Start your career in the environment sector2023-01-10T15:52:35+00:00

Start your career in the environment sector

Where to begin 

Welcome to the environment sector! It’s so exciting that you’re interested in building your career within such an important industry, where you will be able to use your skills to make our planet a better place to live for all of its inhabitants.

But where to start? We realise that it can be hard, from the outside, to understand what opportunities are available in the environment sector; what qualifications, skills, and experience you might need; and where you can go to add things to your CV which will get you your first role. It might even be hard to understand exactly what some of the organisations advertising positions actually do, so we’ve put together some information to help you navigate your journey into a career in the environment sector.

Answering your questions

Environment sector: What do we do?2023-01-10T14:41:51+00:00

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).

Charitable organisations

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.

Environment sector: Who are we looking for?2023-02-22T10:31:31+00:00

The short answer is people from all backgrounds with a wide range of skillsets. There is a common misconception that to work in the environment sector, you need to have studied an environmental subject such as ecology, environmental management, conservation, geography, marine science, or zoology. These can be useful for a certain career path, but there are many more opportunities within the environment sector, and your experiences could make you an excellent candidate.

Perhaps your passion lies in teaching, working with young people, or you are particularly skilled with numbers and datasets. Maybe you’ve always been an excellent writer, or your perfectionist tendencies would make you a fantastic editor with some training. If you enjoy being around people and developing relationships, human resources, event management, or fundraising might be a good fit for you.

Take a look at some of the job boards in the ‘Where to look’ section below and see which roles most appeal to you, and then look at the kind of experience they are asking for. For many roles, such as communications, finance, fundraising, operations, and event management, you may already have experience outside the environment sector which could be relevant to your application for a career path using your skills to protect Earth’s resources.

It is worth acknowledging that the environmental sector has a long way to go to be inclusive to applicants from different backgrounds and lived experiences which is essential for a strong and diverse workforce. Lack of paid entry-level opportunities, lack of consideration for people with accessibility requirements, and lack of education about opportunities in the environmental sector for young people (particularly those growing up in cities) are just some of the barriers the environmental sector must overcome to become more equitable, diverse, and inclusive.

Various projects are ongoing to educate people already working in the sector, provide better entry-level opportunities, and demonstrate best practice for inclusive recruitment and employment such as Race for Nature’s Recovery (Synchronicity Earth participated in this project as an employer, read our Kickstarter Reefah’s account of her placement here), New to Nature, Young Leaders for Sustainable Cities, the RACE Report, the Countryside for All research project, and various organisations working with and within the sector to improve career opportunities for people from under-represented backgrounds such as Black Geographers, Birding for All, Full Colour, Hindu Climate Action, and South Asians for Sustainability.

Synchronicity Earth: How do we fit in?2023-01-10T14:44:15+00:00

Synchronicity Earth is a UK-based, global environmental charity that funds and collaborates with organisations around the world that aim to make our planet a better place to live for all its inhabitants.

We are a medium-sized charity that supports partners working to protect less well-known species and ecosystems around the world that receive less attention but face the greatest threats.

We do this through our conservation programmes, which identify, fund, and support organisations with a focus on Amphibians, Asian Species, Biocultural Diversity, Congo Basin, Freshwater, and Ocean. We also support work across two other areas: the More than Carbon initiative, a portfolio of climate and biodiversity projects targeted at corporate donors; and the Synchronicity Portfolio, which aims to foster systemic change to promote a greater focus on biodiversity conservation within different sectors.

Our partners are mostly organisations embedded within their local communities, and we often support and fund projects which also consider social impacts such as women’s health and empowerment, engagement with Indigenous Peoples, and sustainable livelihoods (e.g., small-scale fisheries) in addition to wildlife conservation.

Synchronicity Earth: Our people2023-03-24T11:16:59+00:00

At the time of writing in 2023, our staff team is made up of about 25 full and part-time staff across four teams (Communications, Finance and Risk, Philanthropy, Operations, and Programmes) led by our Senior Leadership Team. In addition to our staff, we also have a board of trustees, advisers, and affiliates.

The Communications team are responsible for our website, email newsletter, printed publications (such as our annual review Spotlight), social media, film projects (such as Bringing Conservation to Life and Champions of the Endangered), and working with other teams for events and donor-specific projects such as donor reports.

The Finance and Risk team ensure that the organisation’s funding is well looked after through systems and processes, overseeing the organisation’s annual budget, and regular financial reporting to the Board. They also are in charge of managing risks associated with our finances such as grant commitments and investments.

The Philanthropy team manage the income stream of the organisation. This includes identifying opportunities for fundraising, supporting events management, and ensuring we meet the commitments we have made to our donors such as donor reports.

The Operations team handle all Synchronicity Earth systems, workflows, and processes to ensure Synchronicity Earth is efficient with its resources. They work with and across teams to create and manage pipelines, ensuring teams are aware of the work required for each output, such as the cross-team grant funding process.

The Programmes Team is accountable for the development and delivery of Synchronicity Earth’s Conservation Programmes, building relationships with conservation partners, and supporting those partners to achieve their goals. This may be financial, in the form of grants from donations made to a programme, but can also include advice, connecting organisations to experts in our network who can advise, providing training to build an organisation’s in-house financial or communications expertise, or providing creative solutions (for example, when our partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were not able to attend the 2021 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, our Congo Basin Programme Manager Sophie Grange-Chamfray worked with our Congo Basin affiliates Bihini Won wa Musiti and Merline Touko Tchoko to hold the first ‘Mini-Congress’ for nature in Kinshasa).

Every charity in the UK needs to have a board: a group of unpaid individuals who are all responsible for the governance and strategic direction of an organisation, and hold legal liability. They are responsible for the organisation’s direction and strategy; making sure the work of the charity is effective, responsible, and legal; and safeguarding people as well as the charity’s finances, resources, and property. The Synchronicity Earth Board of Trustees is small and very engaged with our organisation; Jessica and Catherine are regular visitors to the London office.

To help keep our programmatic work as effective as possible, Synchronicity Earth has an Advisory Board that helps us to ensure that our approach, strategies, programmes, and activities are based on a combination of the best available science, real, lived experience, and local knowledge. They advise on interventions or points of change and highlight opportunities and innovative ways of thinking or doing.

We also receive more in-depth support and guidance for our programmes from our network of affiliates who live within and/or are from some of our most crucial regions, including Latin America, particularly Brazil; Cameroon; and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Our affiliates are highly experienced individuals with a host of important skills who help steer our programmes with their local expertise and extensive networks.

Where to look for opportunities2023-03-24T11:20:48+00:00

As well as advertising roles in the vacancies section of their website, employers will advertise available roles on job boards and social media. If there are certain organisations or businesses that you are very interested in working for, sign up for email updates on their website, and follow them on social media (particularly LinkedIn).

To see what opportunities are available in the environment sector at the moment, sign up for email or social media updates (particularly on LinkedIn) from environmentjob, conservationcareers, IEMA Jobs, GreenJobs, and environmentaljobsuk.

Even if you are so early on in your career that you don’t feel comfortable applying for these roles yet, looking at job boards can give you a good idea of the skills and experience being asked for and you might learn about career paths in the sector that you hadn’t thought about before.

If you know that you ultimately want to be working for an environmental charity but are struggling to get your first opportunity in the sector, a way to gain some relevant experience is to apply for similar roles that you are interested in for non-environmental organisations, to gain some experience that will help you in interviews later on. CharityJob and ThirdSectorJobs are specialised job boards for non-profit, non-governmental organisations, social enterprise, Community Interest Companies, and voluntary jobs. 80,000 hours is a website with a job board which has advice and opportunities for people looking for careers that will have a positive impact on the world.

Something else you can do to help improve your chances of breaking into the sector is to seek out a mentor. Perhaps there is someone who you have already met or worked with who you could ask for some career advice, or alternatively you could apply for a mentoring scheme such as those run by A Focus On Nature, CIEEM, and the British Ecological Society.

Polish your application2023-01-10T15:08:29+00:00

There is lots of advice online about how to build a CV, download CV templates, how to write a cover letter, do’s and don’ts for your application, and how to write an application for an environment sector role.

