Interview with Dr. Anthony Maranto: Education & Career Guidance in Environmental Consulting

Interview with Dr. Anthony Maranto: Education & Career Guidance in Environmental Consulting

Dr. Anthony Maranto has over 15 years of professional experience as a researcher, educator, and environmental manager. For the past six years, he has served as a consultant to the U.S. Army Environmental Center. He has been involved extensively in managing the Army's environmental programs, both throughout the U.S. and internationally. Currently, he is also the Director of the Center for Ecological and Environmental Studies at Akamai University and the Dean of the College of Science and Technology at Greenwich University.

Dr. Maranto was formerly the Director of the Radioecology Laboratory for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He has published or presented over 30 technical papers and reports on environmental management, risk assessment, strategic planning, and many other topics.

Dr. Maranto holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, emphasis in Environmental Health, from the Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. He received his Masters degree in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Environmental Chemistry from Goddard College, and his Bachelors degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

About Dr. Maranto & His Career

Why did you decide to enter the environmental field?

I've had an interest in science as long as I can remember. As a child I remember doing "experiments" on the family television. That taught me two very important lessons: the first was about capacitors and how electronic components could store a charge even when unplugged, and the second lesson, provided by my father, was that I should not experiment on expensive appliances. I guess that my love of exploring and scientific inquiry was a natural match for my love of the outdoors. I spent much of my youth hunting and fishing with my dad, and I think that the natural observations that I made as a young boy on those outings formed the basis of what would become my interest in environmental and ecological study.

Tell us about your career path and how you became involved in environmental consulting.

When I first entered college, my plan was to focus on genetics. It was an area that held (and still does hold) a great deal of interest for me. I majored in a very challenging program that combined a dual focus in biochemistry and molecular biology. While I was doing my undergraduate studies, however, I took a paid internship with the state of Maryland at a radioecology laboratory.

My work there primarily focused on collecting environmental samples from the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay and analyzing them for radionuclides to monitor potential impacts from area nuclear power plants. Getting out on the Chesapeake to collect sediment, finfish, and shellfish became a very exciting job. Our laboratory analysis involved a wide range of procedures for the analysis alpha, beta, and gamma emitters. My career in environmental science really took off as a direct result of my internship experiences as an undergraduate. As a result of my new interest in environmental science, I switched my focus in graduate school towards environmental health and environmental chemistry.

I continued to work at radioecology lab while I was in grad school and eventually I took over the directorship of the lab and was involved in all aspects of its operation and research activities. From there, I jumped into academia for several years and worked in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). While at UMBC, my primary focus was related to instructional chemistry and biochemistry labs, but after a while, my own research interests directed me back to dedicated environmental work.

I eventually left UMBC to take a consulting position with the U.S. Army Environmental Center (USAEC) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Ever since then I've been involved in providing a wide range of support to numerous environmental issues and programs associated with Army operations and installations. I've continued to be involved in the academic world, because I love teaching and the institutional collaboration that you can only get in a university environment, but my primary focus is on my environmental consulting activities. If you are a scientist who is interested in a lot of different and far ranging issues, there are few other occupations that can provide a more diverse and challenging career path for you.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career?

Most of my professional challenges deal with helping my clients manage their own programmatic constraints. In a perfect world, there is little argument about how to deal with environmental problems. Nobody wants polluted air or water. Everybody wants to conserve biodiversity and natural resources. The biggest challenges, however, focus on funding, time, and resources. These are the same programmatic constraints that plague all environmental issues. What I try to help my clients do is to prioritize their resources so that they can do the most good with the time and money available. As you can imagine, when there are other important competitive priorities, it can often be a challenge to help the client defend their environmental projects. The key to success in those sorts of situations is to clearly lay out all options and relate the relative risks and benefits of each action. In the short-term, environmental stewardship costs money. There is no doubt about that; but, if you can demonstrate how an environmental project may actually save the client money in the long-term, reduce compliance liabilities, or even be a benefit to their mission, you've gone a long way in helping them make truly informed decisions.

What are some of your favorite projects that you've completed?

