What is the environment sector? The environment sector is concerned with protecting the natural environment and mitigating the negative impacts of human society on the environment, for the benefit of people, wildlife, and natural systems. People who work in the environment sector may be employed by charitable organisations, companies providing environmental services or services to the environment sector, governments, or councils, or they could work for themselves (also called being self-employed).
Charities operate for the greater good of society without making a profit (all the money they raise has to go towards achieving their aims). Charities are sometimes called not-for-profit organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or just organisations, though in order to be called a charity in the UK, an organisation needs to be registered with the Charity Commission.
Charities can vary in size from Big International Non-Governmental Organisations (BINGOs), including well-known organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has an income of over £80million and over 400 employees, to organisations run between a small group of trustees, volunteers, and/or staff. There are pros and cons to organisations across the size spectrum that include job security, different paths for career development, bureaucracy, and day-to-day variety, and some people may naturally prefer and be better suited to organisations of particular sizes.
Examples of charities working in the UK environmental sector include:
- Chester Zoo: A large organisation (~500 employees, >200 volunteers) which runs Chester Zoo, partly to educate the public about wildlife and conservation, partly to run captive conservation programmes and research, and to raise funds for conservation projects.
- ShareAction: A medium-sized organisation (49 employees) specialising in improving the environmental impact of the financial services industry by working with investors, policymakers, and individuals.
- Young Climate Warriors: A small organisation (5 trustees) dedicated to the education of children and young people in climate change and promoting the protection of our environment.
The difference between a charity and a foundation
There is also a subtle difference between a charity and a foundation. A foundation is a type of charity usually created because there is a single source of funding which a person or group of people would like to put to charitable use, whereas most charities depend on funds from multiple sources (for example, from the general public or a range of different donors) and will invest more of their efforts towards fundraising to ensure they can continue to do their work.
An example of a foundation is the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which aims to improve our natural world, secure a fairer future, and strengthen the bonds in communities in the UK.
Companies produce or sell goods or services and so usually operate to make a profit, and where the operations have an impact on the environment such as resources (e.g. product packaging or textiles), travel (e.g. a transport or delivery company), or buildings (e.g. energy efficiency in an office), there are often opportunities at larger businesses for people to reduce a company’s environmental impact.
There are also not-for-profit companies which do not distribute profits to shareholders, as above, but keep the profits for further development of the company. Within not-for-profit companies are Community Interest Companies, which are a combination of a business (as they will trade a product or service) and a charity (as they benefit more than the shareholders or owners, i.e. they need to benefit a ‘community’ which can be a group of people/things, a geographical area, people with certain characteristics such as young people, female led businesses in the UK, areas of deforestation around the world etc.).
Examples of companies working in the UK environmental sector include:
- Environmental Resources Management (ERM): A large (5,000+ employees around the world) company which supports other companies in improving how their operations impact environment, health, safety, and sustainability.
- Biodiversify: Like ERM, it is also a consultancy (supports other companies by providing expertise) but its specialises in advising organisations and companies on how to improve their impact on nature and actively protect it, and is much smaller (9 employees).
Within public service roles, there are different levels, from the local level of town councils which provide services such as social care, schools, housing and planning, and waste collection to government agencies or departments working on national plans or policies on environmental projects and issues.
- The Marine Management Organisation is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). Its team is made up of around 300 people employed all around the UK tasked to protect and develop British marine resources (seas, coasts, and communities).
- Dorset Council UK is a large employer (1,000+ employees) which recruits across the East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland areas. Environmental services is just one area of their work; in addition to landscape management (with roles such as grounds maintenance and land management), the Council is also implementing a Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy and Action Plan.
People who are self-employed are responsible for their own employment. This could mean that they run their own business, consult for organisations or agencies, and/or provide a service. Usually people have already built up considerable experience and in-depth knowledge relating to their field before branching out to self-employment (which has a balanced set of advantages and disadvantages against traditional employment), but self-employed roles within the environment sector include freelance editors, graphic designers, and environmental consultants.