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Highlighting Hispanic Heritage Month: A Year in Environmental Consulting: Green-Colored Lenses

Written on: September 22nd, 2023 in Natural ResourcesOutreach

By Beatrice Arce, MANO Project Fellow with the Hispanic Access Foundation

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we partnered with the Hispanic Access Foundation’s MANO Project (My Access to Network Opportunities) to share Latino communities experiences and work with natural resources. Conservation or environmental jobs, relationships with nature, climate change – the MANO Fellows have highlighted Hispanic and Latino stories, opportunities and more.

A year ago, I became an environmental professional after completing my educational journey in biology and environmental science. I am a first-generation college graduate, product of two tenacious Hispanic parents, my mother in administration at an environmental consulting firm and my father a salesman of fine oriental rugs in Houston, Texas. A mixture of an interest in my mother’s profession and love for science piqued my interest in this career; although, I did not know what I was getting myself into. Not in a bad way, though.

Beatrice at an environmental conference.

Stepping into the world of environmental consulting has become a transformative journey. For those who dedicate themselves to this profession, nature takes on a whole new meaning. After a year immersed in the field, my perspective on the natural world has shifted, affording me a new appreciation for its complexities and greater understanding towards its preservation. I am so very gracious to call my profession my own. Can you imagine being outdoors for work a quarter of the time?!

The Heck Are These Humans Doing to Nature?

First things first: what is an environmental consultant?! A majority of what my role consists of is measuring human interaction with the environment. Going into college, I was a bright-eyed student looking to positively contribute to conservation principles. But I’m not going to lie, I didn’t think it would be through the measure of human impact on the environment. Honestly, I had no idea what it would consist of. I just liked trees. When I enter a job site, I am more often than not identifying the altered and unnatural than nature itself. The projects I complete generally fall into three categories: prevention, reporting, and assessment. Our clients often request services mandated by state and/or federal regulations. However, I hope my work not only helps them meets these requirements but also sparks a deeper sense of environmental responsibility within their organization.

Pallets stacked on a project.

Consultants witness the consequences of industrial processes (e.g. oil spills), urban development (e.g. construction), and resource extraction (e.g. natural gas extraction). Yet, they also witness the potential for responsible, sustainable practices that harmonize with nature rather than exploit it (e.g. pollution prevention plans, Tier II reporting).

Let me list some projects I have gained experience from this position:

  • Environmental site assessment (Phase I ESA)
  • Air permitting/compliance (AEI, TRI, Tier II)
  • Groundwater contaminant analysis (Phase II LEI)
  • Assessment of sites with leaking petroleum storage tanks (LPST)
  • Stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPP)
  • Waste management for industrial facilities
  • Aquatic features delineation
  • Wetland delineation

College gave me a great foundation to build knowledge on as an environmental consultant. But nothing prepares you for what you will learn in the field until you simply go through the motions. At the beginning of my consulting career, nature seemed untamed and overwhelming. I have now grown to recognize patterns within the noise and rhythms in specific industries.

A photo from the field.

What Growth Looks Like in Consulting

As a first gen, I definitely took a lot of guesses on how to land into a position like my own. Advancement was no longer linear as it once was. Although, I challenge you to see this chaos as a privilege rather than a setback! The non-linear configuration of a professional career allows specificity in particular interests you have. I have found myself to be forming into nonprofit leadership, which is a position I would have dreamt of five years ago! You’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt to situations and positions that were made for you. Kind of like nature.

It’s easy to become disheartened by the audacities you witness being done to the environment as a consultant. Although, with these gained experiences you also will begin to recognize nature’s remarkable ability to adapt and the environmental protections that are in place to mitigate damage. Ecosystems rebound from disturbances and state and federal agencies have regulations in place to safeguard natural resources. I have so much hope for the advancement in environmental stewardship!

Finding My Role

A wonderful past professor of mine by the name of Dr. Sam Atkinson asked me on the day I defended my M.S. degree, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”. And to that, I say, “The best I can be.”.

A beauty about science is constant learning. I hope one day to reach the level of a wise, intuitive consultant that uses their knowledge to inform local communities through grassroot initiatives (on top of my position, of course!). I believe environmental consultants hold a unique position to serve as an instrument of sustainable development and knowledge. I hope to meander to a specific passion in my journey. Find my niche in an ecosystem, if you will.