursuing higher education will then consider environmentally related careers. However, as long as the energy companies own the federal government, environmental maintenance issues, however global, are suppressed; ecological preservation, tenuous. Those bums really need to be 'thrown out'.

Balancing Business and Environmental Needs
One astute respondent focused on the delicate balancing act businesses will have to manage in the coming years. The female regulatory compliance specialist from Suffolk Va., commented, "This will be an interesting phase. There is a push between stepping up our environmental responsibility vs. cutting down cost. Both are needed to succeed. The winning companies will have to figure out how to do both."

Totally Stoked
We asked our participants about what they liked most about their jobs. A number of survey participants shared certain types of enjoyment related to their occupations.

Apparently, many environmental professionals like to be in charge of their work with little supervision. For example, a male corporate-level staffer from Ludington, Mich., said, "My independence. I am given the freedom to work on whatever needs attention." Along similar lines, a female regulatory compliance specialist from Everett, Wash., discussed how she enjoyed significant freedom to manage her own time and priorities, had a wide variety of activities and contacts within the corporation, and also had the ability to lead global direction for her company.

A male corporate-level manager from Houston, Texas, said he liked "the flexibility, no micro-managing from upper management."

Average Salary of Top Five Job Titles

Regulatory Compliance Specialist
Project Manager
Health and Safety Supervisor


Consulting Firm

Water Treatment
Municipal Landfill




High School
Experience (Years)

Notes: Reported annual salaries of $5,000 or less were eliminated from tabulations due to possible respondent error; blank results indicate either no respondents in that category or no answer to salary question; number of respondents in top five job title categories are as follows: regulatory compliance specialist, 271; other, 261; project manager, 205; health and safety supervisor, 200; and engineer, 186.
* Indicates 10 or fewer respondents in particular category

Variety in Job Duties
A number of our respondents mentioned that they enjoyed their jobs because of the diverse number of job functions they handle. In a typical response, a male engineer from Memphis, Tenn., said, "Variety. I work in many different areas of environmental management supporting a variety of locations." Similarly, a male consultant from Philadelphia commented that he likes "the diversity within the environmental arena, air, water, wastewater, hazardous materials, meeting new clients, and training." He also enjoys learning new technologies and applying them to unique situations.

A female regulatory compliance specialist from Eastland, Texas, stated, "The diversity and constant challenges keep me motivated. My company supports an active role in state and federal agency interaction to help shape future regulations and issues. This is a constantly changing field, allowing and expecting personal growth and knowledge."

Challenging Work
Reflecting what appears to be a common trait among many environmental professionals, many of our survey participants emphasized that they enjoy their jobs not because they are easy, but rather because they require effort and intellectual skills.

"What I like most is solving problems with innovative approaches, being proactive to address issues before regulators force a company to do so, and designing systems which make labor intensive work (boring regulatory paperwork) easier," said a female scientist, from Knoxville, Tenn. "I like the freedom I have of not being under constant supervision, and discovering ways to reduce costs. I like that the company I work for has a concern for the environment and wants to fix any problems, I just wish I had more time to pursue these parts of the job vs. daily small issues."

In statements that reflect this same attitude, a male project manager from Charlotte, N.C., said he liked "the challenge of adjusting to changing regulatory and operational conditions" and a male, health/safety supervisor from Port Angeles, Wash., commented "Every day there are new challenges and opportunities to learn and grow professionally."

Positive Impacts on the Environment
Not surprisingly, quite a few of the respondents mentioned the satisfaction that they derive from improving the environment through their work.

"In spite of all the political debate over my past 30 years in the environmental profession, I am at the point where I can see our (environmental protection specialists, in a manner) hard work in the environmental protection field coming to fruition," a male plant-level manager from Chatfield, Minn., said. "Locally, we anticipate a SOx reduction of about 100,000 tons/year at the PPL Brunner Island facility outside Harrisburg, Pa. However, such improvements are not just local to us but are occurring across the Commonwealth.""

A female regulatory compliance specialist from Chehalis, Wash., commented, "Helping people understand their interactions with the environment does have an impact, and how we can all work to improve the outcomes of same for the better of all. Prefer fieldwork to office setting. Enjoy learning from people of all types and beliefs."

Working Outdoors
Given that environmental professionals typically have a strong interest in the environment, it makes sense that many of them enjoy escaping the confines of their cubicles to do their work outside. "I love to work outside, hands-on, in the natural environment," said a male project manager from Albany, N.Y. "I feel like I'm making more of a contribution than I did when I worked in a lab."

A male consultant from Phoenix, Ariz., expresses a similar view in his comment, "I enjoy constantly being on the learning curve of scientific/technical issues. I also enjoy the occasional outdoor work."

Struggling in Choppy Waters
On the flip side, we also requested that our participants comment on what they like least about their jobs. Like any group of professionals, they had a number of complaints.

