Environmental Engineer: Job Description, Duties, Salary, and Other Requirements

FT Contributor  | 

Unsafe drinking water, climate change, species endangerment, oceans full of trash, and contaminated air. What if the career path you choose could help create sustainable solutions to some of the most devastating environmental problems the world is facing today?

Environmental engineers use their engineering education, biology experience, and passion for improving the environment to tackle serious environmental issues. These engineers develop new processes and procedures to accomplish important tasks for mankind efficiently with minimal negative impact on the environment.

What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?

An environmental engineer may perform various job duties depending on the position they have and the project they’re currently working on. Generally, environmental engineers are tasked with the following:

  • Complete projects that relate to environmental protection, such as creating an air pollution control system or designing a water reclamation facility.
  • Review environmental investigation reports and update data as needed.
  • Pull permits, design plans, and maintain operating procedures.
  • Provide technical assistance with environmental remediation projects.
  • Tackle legal actions as they relate to environmental projects.
  • Perform quality control checks on scientific data.
  • Monitor and analyze the progress of environmental improvement programs.
  • Inspect facilities and programs to ensure they meet environmental standards.
  • Assist corporations and agencies in contamination cleanup efforts.

Environmental engineers may focus their efforts on different environmental hazards, such as minimizing the effects of acid rain or addressing ozone depletion. They must use their knowledge of the environment, research strategies, and engineering experience to create manageable solutions that treat or contain these problems.

Average Environmental Engineer Salary

The salary an environmental engineer earns depends on years of experience in the field, education, location, specific job title, and other factors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for an environmental engineer was $87,620 in May of 2018.

While it isn’t known as one of the highest-paying engineering jobs, many people enter the environmental engineering field to make a difference in the world and contribute to global solutions for environmental issues. With more experience and training, you can earn a higher salary, which can be helpful if you’ve obtained student loans for college that you need to pay off.

Environmental Engineering Education, Licenses, Certifications, and Training

A bachelor’s degree is required to become an environmental engineer. You can major in environmental engineering or you can choose to major in a related field, such as civil, mechanical, or general engineering. Tuition is expensive and if paying for your college education is an issue, you can look into other options to pay for your degree. Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out if you qualify for grants or scholarships. College credit for experience you gain in engineering-related jobs is also sometimes offered by schools.

Most environmental engineering firms accept employees with bachelor’s degrees, but more advanced firms may require that even entry-level workers have a master’s degree. To teach environmental engineering at a secondary education level or to work in research and development at a university, you must also earn your master’s degree.

You may also need to obtain your Professional Engineering (PE) license, which requires at least four years of relevant work experience and the completion of two exams. To keep your license active, your state may require that you complete continuing education.

Entry-level environmental engineers assist senior-level engineers with projects. Once they gain experience with more complex and demanding projects, these environmental engineers can advance to leadership roles. They may lead teams of engineers to complete large projects or to design programs that help solve environmental problems.

Environmental Engineer Job Outlook

The employment outlook for environmental engineers is expected to grow by 5% from 2018 to 2028, which is about as fast as the average for most occupations. Most job growth is expected in scientific, professional, and technical industries. Wastewater management and emissions from coal-fired power plants are becoming grave environmental concerns, so environmental engineers can expect to be tasked with tackling these types of issues.

The role of an environmental engineer is closely linked with the duties of civil engineers, since these engineers design and build infrastructure projects and systems. However, the civil engineering industry is expected to grow by 6% from 2018 to 2028. These two growing occupations work together to change and update the current environment and landscape of civilization.

Should I Become an Environmental Engineer?

A career as an environmental engineer isn’t for everyone. However, if you have a passion for improving the environment and a love for engineering, you may find this position fulfilling. In addition to engineering experience and a desire to tackle the world’s environmental problems, environmental engineers also must possess specific skills to do their job, including:

Environmental engineers may be tasked with creating designs for components that are used in larger projects. Therefore, they must be able to focus intently on a small part of a larger picture while ensuring efficiency and functionality in their design implementation.

These workers must also have people skills since they may be working with designers, manufacturers, and other environmental engineers on teams. Advanced communication skills and innovative creativity can help environmental engineers become productive and useful members on project teams.

Education and experience are crucial to becoming an environmental engineer. If you have a passion for helping the environment and enjoy utilizing engineering principles to create innovative solutions to global problems, this career may be right for you.


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