Types of Environmental Consultants

What do the different names for types of Environmental Consultants mean?

People use different names for Environmental Consultants, which can be confusing for those outside of the profession.  Often the wrong terms are used and the qualifications needed for each category are specified incorrectly including in public tender documents.  What do all these terms mean?

* An ‘Environmental Assessment Practitioner‘ (EAP) is a consultant who conducts an  Impact Assessment process including looking at alternatives, consulting the public (public participation), assessing the impact of the proposed project on the receiving environment.   This includes a Basic Assessment process (for smaller projects), an Environmental Impact Assessment (for larger projects), which are defined by environmental regulations and other types of studies such as Feasibility Studies that are useful but not formally defined by regulations.  An EAP is an environmental generalist who knows a little about each environmental specialist field and integrates this information with the legal process requirements and public comment to assess impacts and make recommendations.

In South Africa, since Environmental Assessment Practitioners are a relatively young profession, there is no statutory registration.  The profession is currently self-regulated by the Interim Certification Board of ‘Environmental Assessment Practitioners of South Africa‘ (EAPSA).  Plans are in process for a future formal legislated registration of the profession.  The EAPSA web site lists those who are currently registered.  Nevertheless, since there is currently no legal requirement for professional registration, anyone can practice as an Environmental Assessment Practitioner, qualified or not.  Some experienced consultants are not registered, but others practice legally without much experience.  It is thus advisable before appointing an EAP to check whether they are registered and/or the experience on their Curriculum Vitae.

* An ‘Environmentalist‘ is a very broad term including anyone doing any kind of work related to the environment.  This includes not only environmental consultants, but also scientists and activists.  Since the term ‘environment’ is already a broad and vague term, the term ‘environmentalist’ to refer to any person interested in the environment, whether professional or not – has become used to describe such a wide variety of people that it is almost meaningless.  It is preferable not to use this term to refer to environmental professionals.

* An ‘Environmental Engineer‘ is a person with an engineering qualification doing environmentally related work.  This may include Environmental Assessment.   It may also include for example, Civil Engineers working in Waste Water Treatment or other bio-remediation,  Chemical Engineers working in pollution management and Electrical Engineers working in Renewable Energy.  The South African Institution of Civil Engineers (SAICE) has an Environmental Engineering division.  In South Africa, all Engineers must be registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa.  There are however, different categories of registration and only engineers with the Pr.Eng. qualification can sign off and take responsibility for engineering designs – and then only within their specialty of experience.

* An ‘Environmental Specialist‘ is sometimes used by those outside the profession to refer to any environmental consultant.  Nevertheless, the term should not be used to refer to an ‘Environmental Assessment Practitioner’, who is a generalist but rather for sub-specialist consultants such as those specialising in Botany, Heritage (Archaeology, Paleontology (Fossils) or Landscape), Avifauna (Birds) Visual Assessment, Noise, Air pollution, Sociology or Freshwater ecology.  In South Africa, strict independence requirements result in most such specialists working independently rather than for larger consultancies.  An environmental specialist must be an expert in their field, with the principal consultant in a consulting practice usually at a PhD level and must also be able to complete Impact Rating tables and know and be able to assist compliance with relevant environmental legislation.

An Environmental Assessment Practitioner and an Environmental Specialist must be independent, meaning that they cannot have a vested interest (financial or otherwise) in the project being authorised or refused.

* An ‘Environmental Scientist‘ is a broad term that can refer to anyone with an undergraduate or post-graduate qualification in an environmental science related field.  It may also refer to anyone working in the field including the natural sciences and human sciences.  This may include not only consultants, but also academics and government officials.  EAPs and Specialist Consultants are included in the broader category of Environmental Scientist Consultants.

* Natural Scientist refers to any scientist working in the natural sciences.  Natural Scientists should be registered with the South African Council for the Natural Scientific Professions.  (Those who are registered can use the term Pr.Sci.Nat. after their name)  Natural Scientists have some overlap with Environmental Specialists, but the two categories are different.  The human sciences such as for example sociology are not included in the Natural Sciences, but a sociologist may practice as an environmental specialist consultant.  On the other hand scientists in the field of forensics, forestry, mathematics, radiation and physics are natural scientists but not Environmental Specialists.  Environmental Assessment Practitioners may be but do not have to be Natural Scientists.

* An ‘Environmental Consultant‘ is a term used to describe all professional consultants working in the environmental field including Environmental Assessment Practitioners, Environmental Engineers and Environmental Specialists.

* An ‘Environmental Control Officer’ (ECO) is an independent consultant appointed by the client/project proponent to monitor construction and ensure that it adheres to the environmental controls specified in the contract agreement.  The ECO does not have direct authority over the construction project, but must work through the Engineer.  Usually, the ECO is not on site full time, but will visit periodically to check work is being done correctly.  An ECO needs a similar level of expertise in environmental legislative compliance to an EAP, but is mainly focused on site work.  Many EAPs also do site monitoring work as ECOs.  Nevertheless, an EAP cannot be appointed as an ECO for a project they did the Environmental Application work until after authorisation has been issued by the authority as this would prejudice the EAPs independence.  To confuse matters, some government departments have recently begun referring to their officials regulating environmental compliance including those not going to site as ‘Environmental Control Officers’.

* An ‘Environmental Site Agent‘ is a person appointed by the Engineering Contractor to ensure that environmental specifications are complied with on a contract.  This person is not independent, does not need special qualifications in the environmental field and will usually also be on site full time, mostly doing other responsibilities on the contract.

* Mis-use.  To confuse matters, the term ‘Environmental services’ is increasingly being mis-used as a marketing tool to describe various trades not related to environmental assessment or monitoring as described above.  Thus for example, pest extermination services, solar geyser installation, cleaning services, recycling or energy saving lighting. Any product which offers a lower environmental impact is sold as ‘environmental’.  Anyone who offers advice on such trades then sometimes call themselves an ‘environmental consultant’.


It is important when appointing an environmental consultant to specify the correct type of consultant and professional qualifications and/or registration needed.


Rosenthal Environmental mainly do ‘Environmental Assessment Practitioner’ work.  Philip Rosenthal is registered with  ‘Environmental Assessment Practitioners of South Africa‘. We also do ‘Environmental Control Officer’ work (i.e. site monitoring).  For each project, we form a consulting team, which will include an experienced independent trusted high quality ‘Environmental Specialists’ we appoint as sub-consultants to the project.  These will however vary from project to project.  Philip Rosenthal has an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering and thus can input towards engineering solutions to environmental problems and better understand the challenges engineers face in implementing environmental specifications.