For people who are interested in finance and are concerned about ecological issues, a career as an environmental accountant may be the ideal way to mesh the two interests. Unlike traditional positions in accounting where the company’s financial gains and losses are the primary focus, environmental accounting addresses the environmental costs of a company’s business practices. An environmental accountant reports on the costs of pollution, the financial implications of making the switch to green technology, and the best ways to reduce greenhouse gases. To become an environmental accountant, you typically will need to follow the same steps as a traditional accountant would — earning a higher-education degree, becoming a certified public accountant (CPA), and gaining on-the-job experience.
Most environmental accountants have earned their CPA credential, which generally entails obtaining a bachelor's degree and taking a certification exam. It is important to note that if you want to become an environmental accountant, few colleges and universities offer environmental accounting as an academic discipline, so classes in general accounting, mathematics, and economics typically should be taken. If you would like to become an environmental accountant, you also will likely need to be up-to-date on local and national regulations regarding pollution and greenhouse gases. Good communication skills usually are a high priority if you want to be successful; you typically will need to be able to work in a team environment comprised of professionals from many different fields, including scientists, lawyers, public relations executives, and staff accountants.
Not all companies utilize specialized accounting, so if you would like to become an environmental accountant, it might best to seek employment at organizations that are more likely to place an emphasis on environmental concerns. This will generally include companies that are monitored by environmental protection agencies, such as oil and power companies, as well as other manufacturers, including automobile, chemical, and paper companies. Larger companies also tend to employ environmental accountants, and there may also be career opportunities at general accounting firms, non-profit organizations, and government agencies.
Once an accountant has specialized in environmental accounting, he or she usually will begin gathering and analyzing a company’s pollution controls and materials flow. These reports typically are shared with internal executives, as well as with a broader audience that might include representatives from regulatory agencies and company investors. In addition, an environmental accountant may be asked to consider how a company uses natural resources and the effect that might have on the environment on both a local and national scale. At the same time, however, a company’s main interest typically lies with the bottom line, so even environmental accountants usually need to be familiar with all aspects of traditional accounting, such as auditing, banking, and keeping other financial records.