Once considered a trend, environmentalism has established itself as permanent and profitable. "Environmental consulting is a mature business now," says Brad Mauer, business development manager for Sovereign Consulting Inc., an environmental consulting firm based in Robbinsville, New Jersey. "Most of the major environmental laws came out in the late 70s, so we've been around for several decades."

And it's still growing. Environmental consulting, now a $19.1 billion-valued industry, grew 7 percent since 2008 and is expected to grow 9.4 percent in the next five years, IBISWorld reports. Such growth reflects increased resource demand, government regulations, and technological improvements.

As the scope of this industry expands, it has experienced significant consolidation driven by customers looking for an environmental one-stop shop. "As customers have been getting larger, they're looking to their suppliers to be able to provide the broad range of services over a broad geography so it matches their needs," says Jeff Kishel, senior vice president and environmental practice leader for Stantec, a global consulting firm that has acquired about a dozen smaller environmental companies over the past four years. Still, niche companies appear to be viable start-ups. Focusing on one type of project, such as water-quality or renewable energy, smaller consulting firms provide services and geographical access that the larger companies are unable to cover. Such specificity also allows newer companies to keep operational expenses down while remaining competitive.

As the environment changes so does field of environmental consulting, providing new opportunities for entry and specialization. "A huge thing right now is natural gas, particularly the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York," Mauer says. "That is kind of the Wild West because there's so much exploration right now." Disaster recovery, from both natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or man-made like the BP oil spill, has also become a new trend in environmental consulting in recent years.

Even with niche specialties, environmental consulting caters to entrepreneurs with a wider understanding of the industry. "Our industry is changing, it is changing and will continue to change," says Kishel. "The specific combination of skills that will be in demand five years from now will probably be different than those required today. The broader a person's expertise, the better equipped they will be in the field."


By the Numbers:

16% Expected annual revenue growth through 2016, according to IBISWorld
7.4 Percentage growth in recent employment in environmental consulting, according to IBISWorld
5.6% Average company profit margin in environmental consulting, according to IBISWorld
141,363 Estimated number of people employed in the environmental consulting industry in the United States in 2011
$13 Estimated size of the domestic environmental consulting industry, in billions of dollars