Buried in Paperwork
"Too much of my time it being taken up with the paperwork and details of running the division and HR issues," a male division-level manager from Colonie, N.Y., said. However, even in his venting, he managed to show some good humor when he continued, "If the devil is in the details, the devil works for the regulators and he is feasting on the paper documentation that is required."

A female consultant from Conneaut, Ohio, showed the same frustration in her comment, "January through April - reporting season. I understand (kind of) the need to gather and report information, but between Title V compliance reports and certifications, MACT NOCs and compliance reports, hazardous waste, SERC, etc. this season is a nightmare of data and deadlines!"

Others had similar feelings. A male plant-level manager from Raritan, N.J., complained about, "Regulatory busywork - checklists, forms, etc. - that add no value or protection." Likewise, a male scientist from Seattle groused about "The cumbersome bureaucracy."

High Stress Levels
Several survey participants mentioned problems with the high demands of their jobs. "Consulting is a hard business," said a male consultant from Cambridge, Mass. "The stress can be difficult to deal with if you are not able find the proper outlet."

Likewise, a male, health/safety supervisor, Rochester, N.Y., noted "The long hours and stress. Not having the money to purchase items that would increase our productivity."

Professionals in other parts of the country had similar complaints. For example, a female safety and health director from Indianapolis, had problems with "too many hours and having to work too many weekends."

Insufficient Financial Payback A number of the respondents talked about their frustration over compensation. For example, a male regulatory compliance specialist from Natick, Mass. talked about "lack of room for advancement -- lack of room for much additional compensation."

Also dissatisfied, a male project manager from Parsippany N.J. said, he disliked "Tight budgets, poor management, user unfriendly accounting systems, inferior subcontractor work, poor administrative and technical support, and upper management with unrealistic expectations."

Changes in Attitudes
In response to our query about whether their job satisfaction had increased or decreased, our survey participants gave us a wide range of answers that included explanations about what had caused these changes in their outlooks.

Suffering from Work Overload
Focusing on extreme breadth of her job duties, a female environmental and safety engineer from Milwaukee commented, "Too many hats, not enough heads. I am responsible for environmental compliance (Title V air permit, LQ hazardous waste, Process Safety Management, OSHA compliance, Worker's Comp management...). All this and no time or dollars for professional development, much less continuing education. Burnout is approaching."

Other respondents shared her level of frustration. A male environmental manager from Newport News, Va., said that he left a private environmental consulting company where the profit margin was based on "employee willingness to sacrifice personal time." On the industrial side, a male plant-level manager, New York, N.Y., was annoyed by "Company downsizing, poor morale." A female project manager from Dover, Del., was so frustrated that she "moved from stressed-filled private sector to government sector."

Problems with Supervisors
Some issues are universal and transcend professional niches. A number of the respondents commented negatively about their former or current supervisors.

"I no longer work for an idiot," said a male regulatory compliance specialist, Jacksonville, Fla., who appeared to be happy with his change in employment.

Along the same lines, a female project manager from Rick Island, Ill., said, "I changed jobs and I now work for an employer that gives me much more flexibility and does not micromanage me or my team."

Also appearing to be relieved by the change in his supervisors, a male corporate-level staffer from Dearborn, Mich., stated, "Overbearing know-it-all high-level boss has taken a retirement package. Successor is younger and more competent."

Frustration with Employers' Environmental Policies
Several respondents had experienced problems working for companies that had environmental policies that did not jibe with their own personal beliefs.

"I changed the company I worked for to one that wanted to be proactive when it came to protecting the environment," said a male regulatory compliance specialist from Goshen, Ind.

A male division-level manager from Chicago complained about his employer, "Lack of corporate interest in pursuing environmental improvement. It's all about perception and spin."

Gender Issues
Another workplace issue that is not limited to the environmental profession is the role of women. Our survey participants held a variety of views on this topic.

"The government discriminates against women," a female engineer from Jacksonville, Ark., said. "It is a 'good old boy' system. What you know or how hard you work doesn't matter."

Another female -- who works as a safety and health director in Indianapolis -- also expressed dissatisfaction, "I am burned out on the environmental profession. I had the position of safety & health director added to my environmental engineering duties and got only a 2 percent raise for the extra headache. The men with equal or less experience make $10,000 to $15,000 more than me."

In contrast, a male health/safety supervisor from Rochester, N.Y., complained about "regular advancement of less-qualified and less-experienced personnel to higher-level positions due to diversity targets or corporate goals for gender advancement."

Moving up the Corporate Ladder
A number of respondents expressed satisfaction with recent changes in position within their companies.

"I was recently promoted to the managerial level," said a female division-level manager from Flint, Mich. "This has increased my level of job satisfaction because the promotion provides an opportunity for professional growth and the development of a whole new skill set. Previously, I relied heavily on my technical knowledge. Now my focus has shifted to people/program issues."