By far some of my favorite projects have involved working on overseas environmental compliance issues. There is an added layer of complexity when you have to factor in societal and political ramifications of environmental issues across several countries. That's perhaps why I love the field of environmental science so much. It is, at its heart, one of the most inherently interdisciplinary fields within the hard sciences. For instance, a typical project involving the cleanup of contaminants in groundwater will likely require a deep understanding of the chemistry of the pollutants, hydrogeological modeling, potential health effects, biological and ecological effects, environmental regulations related to the contamination and cleanup, treatment technologies, and long term environmental monitoring procedures. When you add to that the factors of public perception, community involvement, and public policy implications, a relatively simple project can become very involved and detailed; especially in an international setting. If nothing else, it keeps things challenging.

For the last six years, you have been a consultant to the U.S. Army Environmental Center. How does your experience in Environmental Health and Environmental Management tie in?

Environmental health and management issues touch everything that I do in the world of environmental consulting. For the most part, consultants deal with macro-level issues. We help our clients focus on the practicality of situations. Unless you are doing a very specific laboratory investigation or developing a technical approach for a particular aspect of analysis, everything that relates to environmental stewardship has implications for public/environmental health and institutional environmental management.

Working with federal agencies like the Department of Defense (DoD) really highlights the importance of those factors. Not only does DoD have to abide by the same rules and regulations as any large business, but as a federal agency they also have a number of Executive Orders that they are bound to obey as well. There are several Executive Orders such as EO 13101, 13123, and 13148 that have really gone a long way in trying to make the federal government not only a good steward of the land and resources it is entrusted with, but to also develop federal agencies into true leaders in environmental stewardship.

The ultimate goal of every federal organization is to be a good steward of the environment, protect the health of its workers and the public at large, and ensure that operations are done in a sustainable manner so that the public trust is served and environmental quality is preserved for future generations. Environmental consultants play a huge role in helping public and private organizations do just that.

You have three jobs now - Director of the Center for Ecological and Environmental Studies at Akamai University; Dean of the College of Science and Technology at Greenwich University; and as a consultant to the U.S. Army environmental programs. How do you manage your time between these jobs?

Actually my two most important jobs are husband and father, so I always try to ensure that those come first. But in my professional life, I actually find that my various positions are very complementary, so balancing my time between my consulting and my academic jobs is fairly straight forward.

As an environmental consultant, one of the primary factors for success is having the ability to keep up with current research, laws, regulations, theories, and environmental events. One of the best ways that I've found to do that is to stay deeply involved with academic research and teaching. My graduate students at Akamai and Greenwich are involved in a wide range of environmental research projects and I encourage them to challenge me with difficult questions and scenarios; and I certainly try to challenge them. Not only does my teaching make me a better consultant, but I think that my consulting work makes me a much better educator.

I firmly believe in the value of using real life examples in education and focusing academic theory on practical applications within the field. My consulting work makes it much easier for me to relate textbook theories to real world situations and explain how complex environmental issues are approached and resolved. Having done consulting projects on three continents, I've been involved in a wide range of work that often can add quite a bit of value to my educational lessons.

About Environmental Consulting

What is your definition of "Environmental Consulting"?

That's actually a very difficult question to answer. Basically, I would say that an environmental consultant is a professional who applies his or her expertise to a wide range of issues related to how humans interact with the natural world. Environmental consultants can be called upon to develop solutions to or provide analysis of a host of issues including air and water pollution, wildlife impacts, industrial and civil planning, process engineering, environmental health assessments, waste and water treatment, construction and development activities, and regulatory compliance, just to name a few.

Because companies and agencies tend to have a core function or mission that is not in and of itself related to how they interact with the environment, they often require the assistance of outside professionals who specialize in these issues. Taking for example an automobile manufacturing firm; the firm has a mission given to it by its owners or shareholders, namely the production of cars and trucks. This is its primary job and that is what the bulk of its personnel are trained to do. While the organization may be environmentally aware and may even have a number of excellent professionals who are exclusively devoted to environmental engineering and management, organizations often find that they must have outside help to meet their environmental obligations or plan for large environmental initiatives.

