Why It's Hot

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has had King Coal in its crosshairs, introducing and enforcing new regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions. While the coal industry (and the many businesses that keep it afloat) are dreading the increasing reliance on natural gas and alternative energy, environmental consultants, tasked with making the transition to clean energy happen, are sitting pretty.

Growth Potential 

Since 2007, the environmental consulting industry has seen revenue growth of about 39 percent, with industrywide revenue expected to exceed $20 billion this year, according to IBISWorld, a Santa Monica–based market research firm. What’s more, by 2017, the industry is likely to increase revenue by another 45 percent. 

The Landscape

The industry, which is made up largely of environmental engineers, biologists, scientists, and other technicians, breaks down into subsectors including air, soil, and water quality management, sustainability research, remediation, and compliance auditing. In 2010, water quality consultants had a banner year, perhaps the only fortunate result of the BP oil spill.

But according to Justin Molavi, a senior analyst at IBISWorld, what’s likely to keep the environmental consulting industry thriving in the future are "increasingly stringent environmental laws forcing companies to comply with certain codes."

Among the most recent of those codes is the Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants, which the EPA introduced in March. It’s the first regulation aimed specifically at new power plants, requiring them to reduce their carbon output by nearly half. The proposal states that while new plants can continue to burn fossil fuels, including coal, they may only do it "with the help of technologies that reduce carbon emissions." That's good news particularly for air quality and compliance consultants who, no doubt, will be the ones creating and implementing those technologies.

Barriers to Entry

Government contracts can be a major source of business for environmental consultants, but winning those contracts is the tough part. If you're new to the space may need to work as a sub-contractor first, before landing your own gigs. The industry also requires business owners and their teams be knowledgeable about environmental regulations and familiar with new technologies that help limit environmental impact.

See more Business Opportunities by Industry in 2012