In a similar vein, a male plant-level manager from Raritan, N.J., appeared to be pleased because he had "moved to a position with more global focus and more responsibility - better visibility at higher levels of management."

Another respondent, a female staff member from Parma, Ohio, commented, "I'm currently managing several company legacy contamination issues that have high visibility to the senior officers. These liabilities have high cost potential, so my project management and cost-avoidance initiatives are seen as value-added. I am perceived now as more a member of the business team. My previous corporate duties, aimed mainly at compliance, were low visibility and I felt more undervalued as an employee."

Changing into a Hired Gun
While some of the survey participants were pleased to climb up the traditional corporate ladder, others were happy to strike out on their own as self-employed consultants.

"I left corporate America and worked first for myself and now for a small company of senior-level personnel with both consulting and industrial experience," said a male consultant from Hobe Sound, Fla. "We have mutual respect for each other's knowledge and experience and openly discuss any and all subjects, no politics!"

A female consultant from Charleston, W.Va., expressed similar feelings in her comments, "In 2003, I left a large organization to start my own consulting firm. In the environmental field, we are often asked to go out and find the work...then do the work (doers/sellers). That really translates into not only needing to be a technical professional, but being an entrepreneur as well. If you also consider that many larger firms have lost sight of providing quality work for their clients (due to overhead constraints), it is much easier as a small firm to provide quality work, and be responsive to our clients' needs…If you are dedicated to your clients, have a great work ethic, and are a self-starter...then being self-employed in this field is fantastic! "

Surfin' Safari: Moving on to Better Waves
We asked our survey participants whether they were considering a career move and, if so, what was their motivation for making the change. Their comments ranged from tongue-in-cheek humor to frank statements about the problems they have faced as environmental professionals.

"I have always wanted to run a brew pub or bait shop. Maybe now is the time," quipped one male division level manager, from Chippewa Falls, Wis. His light response contrasted with the darker comment from another respondent, a male plant-level manager, from LeRoy, Ill., who lamented, "Low pay combined with a lack of appreciation or understanding by the general public and government officials. I regret the choice I made years ago to work in the water and wastewater field because it has been 20 years wasted."

Drawbacks to the Environmental Profession
A male engineer from Radford, Va., also had a less than sunny view about the future of the environmental field. He stated, "The environmental field appears to be ‘mature.' There does not appear to be true growth, and there seem to be more practitioners than openings. There are three other factors damping opportunity: the increased availability and capability of compliance software; reduced regulatory agency initiatives and clout under the Bush Administration; and, the severe financial pressures and attrition in the manufacturing sector. As a result, this writer is pursuing safety management as a fallback, a field which I spent time in during the early 2000s. "

Another long time environmental professional also expressed disillusionment with the field. The male regulatory compliance specialist from Mesa, Ariz., said, "I am considering changing careers primarily because there is no brass ring/advancement to seek. After 15 years in the business, it's always the same tasks, same red tape, and especially it's the lack of support to stay ahead of the curve. The regulations continue to become more complicated, while workload is constantly increasing, making a professional constantly stressed about being behind in regulatory requirements. My preference is to concentrate on innovations, be involved in rulemaking, planning ahead, make changes that improve the environment and protect employees. In summation, use my experience instead of counting VOCs or filling out piles of forms and reports. EHS work should be about improvement, not just barely keeping your head above water and hoping the tide does not come in."

Another respondent, a female regulatory compliance specialist from Panama, Okla., appeared to be looking at other options. She said, "The pay is too low for the hours of work involved and the associated legal ramifications of the job. The workload and overtime (without compensation) is too stressful to contemplate having the same workload for the next 30 years."

A male plant-level manager from Bay City, Mich., commented that he was getting tired of doing more with less, constantly increasing workload, salary freezes or cuts, and the "political BS" that was hampering his job performance.

"Work is too sporadic with long down time and not enough work. Also losing interest in the career, too much politics, game playing, and unclear legislation. Budgets approved by clients for jobs we have are so tight our department loses money most of the time," said a male scientist from Houston.

Negative Perception of Environmental Professionals Some respondents were bothered by how they felt other business associates and clients viewed them.

"I would like to work in a position that is appreciated by the organization, rather than be the ‘necessary evil," said a male division-level manager in Alabama.

Likewise, a male project manager from Millburn, N.J., complained, "Environmental consulting is a bad-news business. You make money by giving bad news to clients, which causes stress in the business relationship right at the start."

Switching to Other Professions
Several survey participants discussed their plans to move into other professions. "I am taking law classes to get my JD. I think between the knowledge that 30-plus years of nursing and certifications and a JD, a lot more doors will open up for me," said a female occupational health nurse from Glendale, Ariz.