What kinds of organizations require the services of an Environmental Consultant?

Basically any large organization that has operations which can impact environmental quality or human health can benefit from professional environmental consultation. My experience has primarily focused on providing consulting services to government organizations, but any corporation or association that is regulated by environmental statutes or is involved in activities like manufacturing, transportation, or has high energy/resource consumption profiles would likely benefit from the services of an environmental consultant. Even relatively small companies have found that environmental consultants can benefit their operations.

Although most of the work environmental consultants do is related to regulatory compliance, there are also non-compliance issues that companies may hire consultants to address. More and more often, organizations are realizing that operations that are sustainable from an environmental perspective also make good bottom-line business sense. A great deal of the environmental consulting industry relates to economic analysis and sustainability planning as well. These services are beginning to be employed by a large section of organizations and businesses that have not previously relied on environmental consulting services.

Environmental consultants can specialize in almost any field of study. Can you generalize the key responsibilities of an Environmental Consultant?

There are as many areas of specialization as there are projects within the realm of environmental science. Environmental consultants can be from almost any background but by far the most common backgrounds are biology, chemistry, geology, engineering, and environmental studies. Given the full range of expertise that is often involved in solving complex environmental issues, however, there is also a good bit of work for individuals with backgrounds in environmental policy, law, economics, mathematics, computer science, and even sociology.

While a significant percentage of the field is devoted to what I call "issue specifics," the bulk of environmental consultants would probably best be called generalists. By its very nature, environmental science is a multidisciplinary field. As a result, environmental consultants tend to have to draw upon a wide knowledge base in order to be able to understand multi-faceted issues that oftentimes cross traditional academic boundaries. I consider myself to be a quintessential generalist. While the term "generalist" makes some scientists cringe, I view it as one of my greatest strengths.

In environmental consulting, you are often called upon to think "outside of the box" and look at situations in different ways. Having a broad background and expertise across a number of subject areas is a definite benefit in this line of work. Often, the scientific community focuses exclusively on micro-scale issues; and that makes sense because reductionism is a tool that has greatly benefited the advancement of our scientific understanding. However, when looking at macro-scale issues, complex systems, and in trying to find pragmatic approaches to deal with issues for which economics and public perception play as big a role as toxicology and geochemistry; a multidiscipline systems approach often works better.

As a consultant, have you ever been put in a position where your professional recommendations are not heeded? Is this situation common in the consulting business? Without naming names, can you offer any examples and how you handled it?

Actually, I've been very fortunate in that my primary client (the US Army) has an incredibly strong and institutionally rooted sense of environmental stewardship. From my experiences with the Army, they genuinely seem to understand their environmental responsibilities and honor the public trust that they hold with respect to environmental stewardship. While decisions are always subject to external factors that go beyond environmental considerations, I've found that the Army tends to do the right thing when presented with a clear case and workable options. Does that mean that the Army always makes the right choice when it comes to environmental protection? No, of course not. What organization that manages 17 million acres and has stewardship responsibilities for 170 endangered species can boast a perfect record? But they do take their responsibilities seriously and when mistakes are made, they do their best to limit the damage and where possible to restore the environment.

On an individual level, there are always people who don't see the importance of environmental management in relationship to their day to day activities. For example, a military commander may not immediately see the importance of protecting the habitat of the red cockaded woodpecker in North Carolina. However, when you emphasize that the Army has to comply with our nation's laws, and it is quite possible that if we don't adequately protect the species, the Army could loose the ability to train on vital land, say at Fort Bragg; the connection between environmental protection and the Army mission can be made. The very real possibility that training might be suspended on some installations, helps to underscore the connection.

Outside of my own experiences, it is not altogether uncommon for serious recommendations to be dismissed by the clients of environmental consultants. As outside professionals, we are hired to provide our expert opinions, analyses, and suggestions for specific situations. We are not, however, the ultimate decision makers for the organizations or agencies that hire us. This is especially the case when working for government agencies. The ultimate decision maker is the responsible government representative, and they are ultimately answerable for their decisions. This is not a situation that is unique to environmental consultants; much like a lawyer or physician, all we can do is give our forthright assessment of a situation. If a person chooses not to take a physician's advice, the responsibility for the ramifications of that action ends with them. What is important is for the consultant to maintain a solid reputation of professional integrity and to deal with all clients and situations in a manner that is balanced, accurate, and ethical.

