Friday, April 24, 2009

FIRESIDE CHAT: Three Decades of the CEP Credential and Environmental Professional Certification (a)

The main purpose of the CEP credential (for Certified Environmental Professional), now three decades old, is to validate senior environmental practitioners. The CEP was instituted by the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) in 1979, in an era of rapid growth in population, pollution, environmental specialties, and specialists. NAEP is a membership organization that was founded in 1975. Antitrust legislation and legal opinion, however, soon required professional certifying organizations to become independent of their industry’s membership organizations. Accordingly, in 1993, NAEP established ABCEP as an independent certifying body conferring the CEP on meritorious senior environmental professionals. To establish credibility among practitioners outside of NAEP, and enhance credibility among consumers of environmental services, ABCEP also obtained accreditation. The CEP was accredited in 2004 by the Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards. Evaluation of CEP candidates is based upon peer review, as in the American justice system, requiring trial of defendants before a jury of their peers; and as in the academic peer review system for evaluating manuscripts submitted for publication. These and other special features of the CEP, such as in-depth candidate evaluation via interviews and essays, have earned broad recognition of the CEP credential in government, industry, consulting, academia, and the military.

Evolution of Environmental Professional Certification

Environmental professional certification programs evolved from earlier forms of validation including apprenticeships, training programs, education programs, and licensing. In the Industrial Revolution, would-be professional artists and artisans apprenticed themselves to practitioners who had earned favorable reputation. Generations of mentors and students proved themselves by practicing their trades and, if they did what they did well, they did well. Our Information Age, however, has imposed new requirements on many practitioners. Beyond training they might need certificates attesting to training, degrees attesting to learning, and licenses allowing them to practice. The Information Age, ironically, was compensating for information inadequacy, as the number of practitioners and specialties grew, and as the distances over which practitioners were recruited expanded more rapidly than word of mouth, and so more rapidly than reputation.

With population growth also came space and resource limitations, increasing urgency of land use and pollution issues, and environmental practitioners to address them. They were a new breed of professional, with expertise drawn from the pedigreed disciplines, from sciences and social sciences such as physics, biology, chemistry, political science, and communications. Environmental professionals were hybrids, each mongrel breed combining a unique combination of characteristics drawn from the traditional pedigreed disciplines. New rules emerged for accepting them.

In Darwinian fashion, as demand for environmental services increased, so did the number of specialists to fill them. In response, new forms of validation arose, such as college degrees that credited ‘life experience’, though the validity of these validations was itself uncertain. The growing public need to qualify environmental practitioners, coupled with the proliferation of specialties and specialists, together created a niche for organizations conferring environmental professional certification, including ABCEP: the Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals, which offers the CEP credential, now three decades old.


or see:
Michaels, Robert A. Three decades of the CEP credential and environmental professional certification. Environmental Practice (Cambridge University Press), 11(1):52-56, March 2009

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