A rainbow in the Caribbean

Stepping stones to a role in the environmental sector 

Upon graduating from university, Leo Charlesworth has had roles within international development and the higher education sector and has now taken up a project management role in an environmental charity.  His route to a role in the environmental sector is a great example of taking a longer-term view to get where you want to be. 

The Third Sector 

With an increasing number of global and local challenges, and environmental and climate change drastically altering how we function in our day to day life, more people are actively seeking altruistic forms of employment and the opportunity to make a real impact on the environment through work. Third sector organisations (charities and non-profitable organisations) within the environmental sector were what appealed to me most. 

One exciting thing about working in this sector is the variety of roles. I chose project management, but there are always opportunities in communications, volunteer management, finance and funding, MEAL (monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning), engagement, IT, PR, among many others. Besides the actual role, consider the cause which the charity supports. There are a lot of avenues and pathways to go down, and jobs are often flexible and open to new ideas too, allowing you to shape your own work. 

Why I chose an impactful career 

I graduated from university with a degree in Geography and Planning. I’ve always said that studying Human Geography is like studying all of the issues going on in the world. My knowledge of a lot of these was what inspired me to enter this sector. The people I’ve worked with over the years within charities have held degrees in all kinds of subjects, which demonstrates how there are opportunities no matter what your degree discipline. 

I now work for a major conservation charity, where I am managing an innovative project to bring key people and organisations together to encourage biodiversity across Edinburgh. When I consider what major issues are facing Scotland, I feel great that this project is aiming to address one of them, and proud that my career is dedicated to a cause such as this.  

Stepping stones 

When job hunting I found that my volunteering experience made a real difference. In the environmental sector you can make an impact on the ground level through volunteering, whilst gaining an understanding of which causes are the most meaningful to you. This voluntary work will do wonders for your career prospects, as well as the obvious socio-economic benefits of volunteering. 

I was fortunate enough to volunteer overseas. I put my job search on hold whilst I worked in hospitality to fund my trip, and it was well worth it. I worked on a number of projects across different Caribbean islands and got to see a beautiful part of the world that not many do. I was able to lead projects within the volunteering programmes and take on responsibilities which provided me with experience in a lot of the key roles I mentioned earlier, and these were experiences I could speak about (and I still speak about) in job interviews. I know that they made me stand out, whether for their actual work-related experience or for the hiring employer’s general intrigue. 

Overseas volunteering isn’t for everyone – but there are also many voluntary opportunities across the UK, including desk-based work. I volunteered for a charity with projects in Africa, but I did this remotely from Scotland. Again, this gave me great high-level sector exposure and experience, and I didn’t even have to leave my flat. There are a surprising number of opportunities like this about. I worked in hospitality alongside this in order to pay bills, but it was just the experience I needed to kickstart my career; after this, I have only had paid jobs, so it’s worth persevering and adapting if you want to make a difference.  

Never underestimate what volunteering can do for you – for me, it gave me a stepping stone towards a great, meaningful career. It allowed me to understand what I actually wanted to do with my career, including both the cause and the role. It provided me with a lot of fun along the way too. 


Thanks, Leo, for these personal insights.  

To read more about working in the environmental sector and the third sector see our website: 

Find out more about volunteering, including a link to the Students’ Association Volunteering. And search #EdSustainabilityCareers in MyCareerHub for advertised paid roles.

Our programme of #EdSustainabilityCareers events begins next week – see our MyCareerHub events listing  for full details. 

(Image: Leo Charlesworth)

(Image: Leo Charlesworth)


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