An environmental engineer could...
|Design the structure and irrigation for rooftop gardens, helping reduce building heating and cooling costs.||Help refineries reduce their toxic gas emissions, which contribute to acid rain and global warming.|
|Design a municipal water supply and wastewater treatment system for a growing city.||Design an ocean-water desalination plant to help irrigate crops without harming marine life.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Environmental engineers plan projects around their city or state—like municipal water systems, landfills, recycling centers, or sanitation facilities—that are essential to the health of the people who live there. Environmental engineers also work to minimize the impact of human developments, like new roads or dams, on environments and habitats, and they strive to improve the quality of our air, land, and water.|
|Key Requirements||Civic-minded, able to think on both a large and small scale, possess a great love for the outdoors, and have excellent communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, environmental science, marine biology, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Average (7% to 13%)|
Read an interview with a real-life environmental engineer, John Roll, as he explains the range of jobs, skills, and future needs for environmental engineers.
Training, Other Qualifications
Environmental engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.
Education and Training
Entry into environmental engineering requires a B.S. degree in engineering, typically civil, chemical, mechanical or environmental. And, while you are still comfortable with the school life, you should take another year or so to get a Masters degree in environmental engineering (more and more employers are giving preference to those who have a Masters degree). If you can afford it, you are also encouraged to get your Ph.D.; while not required, it will provide additional advantages in your subsequent career.
You must do your best in the math, science and engineering courses that comprise any engineering degree. Equally important, you need to focus on the humanities. Since environmental engineering is so intertwined with people, it is necessary that you understand how people and societies function. Through both your formal training and your activities during your college career, you need to work on developing your writing and speaking skills. Environmental engineers must be able to communicate effectively with people of all types if they are to succeed in solving problems. These skills can only be learned by doing --- the more you do, the better you will become.
Environmental engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.
Nature of the Work
Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.
Environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental problems using the principles of biology and chemistry. They are involved in water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, and public health issues. Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of the hazard, advise on treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. They design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems. They conduct research on the environmental impact of proposed construction projects, analyze scientific data, and perform quality-control checks. Environmental engineers are concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues. They study and attempt to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. They may also be involved in the protection of wildlife. Many environmental engineers work as consultants, helping their clients to comply with regulations, to prevent environmental damage, and to clean up hazardous sites.
Most engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction sites, where they monitor or direct operations, or solve on-site problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or work sites, both here and abroad.
On the Job
- Collaborate with environmental scientists, planners, hazardous waste technicians, engineers, and other specialists, as well as experts in law and business, to address environmental problems.
- Inspect industrial and municipal facilities and programs to evaluate operational effectiveness and ensure compliance with environmental regulations.
- Prepare, review, and update environmental investigation and recommendation reports.
- Design and supervise the development of systems processes or equipment for control, management, or remediation of water, air, or soil quality.
- Provide environmental engineering assistance in network analysis, regulatory analysis, and planning or reviewing database development.
- Obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures.
- Provide technical-level support for environmental remediation and litigation projects, including remediation system design and determination of regulatory applicability.
- Monitor progress of environmental improvement programs.
- Advise corporations and government agencies of procedures to follow in cleaning up contaminated sites to protect people and the environment.
- Inform company employees and other interested parties of environmental issues.
- Develop proposed project objectives and targets, and report to management on progress in attaining them.
- Request bids from suppliers or consultants.
- Advise industries and government agencies about environmental policies and standards.
- Assess the existing or potential environmental impact of land use projects on air, water, and land.
- Assist in budget implementation, forecasts, and administration.
- Serve on teams conducting multimedia inspections at complex facilities, providing assistance with planning, quality assurance, safety inspection protocols, and sampling.
- Coordinate and manage environmental protection programs and projects, assigning and evaluating work.
- Maintain, write, and revise quality assurance documentation and procedures.
- Provide administrative support for projects by collecting data, providing project documentation, training staff, and performing other general administrative duties.
- Serve as liaison with federal, state, and local agencies and officials on issues pertaining to solid and hazardous waste program requirements.
- Develop site-specific health and safety protocols, such as spill contingency plans and methods for loading and transporting waste.
- Develop and present environmental compliance training or orientation sessions.
- Develop, implement, and manage plans and programs related to conservation and management of natural resources.
- Prepare hazardous waste manifests and land disposal restriction notifications.
- Assess, sort, characterize, and pack known and unknown materials.
Companies That Hire Environmental Engineers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Are You in Hot Water? Use the Sun's Energy to Heat Your Own Water
- Build a Better Moth Trap: Will Different-colored Lights Affect How Many Moths You Catch?
- Can Nanotechnology Help Clean Up Ocean Oil Spills? Try It Yourself with Ferrofluid
- Can Plants Stop Soil Erosion?
- Can the Color of Your House Reduce Your Energy Footprint?
- Cold Room? Heat It Up with A Homemade Solar Air Heater
- Decomposing Energy: Extracting Heat Energy from a Compost Pile
- Do Your Storm Drains Keep the Ocean Trash Free?
- Fish + Food = Science of Aquaponics
- Follow the Flow
- From Brine to Beverage: Solar-Powered Salt Removal
- From Contaminated to Clean: How Filtering Can Clean Water
- From Turbid to Clear: How Flocculation Cleans Up Drinking Water
- Goo-Be-Gone: Cleaning Up Oil Spills
- Green Technology: Build an Electronic Soil Moisture Sensor to Conserve Water
- He Huffed, and He Puffed, But Didn't Blow the House Down! How Can Straw Make a Sturdy Building?
- Killing 'Vampires': Saving Money and Power by Turning Off Computer Peripherals
- Leaky Clues to Dam Design: How Reservoir Height Affects Hydroelectric Power Production
- Monitor Your Plants with a Soil Moisture Sensor
- Printing Power! Save the Environment, One Printer Page at a Time
Do you have a specific question about a career as an Environmental Engineer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers: www.aaees.org
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- ECOZINE. (2017). Interview with an Environmental Engineer. Retrieved January 25, 2017, from https://hmdecozine.com/careers/environmental-engineer
- National Science Foundation, YouTube. (2012, March 1). Environmental Engineer - Careers in Science and Engineering Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2epvAUEdCI
- Learn.org. (n.d.). Environmental Engineering Master's Degree. Retrieved June 23, 2015, from http://learn.org/articles/Environmental_Engineering_Masters_Degree.html
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
Explore Our Science Videos
Flower Dissection - STEM Activity
Solubility Science - STEM Activity
Make a Hygrometer to Measure Humidity - STEM activity