With recent events such as the BP oil spill, professionals and employers worldwide are becoming wary of the potential risks they run when dealing with our fragile environment. Industry personnel have become acutely aware of the need for specific competencies, skills, and training within the workforce of the environmental sector. But in a sector where the range of specializations is vast, understandably the development of certification with strong regulatory support takes time.
For over a decade, ECO Canada (Environmental Careers Organization) has offered professional certification through seven designations that formally recognize the unique skills and knowledge of environmental practitioners. To date this is a voluntary certification program; it will only be able to wean out those who simply claim to environmental professionals once it has full backing from the environment industry in its entirety.
“I am a strong believer and advocate that there should be minimum acceptable standards for professionals practicing in the Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) field (as well as other professional fields). I applied for the designation to demonstrate that I could meet minimum acceptable standards. By obtaining the designation, I also raise the standards of those practicing in the field,” says Andrew Richards, B.Sc., EP, Environmental, Health & Safety Coordinator Trammel Crow Company.
The gravity with which the public now places on environmental work has further driven the need for advanced skills recognition and as a result the past 6 months have seen significant progress.
In March, at the 2010 GLOBE Conference, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between ECO Canada and the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ). The document demonstrates a mutual understanding of the growing need for professional standards and certification that are recognized both locally and internationally.
In May, the project lead for the Nova Scotia Ministry of Environment announced his support for the proposed Licensed Environmental Site Practitioners (LESP) Program, stating that the province of Nova Scotia would recognize ECO Canada’s certification, among others, as qualified to sign reports related to contaminated sites.
In August ECO Canada’s seven designations merged to form what is now the Environmental Professional (EP) designation. The EP designation demonstrates an environmental professional’s commitment to accountability and career development, as well as their desire to remain on top of current practices. It also offers third party validation of an individual’s environmental competencies; as certified members are measured against industry-verified National Occupational Standards for environmental employment.
The following employers to date have shown their support for EP and further developments of certification:
CCS Corporation / Hazco Environmental Services / Maxxam Analytics / University of Toronto / Genivar / GLOBE Foundation / AMEC Earth & Environmental / SNC-Lavalin Group / Rescan Environmental Services / Watters Environmental Group / SLR Consulting / EBA Engineering
To demonstrate their support SLR, Rescan and Genivar have either held meetings to discuss the value of certification or provided ECO Canada with the space, resources and contacts to communicate the value of certification to their environmental staff. AMEC Earth & Environmental currently employ 60 certified members. Furthermore, representatives from the above list of employers have publically supported the designation at industry events.
Practitioner’s support has fueled the EP program from the very beginning. “It’s great to learn that associates at Environment Canada and other institutions involved in the environment industry are becoming increasingly aware of EP certification and its process. I think it has the potential to become recognized as the national certification standard for environmental professionals much like the LEED rating system is quickly becoming the standard for green building design” says Mr. Andrew Bowerbank,B.ED., D.Ind., OTC, LEEDap, (EP) Manager of Sustainable Development, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and Executive Director for the Canada Green Building Council – Central Ontario Chapter.
Supplying Environmental Assurance to Canada’s Environmental Sector
In becoming certified, all environmental professionals are required to abide by the Environmental Professional (EP) Code of Ethics. The Approvals Board ensures adherence to the EP Code of Ethics in addition to monitoring the application of disciplinary measures and oversee the professional development of certified members.
There is a strict disciplinary process with clearly detailed procedures should a complaint be filed against a certified member. The disciplinary process also provides guidelines for disciplinary measures that may be applied in cases where a certified member is found to have contravened the EP Code of Ethics.
What are National Occupational Standards?
Occupational standards consist of the competencies required to perform work in a particular occupation. They are a set of statements describing the standard acceptable skills and knowledge requirements of professionals. National Occupational Standards (NOS) are considered the benchmarks against which people of a particular occupation measure their level of performance and competency. They are the backbone of the certification process.
ECO Canada’s National Occupational Standards for environmental employment are compiled using a process that relies heavily on broad-based input from people working in environmental fields. Using this bottom-up approach in conjunction with the guidance of senior environmental experts ensures that the standards are of high quality and relevance–creating an accurate depiction of current and emerging competencies in the many subsectors of environmental employment.
The NOS for Environmental Auditors, developed by ECO Canada, are consistent with national and international standards for environmental auditors. The NOS for Greenhouse Gas Professionals are aligned with the international standards in this field (ISO 14064 parts 1, 2, and 3, ISO 14065, ISO 14066).
The NOS are updated approximately every 5 years to ensure that they remain accurate and reflective of the current realities of environmental employment.
What about Post Secondary Institutions?
As environmental employment continues to develop and mature, defining the scope of environmental professional activities and competencies benefits not only the environmental workforce, but also serves to inform the academic community of the emerging needs of the labour market.
Currently sixteen post-secondary institutions across Canada are integrating EP certification into the environmental programs they offer, thereby assisting their students in graduating as Environmental Professionals in training (EPt). Partnerships such as these are seen as one key way to promote the growth and recognition of the environmental profession.
The schools partnering to ensure this growth include the University of Toronto, University of Saskatchewan, University of Manitoba, Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), Lakeland College, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Cambrian College and Fleming College among others.
According to Dr. Lee Arthur, Program Head of the Applied Environmental Degree at Lakeland College, “Integrating EPt certification adds value to the degree program because uses environmental, industry-specific skills and competencies as outlined in the National Occupational Standards for environmental employment.” Through EPt certification, students are able to align their educational skills with industry benchmarks, providing an easier transition into an environmental career.
What does the future hold for EP?
In conjunction with the successes of this year there came a new initiatives focused on building the community of Environmental Professionals in locations across Canada. To this end, eight regional chapter leaders have been selected to build the connections, opportunities and recognition of the designations in their province.
The first annual general meeting of the each chapter of Environmental Professionals will happen between September 2010 and June 2011 in conjunction with a networking lunch and workshop. For more information on these events please visit www.eco.ca/certification.
While the EP Certification is still making its way to the mainstream of everyday environmental practice, its recent momentum gained from industry support in Canada as well as the initiatives blossoming overseas is indicative of a global shift in environmental work – a shift to making business choices that use the most competent and qualified workers in order to ensure a protected environmental landscape for the public.