Engineers develop innovative ways to solve problems. Environmental engineers, in particular, deal with problems relating to the environment, ranging from pollution to unsafe drinking water. To resolve these important environmental issues, these professionals apply principles from disciplines like biology, engineering, chemistry and soil science, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
To solve a problem effectively, environmental engineers must first understand the issue. They investigate the environmental problems they seek to improve and compile their findings into reports. From what they learn, environmental engineers can devise projects that allow them to improve the situation. Throughout the project, environmental engineers play a role in the effort. In the early stages, they must attain the required permits and plan the procedures necessary for completing the project. During the effort, environmental engineers offer technical support to the team and do quality-control inspections, the BLS reported. At the completion of a project, these professionals monitor its progress to learn how effective the effort has been in solving the problem and improving the environment.
Environmental engineers work on a variety of projects, including areas such as:
- Acid rain
- Air pollution
- Climate change
- Drinking water quality
- Hazardous waste management
- Public health
- Waste disposal
- Water pollution
Most environmental engineers work in architecture and engineering services or management and scientific consulting, but others find employment with government entities at the federal, state or local level.
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. Getting a license improves the chances for employment.
A college education is a must for a career in environmental engineering. Students who take courses like biology, chemistry, physics and advanced mathematics during high school will be well-prepared for a rigorous college engineering program, according to the BLS. Some students choose to earn an advanced degree, either after completing their undergraduate degree (and possibly gaining professional experience) or as part of a five-year accelerated program that combines undergraduate and graduate studies.
The most popular career path for aspiring environmental engineers is to earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from a program accredited by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Most of these four-year programs combine a classroom education with laboratory projects and field studies to provide students with real-world engineering experience. Often, students will also gain hands-on work experience through an internship or cooperative program. In addition to learning the principles and applications of engineering, students will also study topics such as air and water quality, waste management, natural resources, pollution and thermodynamics.
Environmental engineers earn a median salary of $80,890 per year, according to the BLS. The seven percent of environmental engineers who work for the federal government enjoy the highest earning potential, with a median annual wage of $98,890. The occupation currently is experiencing faster than average job growth, with the BLS expecting opportunities for environmental engineers to increase by 15 percent over just a decade.
Environmental engineers play a crucial role in solving local, national and global environmental issues. Their background in a diverse range of science disciplines gives them the tools to develop and carry out projects that improve the environment.