Similarly, a male division-level staff member from Santa Barbara, Calif., plans to transition into environmental law by attending a night law school program. And he anticipates his graduation will be in 2010.

Looking in a different direction, a male health/safety supervisor from Boston commented, "I am considering a move into the business field because there is a greater opportunity for advancement and with the environmental background, this will make me look more qualified."

Conversely, a male project manager in Pittsburgh stated that he is considering a move into information technology because of the limited number of air quality positions open in his geographical area.

Job Surfers' Survival Tips
In today's challenging business climate, it's important to have a survival strategy in place. Many of our respondents offered advice concerning important trends that environmental professionals should pay attention to because future developments, hopefully, will generate large amounts of work for U.S. environmental professionals.

"One-stop shopping is more and more significant in the consulting field," said a male consultant in Kansas City , Mo. "The more areas of expertise one has is very marketable. More clients prefer a professional with well-rounded skills in the combined environmental, industrial hygiene, and occupational safety and health fields. The more training, education, and skills one offers, the better."

Another respondent, a male corporate level staff member from Ludington, Mich., agreed with this strategy. He said, "They need to be reactive to the ever-changing job responsibilities, such as IT capabilities associated with recordkeeping and reporting. Job demand should remain high and hopefully the benefits packages will continue to be more attractive and play an important role in job relocation."

Knowledge of International Laws
Several respondents commented on the importance of being well-versed in the growing body of international environmental laws.

"More and more European directives and laws for protecting the environment are affecting U.S. manufactures who export products into Europe," said a female environmental and safety manager in Seattle. "U.S. environmental professionals now need to have a thorough understanding of these laws in addition to U.S. laws and regulations. I can see this type of knowledge and experience playing into salaries for environmental professionals."

A male division-level manager from Binghamtom, N.Y., also recommended this career tactic. He said, "Proliferation of product environmental compliance legislation – RoHS [Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive], WEEE [Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive], China RoHS, etc.) -- has created significant demand for nontraditional environmental professionals capable of assessing a company's product offering and developing/implementing plans to drive/maintain compliance to the myriad of geographically different requirements. Additionally, salaries for these type positions are often two times over traditional environmental roles."

Choosing from a Plethora of Environmental Specialties
Based upon their own unique perspectives, a number of our respondents recommended a wide variety of different areas of specialization in the environmental field.

"A career in either water or wastewater treatment can be a very good opportunity for young people, as my generation will soon be leaving the field," said a male consultant, from Davis, Calif. "There are many other rewards in the field that tend to help balance out the salary issue for me. As water continues to become more precious, perhaps local government will begin to recognize the need to properly compensate the people that direct these operations."

Focusing on a different area of expertise, a male project manager from Seattle commented, "Experience in air quality issues and issues related to preservation of endangered species and their habitats will drive the market. Junior level salaries will increase dramatically while senior staff will be outplaced."

Looking at the growing focus on pollution prevention, a male corporate-level staff member from Milwaukee, Wis., stated "There is a larger regulatory focus on product design and less on end-of-pipe concerns. The one that gets involved with product design will be more valuable in the future."

A female trainer from Aberdeen, Md., stated, "I believe there will be untapped environmental work requirements relating to global warming, a demand for environmental investigators, chemical engineers, HAZMAT inspectors, compliance inspectors, as well as site managers."

Developing Foreign Language Skills
"Although English appears to be a 'universal' language, I would recommend learning at least another two or three languages, if you plan to do consulting work, especially, out of the U.S.," said a male environmental supervisor from Harrisburg, Pa. "As new pc-related operating systems come forward, be aware of them and use them, if possible."

Adding Value to Your Company
Not to be overlooked is the importance of helping to improve your company's bottom line, even if your job doesn't directly involve generating revenue. A male project manager from Seymour, Ind., shared his views on this issue, " It will be tied to the ability to 'add value' to the company. Compliance with laws and regulations will also be Job #1 but improvements, ISO 14001 benefits, and cost savings also are being expected. It's difficult just to do 'traditional environment' with reporting and compliance. You have to become part of making a successful and profitable business."

Overall, our readers' frank feedback about the current state of the environmental profession convinces us, while many segments of the environmental market are slowing down or stagnant, other areas are growing and offer excellent opportunities for moving ahead financially. In the years ahead, environmental professionals' success will be dependent upon their ability to master new job skills that are in demand in the changing workplace.

So come on, you environmental dudes and dudettes. Grab your boards and rise to the challenge. Surf's up!

This year, 2,066 environmental professionals responded to our salary survey. The questionnaire was available online at Environmental Protection's Web site (www.eponline.com). For calculation purposes, the mean was used in obtaining the figures. This should not be considered a statistically valid survey, but rather an informal representation of our readership's responses.