Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.
What they do
Environmental engineers work to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control. They also address global issues, such as unsafe drinking water, climate change, and environmental sustainability.
Environmental engineers typically do the following:
- Prepare, review, and update environmental investigation reports
- Design projects that lead to environmental protection, such as water reclamation facilities or air pollution control systems
- Obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures
- Provide technical support for environmental remediation projects and for legal actions
- Analyze scientific data and do quality-control checks
- Monitor the progress of environmental improvement programs
- Inspect industrial and municipal facilities and programs in order to ensure compliance with environmental regulations
- Advise corporations and government agencies about procedures for cleaning up contaminated sites
Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of a hazard and advise on treating and containing it. They also design systems for municipal and industrial water supplies and industrial wastewater treatment, and research the environmental impact of proposed construction projects. Environmental engineers in government develop regulations to prevent mishaps.
Environmental engineers work in a variety of settings because of the nature of the tasks they do:
- When they are working with other engineers and with urban and regional planners, environmental engineers are likely to be in offices.
- When they are working with businesspeople and lawyers, environmental engineers are likely to be at seminars, presenting information and answering questions.
- When they are working with hazardous materials removal workers and environmental scientists, environmental engineers work at specific sites outdoors.
How to become an Environmental Engineer
Environmental engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a related field, such as civil, chemical, or general engineering. Employers also value practical experience. Therefore, cooperative engineering programs, in which college credit is awarded for structured job experience, are valuable as well.
Entry-level environmental engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Programs include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.
At some colleges and universities, a student can enroll in a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some colleges and universities or to do research and development, and employers may prefer candidates to have a master’s degree.
Students interested in becoming an environmental engineer should take high school courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and math, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.
The median annual wage for environmental engineers was $88,860 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,330, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $142,070.
Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
State and local governments’ concerns about water are leading to efforts to increase the efficiency of water use. Such a focus differs from that of wastewater treatment, for which this occupation is traditionally known. Most of the projected employment growth for environmental engineers is in professional, scientific, and technical services, as governments at the state and local levels draw on the industry to help address water efficiency concerns.
Similar Job Titles
Air Pollution Control Engineer, Engineer, Engineering Consultant, Environmental Analyst, Environmental Consultant, Environmental Engineer, Environmental Remediation Specialist, Hazardous Substances Engineer, Sanitary Engineer
Civil Engineer, Fire-Prevention and Protection Engineer, Mining and Geological Engineer, Energy Engineer, Environmental Scientist and Specialists (including Health),
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- Air and Waste Management Association - The mission of A&WMA is to assist in the professional development and critical environmental decision-making of our members to benefit society.
- Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals - The membership of this organization is comprised of thousands of the nation's leading experts in environmental, health, safety, and security management.
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists - This organization is a non-profit organization serving the Environmental Engineering and Environmental Science professions by providing Board Certification to those who qualify through experience and testing. The Academy also provides training through workshops and seminars, participates in accrediting universities, publishes a periodical and other reference material, interacts with students and young professionals, sponsors a university lecture series, and rewards outstanding achievements through its international awards program.
Magazines and Publications
- EM Magazine
- Environmental Science and Engineering Magazine
- National Society of Black Engineers Magazine
Just about every large-scale human activity has an impact on the environment. Preventing damage, and managing it when it does occur, is the job of environmental engineers. This is a career that combines practicality and creativity to keep air, soil, and water quality healthy and productive. Environmental engineers use research and design skills to manage waste treatment and pollution control efforts. They also use a variety of tools, and the latest technology, to find efficient ways to monitor environmental well-being. Since much of their work involves meeting government regulations, environmental engineers need to be experts at requesting permits and maintaining plans and procedures that ensure others support the systems they put in place. Environmental engineers divide their work between the office and the outdoors. They often do some traveling to collaborate with scientists and experts in law or business. Many work as consultants to help corporations and government agencies with cleanup of contaminated sites. A master’s degree in environmental engineering or a related field is required for some positions, while other positions require only a bachelor’s degree. When this job is done well, the earth gains a little protection, so future generations can enjoy its bounty.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org