What I have found, however, is that generally as an outside professional; recommendations are typically taken much more seriously then if they had been proposed within an organization. Often times an environmental consultant can suggest painful but necessary changes that may be complicated by internal politics if not proposed by an independent entity.

What is Risk Analysis, and how does it tie into your work?

At its core, risk analysis involves a defined process for assessing, evaluating, and managing unwanted consequences or undesirable events. Much of what we do in environmental consulting involves risk analysis and risk management across a number of different issues. As I had mentioned earlier, in a perfect world, everyone would want a clean environment; the problem lies in how to pay for the changes that are required to move systems toward environmental sustainability. Often, my work has focused on environmental prioritization and that inherently involves elements of risk analysis. In order to get the biggest environmental bang for the buck, priorities have to be set; but in doing so, you introduce risk from deferred projects or missed opportunities. Environmental management is, more often than not, a gigantic balancing act.

Education in the Field: What to Expect

Tell us about your education, including degrees, certificates or any other training. Is there any formal education available to prepare one for Environmental Consulting?

My undergraduate education was at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where I got my bachelors degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. After that, I went to Goddard College in Vermont where I earned my masters degree in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Environmental Chemistry. The focus of my thesis research was on environmental externalities associated with energy generation in the United States. After finishing my masters, I studied at the Union Institute in Cincinnati where I earned my Ph.D. in Environmental Science with an emphasis in Environmental Health. My dissertation research focused on hypothetical carcinogenic risk models for pesticide residues in Chesapeake Bay finfish and shellfish.

While that summarizes my formal education, I've tried very hard to make my continuing education a daily activity. Things change so quickly in the environmental field that you have to constantly further your own understanding of the issues and the current research. I read through the current literature every day to stay on top of developments. If I can offer one piece of advice to anyone interested in the field, it is not to let your education end at graduation. If anything, that's only the beginning.

In addition to a solid academic degree in the sciences, there are a number of professional certifications that students and entry level job seekers can pursue to help round out their education and distinguish themselves to potential employers or clients. The National Registry of Environmental Professionals offers several types of certification that are useful in the world of environmental consulting. A professional engineer or professional geologist designation is also very useful to those with applicable academic backgrounds. For those who are most interested in field work, there are also a number of U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifications that one can peruse as part of your on-going training.

Do you have any advice regarding an educational path for one who is interested in consulting?

My advice would be to defiantly undertake a program that is heavy in life science, chemistry, and physics, but to also round it out with coursework in economics, language courses, computer science, and statistics. Probably one of the best things that you can do, especially as an undergraduate, is to gain some real experience related to environmental work or scientific research. There are a number of ways to do this outside of a full time job. One way would be to volunteer time with an environmental organization. Another good approach is to seek out formal internships (paid or unpaid) where you can start building valuable experience that will help you on your career path. Many colleges and universities have development offices dedicated to helping students find internship placements; they are often a good place to start.

Yet another option is to befriend a professor at your school and inquire if they need any assistance in the laboratory or the field. Most professors at research universities are starved for help. Often times there is far more to do in a lab then can be done by the professor or the graduate assistants. If you show some interest in the professor's research and volunteer a little of your time (even if it is just washing glassware), you'll soon find that you have new opportunities to jump into some real research. Those types of experiences will help you distinguish yourself from your contemporaries when it comes time to search for a job. Leaving school with a good education should be your primary focus, but if that is all you have on your resume when you start looking for employment, you'll be at a disadvantage.

While serving as the U.S. Army Environmental Center's overseas liaison, were there any extra skills that you needed to do your job? If students are looking to do overseas Environmental Consultation, do you have any suggestions for them?

