What is Environmental Engineering?

Environmental engineering is the branch of engineering that is concerned with protecting people from the harmful effects of the environment, such as pollution. It employs science and the application of technology to matters of preserving nature. It uses techniques to reduce the damaging effects caused by humans and animals. Additionally, this branch of engineering studies public health issues, such as waterborne diseases. Scientists in this field offer regulations and laws that encourage safer conditions for communities.

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Environmental engineers study the effect of technological advances on the environment. To do so, they conduct studies on hazardous waste materials to evaluate the significance of such hazards, provide advice on remediation and containment, as well as develop and improve regulations to avoid future accidents.

EDUCATION SMARTWhat Type of Education Do Environmental Engineers Need?

Environmental engineers will need at least a bachelor’s degree in civil, chemical, environmental, or general engineering. It is a relatively new discipline with more institutions offering degrees in this specialty. Those taking a degree in environmental engineering can expect classroom studies, laboratory, and field experiences.

A Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering (B.S. EnvE) is the most common. We will look at some of the curricula to give you an understanding of what the coursework entails. These programs will suit students who have an aptitude for the sciences. You will study all sciences as well as mathematics on your way to earning a bachelor’s degree. You will also benefit from a keen interest in protecting the natural environment and public health, and the motivation to study and prepare for work in environmental engineering.

Examples of Science Courses

Introduction to Biology: This is the study of cell structure, physiology, genes, and molecules.

Principles of Chemistry: You learn about theories and fundamental laws of chemistry. Plus explore the interaction of matter and energy.

Introduction to Geology: You may examine mineral and rock composition of the earth; the evolution of life; plate tectonics; volcanic activity, and climatology.

Physics: This may involve the laws of motion, heat, and magnetism.

Thermodynamics: Learn about this branch of physics that deals with heat or thermal energy. You learn about atoms, molecules, pressure, and heat transfer.

Environmental Biotechnology: This subject involves a study of biology and its effect on the environment. You study sustainable sources of energy using bacteria, algae, and fungi. An example of biotechnology in use is the microscopic examination of organisms at a polluted or contaminated site. The scientist determines the extent of damage and recommends procedures to clean up the affected natural environment.

In addition to science courses, there are many dealing with environmental issues. As an engineer in this field, you need to be versed in subjects as air quality, wastewater treatment, hazardous waste management, radioactive waste management, fluid dynamics, and more.

How to Choose a Program

Prospective students should select an environmental engineering program that is accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). ABET is a non-profit, non-governmental organization accredits colleges and universities offering programs in applied and natural science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Their accreditation equates to a high standard of education for a STEM program in the United States and other nations. ABET is aligned with organizations globally in their commitment to assuring quality education in a technical discipline.

An ABET accredited school may also be beneficial if you decide to become a licensed engineer in your state. More than 2,200 dedicated STEM professionals from academia, industry, and government form the heart of their peer-based accreditation services.

Other Considerations

When researching degree programs, you may want to look at the school’s facilities. Individuals attending a residency program may consider the institution’s laboratory. An example is the James C. Nicoll Environmental Laboratory (JNEL) at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Its research center conducts tests on water, air standards, solid and liquid waste. Your exposure to laboratory techniques, such as this one, would provide transferable experience to your employment in the environmental science field.

us dollars clipSalary Potential and Job Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median pay for environmental engineers at $86,800 (May 2017) with a Bachelor’s degree. The BLS projects the growth rate at 8% or the change in 4,500 jobs over a ten-year (2016-2026). As of 2016, there were 53,800 employed in this occupation.

Other median salary figures from employment sites are:

PayScale: $63,565 based on 3,241 individuals

Salary.com: $62,174 (ranges from $55,092 to $70,156) 

Indeed: The average salary for an Environmental Engineer is $77,959 per year in the United States. Salary estimates based on 1,162 salaries submitted anonymously.

U.S. News: Median: $84,890. The states and districts that pay environmental engineers the highest mean salary are Alaska ($123,900), California ($105,160), the District of Columbia ($98,530), Ohio ($97,970), and Virginia ($97,770).

Additional Resources

What degree do I need to become an Environmental Engineer?

What Is the Difference Between a Degree in Agricultural Engineering and a Degree in Environmental Engineering?

How Advanced Does My Degree in Environmental Engineering Need to Be to Get a Good Job?

What Master’s Degrees Should I Consider If I Want to Help the Environment?

What is Environmental Science?

What are the 5 Best Careers in Environmental Science?

The Top 10 “Green” Careers for Nature-Lovers

30 Great Outdoor Jobs Requiring a College Degree