What Is an Environmental Engineer?
Without the strong efforts and tireless vision of today's environmental engineers, tomorrow's atmosphere will not sustain life, as we know it. Our water and soil will not be clean, and the oceans will be foul.
Environmental engineers use science and engineering principles to protect and improve the environment. The quality of air, water, and soil is their primary focus. They seek solutions to water-borne diseases, wastewater management, and air pollution.
They work to improve recycling, waste disposal, and industrial hygiene. They analyze soil and water samples. They understand the law as it applies to protecting the environment.
These engineers focus on hydrology—water resources, treatment plants/design, and bioremediation (water clean-up). They concentrate on global issues, acid rain, climate change, and causes of ozone depletion.
They create advanced air and water treatment technologies, and look for sustainable energy sources. Radiation protection and the environmental effects of new technologies are other priorities.
What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?
Cause-and-effect experts, environmental engineers predict the consequences of our projects before we dig, reroute, dump, exhaust, flush, funnel, plant, cut down, or build. Projects that got off the ground without this tedious management, or those that have run amuck for lack of enforced guidelines need environmental engineers to bail them out and undo the unthinkable.
These experts work typical 40-hour weeks in industrial plants, offices, or labs. It is also common to see them working onsite near water sources, energy systems, and construction projects. Dealing with serious environmental issues can also be stressful—the health and welfare of the earth are not taken lightly.
Environmental engineers write reports and recommendations on their investigations. They work with scientists, planners, hazardous waste specialists, and others addressing legal and business connections to environmental problems.
They monitor environmental improvement programs, inspect industrial and municipal facilities, develop objectives for proposed projects, and advise corporate and government agencies of clean-up procedures for contaminated sites.
They design processes, systems, and equipment to control water, air, and soil quality, and they manage remediation and clean-up. They prepare detailed hazardous-waste documents and disposal restriction notifications. They train others in compliance standards and maintain quality-assurance documentation.
Environmental engineers develop and use programs related to conservation and management of natural resources. They also provide expert assistance in database development, network, and regulatory analysis.
Becoming an Environmental Engineer
Environmental engineering studies can lead to a bachelor of science (B.S.) degree, master's degrees (M.S. and M.Eng.), and a Ph.D.
A solid curriculum can include breadth courses in civil engineering, focus courses for additional skills in environmental engineering, a science course extending environmental knowledge, and a design course. The B.S. is a 4-year degree, and graduate degrees can add 18 months to 5 years additional study.
Graduate studies give students advanced skills to solve existing environmental problems and avoid creating more. Students gain practical experience from hands-on laboratory training, and they participate in and conduct research on environmental problems.
Environmental Engineer Employment & Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that environmental engineer employment should grow by 25% from 2006-2016. Complying with environmental regulations and developing ways to clean up existing hazards will require more engineers. Complying with environmental regulations and developing ways to clean up existing hazards will require more engineers.
Prevention is the new emphasis, but control of existing problems and those expected because of population growth will also increase demand. Job opportunities are expected to be good, though a reduction of opportunities could appear as the result of an economic downturn.
Typical Environmental Engineer's Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics show the 2011 median salary at $79,050 with a high of $119,560. They also show the highest employment rates for environmental engineers in the architectural and engineering industry, followed by management, scientific, and technical consulting services. State government positions are twice as prevalent as those with local and federal government are. The highest wages are in the oil and gas extraction industry, reaching $133,740.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Initial engineering positions do not require an engineering license, but career advancement demands licensure.
Advancement can be dependent on management and leadership skills. A master's degree is the stepping-stone there. A Ph.D. opens opportunities for research, but still involves leadership roles. Money and advancement come with career growth and added responsibility.
Is this Career the Right One for You?
If you love math and science, there is probably a spot for you in environmental engineering. If you are passionate about making the earth a greener place and ensuring the safety of the next generation, you can find fulfillment in this field. Whether your favorite focus is clean water or more sustainable ways to harvest and use fossil fuels, you can find meaning in this career. The rest is gravy.
Are there Environmental Engineering Associations?
Professional organizations and associations give engineers access to career-planning resources, and keep them up-to-date on their industry's state of the art. Members can network to find jobs and advance their careers through such affiliations. Conference opportunities, continuing education courses, periodicals, insurance, and travel benefits are among other advantages to membership.
One of those associations is the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP)