How Do You Become an Environmental Compliance Officer?

When it comes to careers that have an outsized positive impact on the environment, an environmental compliance officer is one of the big ones. Many students and professionals considering a career in the environmental field seem to believe that those creating the guidelines and regulations really make a big impact. And while we all know that’s an important part of the process, the people who enforce those rules truly affect change. But there’s a big gap between wanting to be an environmental compliance officer and knowing how to become an environmental compliance officer. In this article, we’ll describe exactly what makes up environmental compliance officer training, education, and qualifications.

Environmental compliance officers in a forest

What is an environmental compliance officer?

Before we begin to discuss how you become an environmental compliance officer, it helps to understand what one is and what one does. It’s easy enough to understand the abstract idea that such an officer ensures that environmental laws get followed, but knowing the actual details as to how environmental compliance officer jobs work on a day-to-day basis is something else entirely. 

Environmental compliance officers function in a number of different fields. There are even army environmental compliance officers who help ensure that the U.S. military complies with all applicable environmental regulations and statutes! In general, though, they perform similar tasks, which may involve the following: 

  • Offering technical assistance to organizations seeking to remain compliant with environmental regulations 
  • Performing audits to ensure compliance or to address areas requiring improvement 
  • Compiling and applying applicable technical data to the situation at hand 
  • Knowing and communicating relevant laws and regulations 
  • Developing and implementing plans to deal with hazardous materials, wastewater, storm water, and similar environmental risks 
  • Managing multiple projects simultaneously and bringing them to completion in a way that pleases both clients and governmental bodies 

Given the challenges inherent in coordinating and completing such tasks, you can understand why an environmental compliance manager salary and an environmental compliance officer salary can prove substantial. (Estimates vary, but states, “A Environmental Compliance Inspector earns salaries somewhere between $40,160 to $115,220 depending on tenure and industry expertise.”) That naturally leads to another question: How does one become an environmental compliance officer? 

How to become an environmental compliance officer 

If you’re wondering how to become an environmental compliance inspector or officer, know that there are several paths that can help you land a position in the field. Read on to learn some of the steps you’ll take to become one. 

Consider specialization/industry options. No environmental compliance officer enforces the entirety of the regulatory load of every federal, state, and local statute. The field is simply too complex, and different kinds of private and public organizations will intersect with environmental regulations in different ways. If you’re interested in such a position, select a specific industry that interests you, learn what the environmental compliance officer job description looks like in that field, and tailor your preparations accordingly. (This will likely also steer your professional education, which we will discuss in greater detail in the next section.) 

Find internships and work experience. After you have selected the particular market segment you’d like to pursue, seek out paid or volunteer positions in it. These entry-level jobs do more than merely bolster your resume. They also give you valuable experience, which will help you practically later on in your career. Alternately, hands-on work may cause you to reassess your desired field.  

Pursue certification. While it’s true that environmental compliance inspector certification requirements don’t typically exist, getting certified by a reputable organization such as NREPSM can help you stand out from the proverbial pack when applying and help you excel at your job. Some of the certifications that may aid you include: 

What education do you need to become an environmental compliance officer?

Much in the same way that environmental compliance officer requirements vary from position to position, so do educational requirements. In general, though, virtually all compliance officers will have a bachelor’s degree. A high-school diploma or a GED simply won’t suffice for the vast majority of positions. Additionally, it helps to have a college or master’s degree in an appropriate field, such as: 

  • Biology 
  • Ecology 
  • Environmental Science 
  • Mathematics 
  • Public Health 
  • Chemistry  
  • Environmental Control Technologies 
  • Statistics 
  • Agriculture 
  • Botany 

Finally, receiving some sort of HAZMAT certification is always a benefit for those seeking a job as an environmental compliance officer. 

What responsibilities does an environmental compliance officer have? 

As we have mentioned multiple times in this article, the responsibilities of an environmental compliance officer will invariably change somewhat from position to position. Still, compliance officers can expect to conduct roughly the same kinds of tasks even across different jobs. These duties may include testing the nearby environment (e.g., water, soil, air) for different kinds of pollution. Officers will also need to communicate legal requirements to their clients in clear, easy-to-understand verbiage. Similarly, an environmental compliance officer must design plans that help clients meet their compliance goals and implement them in a way that facilitates current company goals without overly disrupting operations. Finally, an officer needs to have the communication skills to impart plans and recommendations in a compelling manner. The position truly requires individuals with a comprehensive and well-rounded skill set. 

What skills do you need to become an environmental compliance officer?

The skills that make an individual into an excellent environmental compliance officer aren’t difficult to define, but they do require a determined, focused mindset to cultivate. Some of these necessary skills include: 

  • Critical Thinking. Environmental issues can be complex. They often stem from a multitude of factors, and environmental compliance officers need to know how to process reams of evidence, answering various questions that naturally arise. “What do tests tell us about the state of the site?” “Does the data indicate that the organization is in compliance with all federal, state, and local regulations?” “Does the organization’s long-term plans encourage or discourage ongoing compliance?” 
  • Communication. Officers must do more than just know what needs to happen at a site. They also have to impart their knowledge in a clear way that other decision makers can understand and will act on.  
  • Organization. Maintaining environmental compliance requires managing large amounts of internal and external data. Disorganization can disqualify an otherwise excellent candidate. 
  • Reading Comprehension. Part of organization involves understanding the information you encounter so that you can correctly sort it. Reading comprehension is an essential skill for an environmental compliance officer.  
  • Analysis/Interpretation. Similarly, interpreting information and synthesizing conclusions is prime work for a compliance officer. 

If you’re considering becoming an environmental compliance officer, learn more about the certifications offered by the National Registry of Environmental Professionals®. Established in 1987 and officially recognized by numerous governmental entities such as the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NREPSM has a network of more than 15,000 credentialed environmental professionals across the globe.