A new qualification, the CEnv for sustainability specialists, has joined a crowded marketplace. But is it worth adding yet more letters after your name?

Do your business cards look a bit bare? Want more letters after your name? Tired of people making fun of your sustainability ideas in project meetings?

You could apply to become a chartered environmentalist, or CEnv. It’s a relatively new qualification and it’s got a way to go before it becomes a household name, but there are already 4,000 of them, mainly in the UK. Although qualifications will never trump hard experience, if you’re starting out and want to specialise in sustainability, becoming chartered could be a wise move. And if you’re studying for your surveying or building chartership from October, you might be able to take it at the same time.

The CEnv qualification is regulated by the Society for the Environment (SocEnv), which was set up in 2002 and received its royal Charter in 2004. It’s an umbrella body, founded to recognise specialists in the fast-growing field of sustainability. It has 15 member organisations, including the Institution of Civil engineers (ICE), the RICS and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). The RIBA is considering signing up.

So is there any point getting the letters?

Arlo Mills, a QS focusing on green issues at consultant Gleeds, has the forms on his desk ready to apply through the RICS and he thinks there is. “It demonstrates an individual’s commitment to sustainability and your understanding of the issues,” he says. “It shows you’re in practice to do something about it.”

Sustainability experts agree that it’s those people who have recently joined the industry who have most to gain from a CEnv. “It does make a difference when you’re younger,” says Isabel McAllister, director of management consulting and resident sustainability guru at Cyril Sweett. “There’s a point at which experience takes over, but qualifications are very helpful in the first five years.”

The ICE is one of the founders of SocEnv and so far about 450 of its members have qualified. The RICS and CIOB have only been offering it since October and if you are already chartered you can take advantage of a simplified application process for the CEnv in its first year (see “How to get it”, below). Both institutions say they may offer it combined with the traditional chartership in future.

Employers, meanwhile, are still focusing on more established qualifications. Sean Lockie is responsible for sustainability consultancy at Faithful + Gould. He says its team qualify through BREEAM. Several of the younger employees have been taking an environmental specialism with their Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) for their RICS chartership, though Lockie’s not sure how rigorously it is assessed. “We’ve found that assessors have very little knowledge, it’s very rare to get an environmental specialist who can ask a really challenging question.”

Lockie suggests it’s down to demographics – your average APC interview panel tends to reflect the grey-hair, grey-suit bias of the RICS, but the CEnv assessment panel is made up of qualified chartered environmentalists, so you’d expect the questions to be a bit harder.

On the other hand, with sustainability becoming an increasingly important part of life for everyone in construction, perhaps a specific qualification has a limited shelf-life?

Nitesh Magdani is an associate at architect Aukett Fitzroy Robinson who specialises in sustainability – not that he thinks it should be a specialism. “Right now, a CEnv would probably be quite appealing to a client, but in a few years, it should be inherent in our expertise anyway. It’s a bit like having a sustainability ‘expert’ on a project, where you’re going to an outside party to get the expertise. There’s a limit to how many different qualifications people need.”

Could you be a CEnv?

Graham Bocking CEnv, director of windfarm supplier Nordex Energy in Germany and one of the RICS’ assessors, offers some advice ...

  • The most widely accepted definition of sustainability came from the UN’s Brundtland Commission in its 1987 report, Our Common Future. It decided it meant: “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. Read and digest.

  • You don’t have to be working directly in sustainability. Some people talk about their work designing low-carbon buildings, but others link their understanding of sustainability to their personal lifestyle.

  • Don’t waffle. On the form used by the RICS and the CIOB until October, you’ve only got 100 words per answer.

  • The assessors can ask you to clarify your submission, giving you another chance.

  • How to get it

    At the moment, you can only apply for a CEnv if you are already chartered through ICE, RICS or CIOB, and you must score at least 12 on the SocEnv points system. You earn two points for every year of relevant academic study, up to a maximum of eight, then one point for every year of relevant experience. So you need a minimum of four years’ experience in the area.

    Applying through the Institution of Civil Engineers
    You must prepare a 1,000-word CV, a 2,000-word report and attend an hour-long interview with a panel of chartered environmentalists quizzing you on what you understand by sustainability and how you put its principles into practice. The ICE has promised that the ICE 3008 document
    will explain all soon.

    It costs £175 to apply, £60 to register with the SocEnv and £30 a year after that.

    Applying through the RICS or CIOB
    These organisations are both still in their first year of membership of the Society for the Environment, which means that if you’re already chartered through either body, you can get a CEnv without doing an interview under something called “grandparent” rights. You’ve got until the end of September to apply and you can find the forms on the organisations’ websites. It’s a lot simpler than the full-on process that will take hold from October.

    As well as a CV, you need to submit a 300-word statement answering three questions – what do you understand by sustainable development, how you’ve applied those principles so far and how you’ll continue to do so in future.

    At the CIOB, it costs £50 to apply and £50 to join SocEnv after that. At the RICS, it costs £200 to start with and then £50 a year.