My understanding of different cultures, political structures, and societal sensitivities has definitely been of assistance to me. In my view, diplomacy is something that is a natural extension of good listening, good perception, and good manners. Anytime that your work takes you across cultures, you need to keep the sensitivities and motivations of your counterparts firmly in mind.

Even areas that are grounded in science are often subject to different cultural interpretations. As an example, in the US we consider radon a significant health hazard and regulate it. In certain parts of Europe, however, people will spend good money to sit in a radon spa as a therapeutic and relaxation treatment.

My suggestions for anyone interested in doing overseas environmental consulting is to study at least 2 to 3 additional languages and to travel as much as possible. There is no substitute for international travel when it comes to broadening one's mind to cultural differences and the realities of the world beyond our national boarders.

Should students pursue a master's degree in order to advance in this field? Will a doctorate degree mean further advancement?

Absolutely. A graduate degree is very important to advancement within the field of environmental consulting. Essentially, you are selling your services as an expert in a particular aspect of environmental science or environmental management, so the better your credentials, the more effective you are likely to be. While it is possible to break into the field with a bachelors degree, most professionals in environmental consulting have at least a masters. Those who are truly sought out as experts in any given area tend to have doctoral degrees or a masters degree plus extensive or very unique professional experience.

In your opinion, what are the top five schools and programs in the world today to prepare students for careers in environmental consulting?

Given that one can specialize in such a wide range of disciplines, it is difficult to say what the best schools are for preparing a student for a career as an environmental consultant. Certainly, schools like Stanford, Yale, Johns Hopkins, University of California, and University of Michigan all have outstanding environmental programs and would be an excellent choice. I would say that most schools with a reputable research faculty in environmental science, environmental engineering, natural resource management, environmental biology, environmental chemistry, geophysics, or any related field will likely provide a solid background on which to build a career in environmental consulting.

Jobs in the Field: What to Expect

What kind of job can an entry-level graduate expect to get in the field of Environmental Consulting?

Anyone interested in getting a job in environmental consulting will have a very wide range of opportunities to choose from. Often entry-level consultants will be involved in field work or laboratory analysis; however, it is also possible for entry level employees to jump right into client support work, systems analyses, or computer modeling. A lot will depend on the specifics of the individual's background and the types of projects that are available for support.

At minimum, a bachelor's degree in the sciences or related field is required for entry level work. A graduate degree will definitely help your chances for promotion and advancement. Most professionals in the environmental consulting world have at least a master's degree in a related field. Direct and applicable experience also counts for a lot when beginning a career in environmental science.

What's the pay scale for someone just starting a career? How about for those at the senior level?

Entry pay scales vary quite a bit based on region, company, and the background of the individual. Generally speaking starting salaries range from the low 30s to low 40s. Individuals with academic degrees in chemistry and engineering tend to come in on the higher end of the scale then those with degrees in biology or geology.

At mid-career levels, an environmental consultant can expect to make between $60,000 to $80,000 a year. At upper management levels, salaries can range above six figures. Typically, mid and upper level consultants will have at least one graduate degree and extensive job experience.

In your opinion, what are the top environmental consulting firms in the world today? How can one get their foot in the door at one of these companies?

There are literally thousands of environmental consulting firms that are excellent at select aspects of environmental consulting. There are so many avenues within the field, that a lot of companies develop their own niche markets. Most of the smaller firms tend to specialize in a particular area or aspect of the field.

In my opinion, the best environmental consulting firms are not devoted exclusively to environmental consulting. Typically larger organizations that specialize in a broad spectrum of engineering, analysis, and management consulting tend to be the best at what they do. There are numerous reasons for this, but probably chief among them is the fact that environmental consulting is such a diverse field. A small company cannot usually have the expertise on hand to deal with all of the varied issues and aspects of a complex environmental program, that's why they tend to specialize. A large and diversified consulting firm, however, will likely have a wide range of environmental experts, engineers, computer specialists, and even economists and statisticians on hand to handle the complexities that are likely to occur within multifaceted projects.

Some of the best companies that I've dealt with are places like Booz Allen Hamilton; Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC); TetraTech; Dewberry and Davis; and Battelle, just to name a few. For anyone seeking to enter the job market as an environmental consultant, I would advise doing a great deal of homework on prospective employers. Often the projects that are available to work on are just as important as the company. The best way for a job seeker to improve their prospects is to get as much practical experience as possible on their resume through volunteer work or internships.

How is the job market right now for environmental consultants? How do you think it will be in the next 5-10 years?

The job market for environmental consultants is fairly strong, and will likely keep growing at a sustainable level for some time to come. Depending on the source, there are between 60,000 and 120,000 revenue producing environmental organizations in the industry. The Department of Labor projects that over a ten year window, jobs in environmental science will continue to grow about 22%. When you consider that the average projected job growth across all sectors in that same period is about 15%; things look fairly promising for the industry.

Environmental consulting is one of those fields that will likely always be with us. As environmental regulations become more complex and the benefits of sustainable operations become more pronounced, companies and organizations will continue to rely on independent professional expertise to guide them through the complex issues associated with environmental protection.

The Industry

What are some trends that you see in the field of Environmental Consulting which might help prospective students plan for the future?

I think that one of the largest trends impacting the need for environmental consultants relates to the government's need to do more with less and to focus on the core mission of individual agencies and governing bodies. We will likely continue to see an increased specialization within public bodies and increased contracting of non-core services to specialists who can deliver those services in a cost effective manner on behalf of public agencies. These agencies will turn to specialized consulting firms who can be contracted for special short-term or long-term projects, under government supervision, to provide the needed services in a cost effective manner. The same phenomenon will likely hold true within the private sector. These trends should result in a prosperous industry profile for environmental consultants over the next several decades.

What do you consider to be the three greatest challenges facing professionals in the field today?

Probably one of the greatest challenges (as well as one of the greatest opportunities) for environmental consultants these days rests in the breadth of environmental issues that impact everyday business, policy making, public health, and resource management. It is simply not possible for a single individual to have the detailed understanding needed to provide insight on all of the issues impacting today's businesses and agencies. To be effective, a consultant must understand when to bring in other experts to address the range of factors typically encountered with complex environmental issues. Being able to identify your strongest areas of consulting and build partnerships to address truly interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues and the socio-economic factors that accompany them, is one of the principal challenges of the business.

How has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?

Like most fields, the Internet has changed much of how we do business. This is particularly true in areas related to communications, data mining, information sharing, and electronic tool distribution. The Internet has really been a benefit in terms of remote collaboration (i.e. virtual forums, electronic mail, discussion boards, etc.). Also, environmental consultants often must sift through large volumes of data to try and discern trends or patterns that might give insight into possible solutions or new approaches to environmental problems. Centralized environmental reporting and electronic knowledge warehouses made possible through the Internet have greatly increased the efficiency of such operations. Additionally, electronic distribution of computer applications, information, newsletters, GIS data, and other essential tools has greatly changed the daily operations of environmental consultants. As with most other modern scientific fields, environmental consultants must today possess a fair amount of knowledge regarding computing, networking, and applications. These are now basic tools that are necessary for daily operations.

A Final Word

Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter the field of Environmental Consulting?

The best advice that I can offer a student interested in pursuing a career in environmental consulting is to continuously seek out new information. In all scientific disciplines it is important to stay up to date with the research literature in the field, but this is doubly important in the field of environmental science. Try to get into the habit of reading several scientific papers every day. Challenge yourself to explore topics that are outside of your area of expertise. I would strongly encourage anyone seeking to make a career in the field to pursue a graduate degree and a wide range of professional certifications that will help expand your academic background. Beyond that, my only advice would be to seek out challenging projects that give you a unique set of opportunities. Some measure of international work is always a benefit in the field. If you can get involved with a few projects early in your career that give you the chance to work on environmental issues in unique situations overseas, you'll likely be starting your career with a very strong skill set that will lead to additional successes. With that, I'd just like to thank Enviro Education for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers. I hope that my comments will be of some utility to those seeking to enter this challenging and fulfilling career.

Related Articles