Environmental engineers work to create solutions to environmental challenges and problems. They apply their knowledge of biology and chemistry to water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, and public health issues. Some work for cities, designing water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems. They oversee studies in the field of hazardous waste management, evaluating the hazard, suggest methods for treatment and containment, and propose preventative regulations. They conduct research on proposed environmental projects, analyze scientific data, and perform quality control checks.
Environmental engineers are involved not only with local environmental issues, but also with world-wide issues, such as acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. They study these issues and work to minimize their effects on the global environment. They also work in the field of wildlife protection. Many environmental engineers work as consultants, helping clients comply with regulations and to clean up hazardous sites.
Environmental engineers must have an interest in community affairs and environmental issues, along with mathematical and mechanical aptitude. They need to be able to work effectively as part of a team. They should have the ability to communicate in writing and orally. These communication skills are vital in the field of environmental engineering because environmental engineers interact so often with many non-engineering specialists in a wide variety of fields. Environmental engineers should be analytical, creative, detail-oriented, and inquisitive.
In 2002, environmental engineers earned a median annual salary of $61,410. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $38,640, and the highest 10%, who earned more than $91,510. According to a 2003 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in environmental engineering received starting offers averaging $44,702. The following are the median annual earnings for the industries employing the highest numbers of civil engineers:
- Architectural, engineering, and related services — $58,620
- Management, scientific, and technical consulting services – $57,800
- State government — $54,160
Training and Education
A bachelor’s degree is required for all entry-level environmental engineering positions. Most programs include study in the biomedical specialty, as well as courses in mathematics and science. Many programs include a design course, along with a computer or laboratory class. Many colleges offer students the option of earning a 2- or 4-year degree in engineering technology, which include hands-on laboratory courses that prepare students for practical design and production work, as opposed to more theory-based jobs. While graduates of these programs may obtain the same kinds of jobs as graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, they are not qualified to register as professional engineers.
Faculty positions and many research and development programs in environmental engineering require graduate training. Some engineers earn degrees in business administration to enhance their education and give themselves more career options. In fact, many high-level executives in government and business started their careers as engineers. Engineers in the United States are required to be licensed if they offer their services directly to the public. When engineers become licensed, they are designated Professional Engineers (PE). PE requirements include a degree from an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), 4 years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a State examination. Entry-level engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers, and may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a staff of engineers and technicians.
In 2002, environmental engineers held about 228,000 jobs.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of environmental engineers is expected to increase much faster than the average. This will be due to the increasing recognition of this occupation as its own engineering specialty and the need for more environmental engineers to help businesses comply with environmental regulations. Demand for environmental engineers will also be increased by a shift toward preventative environmental measures, as well as an increasing concern over public health.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Computer Training and Technology Education directory.