To add to it all, here are five top tips from Synchronicity Earth about how to make your application stand out:

  • Let the requirements on the job advert provide a template for your cover letter. Often recruiters will be assessing applications against the ‘Required skills and experience’ list on the advert, so try to make sure that your application addresses as many of these requirements as possible. If there are a few which you don’t have, don’t let that put you off. Your application may still be very strong without it, and you can address the gap either by showing how you have faced a similar challenge before (e.g. learning a new skill), talking about a ‘transferable skill’ which may be useful even though you don’t have direct experience, or by showing an eagerness to learn in your interview.
  • Show, rather than tell. Rather than describing your skills (e.g., I am a skilled communicator) or generalising your experience (e.g., I am a dedicated nature-lover), think about how you can prove these traits by writing about what you have done (e.g., I managed the hockey club’s social media accounts for two years. I have been a member of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust since 2020 and have visited eight of their reserves.).
  • Research the organisation. A sentence or two sprinkled into your cover letter which prove that you have researched the organisation beyond the job advert will go a long way to showing that this job is a particularly special opportunity for you. Look at the organisation’s ‘news’ or ‘blogs’ pages or their social media to find recent projects or achievements that you can reference, or similarities between their work and your previous experience.
  • Talk through your application with a friend or relative. We often tend to ‘undersell’ ourselves, and so asking someone who knows you well to look over your application can be a good way to make sure you are not leaving out anything which could help you stand out.
  • Leave enough time before the deadline to edit. After you have finished writing your application, leave it for a day or so before coming back to read it over, checking that it flows well and makes sense, then doing a final spelling and grammar check.
How to prepare for interviews2023-01-10T15:08:51+00:00

After you’ve submitted an excellent application and been invited to interview, how can you prepare?

  • Research the organisation. An applicant who has already had a good look through the organisation’s website and developed a good understanding of mission and values will stand out. As well as demonstrating research skills, it shows commitment to your application and enthusiasm which you will bring to the role.
  • Make a list of questions. An interview is an opportunity for you to get to know the organisation and understand what your working day would look like as much as it is a chance for the organisation to meet you. It is perfectly acceptable to bring a notebook with you with some questions you would like to ask about the role and the organisation.
  • Find some example interview questions and think about your answers. There are usually some similarities between job interview questions, no matter the role or level, about your strengths, times when you have particularly succeeded or overcome challenges in work or education, and what interests you most about the role. If you get nervous in job interviews, making some notes about key experiences you can talk about may help you prepare.
  • Learn about current issues relevant to the role or organisation. This might mean dusting up your skills on a particular software mentioned in the job description, or looking for news articles relevant to the organisation’s work. This will show you have a broad understanding of the context in which you will be working.
Glossary: Cheat sheet for environmental terms2023-01-10T15:09:41+00:00

A cheat sheet or glossary of environmental terms for budding environmentalists looking to learn more about the environment by decoding jargon.

Advocacy – individuals or groups that aim to publicly provide recommendations to influence decisions within social, political, and economic institutions.

Agroecology – applying a sustainable approach to farming using practices that mitigate climate change and encourages a positive balance between plants, animals, and people. In-depth discussion here.

Biocultural diversity – describes the variety of connections between human culture and nature. See our Biocultural Diversity Programme.

Biodiversity –the varieties of life found within a particular region, from plants and animals, to fungi and even microorganisms like bacteria, found within a particular region.

Carbon offsetting – a process by which carbon dioxide is reduced/removed from the atmosphere, to make up for carbon dioxide emissions occurring somewhere else.

Carbon zero/neutral – having a balance between the amount of carbon being emitted and the amount of carbon absorbed from the atmosphere by carbon sinks.

Carbon sequestration – the process of capturing, removing, and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into a carbon sink.

Carbon sink – plants or bodies of salt water that actively absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – a global agreement that provides a set of laws and regulations for biodiversity conservation.

COP – (formerly known as the Conference of the Parties) the meetings of the Parties of a global convention such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Circular economy – a closed cycle of production, consumption, repairing, recycling, and reusing materials and products for as long as possible.

Civil Society Organisation (CSO) – a non-profit network of people organised to democratically serve general interests.

Conservation – the process of protection and preventing a resource and/or species from extinction.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – when businesses aim to take action to reduce any damaging effects that they may have upon people and/or the environment. This can include the effects of energy use, emissions, and waste management, for example.

Deep-sea mining (DSM) – extracting and retrieving minerals from 200+ metres deep in the ocean. In-depth discussion here.

Ecology – the study of relationships between living organisms and the physical environment and understanding the connections between them.

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) – a set of considerations used to monitor investments for corporate policies and encourage companies to act sustainably and be mindful of their social responsibilities.

Fishing subsidies – the sums of money provided by governments to help reduce the unsustainable costs of industrial fishing. In-depth discussion here.

Free, prior, and informed consent – a specific right for Indigenous Peoples to freely give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories.

Food insecurity – a lack of regular and reliable access to safe and nutritious food needed for normal growth and living an active, healthy life.

Food sovereignty – the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food that is produced, traded, and consumed sustainably.

Freshwater – a body of water, not of the sea, that can be liquid or frozen that contains none to small quantities of dissolved salt and minerals e.g. ponds/lakes, rivers/streams, and swamps/wetland areas. See our Freshwater Programme.

Freshwater habitats – the presence of natural resources and environmental conditions needed for the survival and reproduction of freshwater wildlife. See our Freshwater Programme.

Freshwater wildlife – the variety of organisms that live independently of humans, found within bodies of freshwater. See our Freshwater Programme.

Hydropower – a source of energy generating power through a fast-moving body of water in turbines, turning that kinetic energy into electricity, often using dams. In-depth discussion here.

Indigenous Peoples – distinct social and cultural groups that share collective ancestral ties to the land and natural resources where they live. See our Biocultural Diversity Programme.

Industrial agriculture – the large-scale modern production of crops and animals, including animal products like eggs, to maximise food production.

Industrial fishing – the use of expensive, large boats including trawlers, purse seiners, and factory boats, often equipped with technology capable of giant catches.

Intersectionality – when people experience heightened discrimination and/or disadvantages due to the overlap of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other characteristics.

Land rights – the right to access, use, occupy, control, and possess a section of land.

Local communities – in the context of conservation, a group of people who live and interact within a common location of conservation interest, often an important habitat for local wildlife.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – a global authority that develops effective approaches to conservation ensuring the protection of biodiversity and the physical world made up of  both government and civil society organisations.

IUCN Red List – (formerly known as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) an indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity, species by species, collating information on the extinction risk of animals, fungi, and plants.

Non-governmental organisation (NGO) – a not-for-profit group that functions independently of any government to serve a social or political goal.

Monoculture – the practice of growing one crop on farmland and removing other species.

Policy – a plan of action adopted by individuals or an organisation to guide decisions.

Rights of nature – the idea that the natural world, including ecosystems and species, is entitled to the same legal rights that humankind has given our shared existence on Earth.

Sustainability – the ability to maintain the health of the environment at a positive rate, ensuring that goods and services are produced with replenishable resources without damage to the environment.

Sustainable development – the process of meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)– a global agenda aiming to achieve a better future for all, by ending social, economic, and environmental issues.

Synchronicity – the occurrence of similar events, discussions, or philosophies happening at the same time which seem to have no direct relationship, but often have a deeper connection which may not yet be understood.

Trawling – a fishing method that pulls a weighted fishing net behind a boat along the ocean floor to capture a target species.

United Nations – an international organisation committed to maintaining peace and security, developing friendly social relations among nations, and promoting better living standards using human rights.

Reefah’s story

At Synchronicity Earth, we have been developing entry-level career opportunities for people looking for paid work experience in the conservation sector. Reefah Chowdhury joined our team as a Communications Assistant on a five-month placement through Race for Nature’s Recovery from a background in law.

Learn about her experience transitioning from law to conservation, and how her time with Synchronicity Earth deepened her understanding of the environment and has influenced her career.

Image © James Wicks
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