What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Nusha Ashjaee. © The Balance 2019

Environmental engineers use knowledge of engineering, soil science, chemistry, and biology to solve problems in the environment. They tackle a variety of issues, and their concerns include pollution control, recycling, and public health issues.

For example, an environmental engineer might work on devising solutions for effective wastewater management. This could include designing systems to treat industrial wastewater, manage municipal water supply, prevent waterborne diseases, and improve the sanitation in cities, recreational areas, and rural locations.

Environmental Engineer Duties & Responsibilities

Some of the duties and responsibilities an environmental engineer might engage in can include the following:

  • Make recommendations to maintain and improve environmental performance
  • Review environmental regulations, and determine whether they're being applied properly
  • Review stormwater management practices for municipal, industrial, and construction stormwater programs
  • Create and maintain air quality management systems that comply with air permits and air regulations
  • Report environmental incidents to plant management, including mishaps such as internal spills, external releases, potential permit non-compliances, and upcoming regulatory inspections
  • Lead or support the preparation and negotiation of various environmental permit applications
  • Interface with different regulatory agencies, prepare needed documentation, schedule required testing, and provide any necessary, additional follow-up documentation

Environmental Engineer Salary

An environmental engineer's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.

Education, Training & Certification

To become an environmental engineer, you'll need to fulfill a few requirements, including the following:

  • Education: You'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering. Other acceptable degrees include general, civil, or chemical engineering. Getting a degree from a program accredited by ABET (formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) may increase your chance of getting hired.
  • License: Those who offer their services to the public must be licensed as professional engineers (PEs). Individual states issue licenses. You can find specific requirements on the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop. Generally, to become licensed, you will have to graduate from an ABET accredited program, pass general engineering and discipline-specific examinations, and get four years of experience.

    Environmental Engineer Skills & Competencies

    In addition to formal training and a license, certain soft skills, or personal qualities, will allow you to succeed in this occupation:

    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: You must be able to identify problems and then select the methods that will provide the best chance of solving them.
    • Interpersonal Skills: As an environmental engineer, you will have to work alongside colleagues to achieve goals.
    • Reading Comprehension: You need the ability to read and understand documentation that is often outside your area of expertise.
    • Writing: You will have to be able to compose documentation that others without expertise in engineering will be able to understand.
    • Safety mindset: You must have a commitment to workplace safety, sustainability, and environmental compliance.
    • Independent worker: A demonstrated ability to follow direction and work independently, as well as, in a team environment and a positive professional attitude will help you excel in this job.
    • Computer skills: Knowledge and proficient use of Microsoft Office products is an important requirement.
    • Project management skills: You must have good project management skills and be self-motivated.

    Job Outlook

    Just under 53,800 people are employed in this field. The job outlook is expected to be good between 2016 and 2026. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow about 8%, which is about as fast as the projected average of 7% for all occupations, with an estimated 4,800 new jobs added during that time.

    Work Environment

    Most work for engineering firms; management, scientific and technical consulting firms; local and state governments; and the Federal government. They work in offices or outdoors depending on the project with which they are involved.

    Work Schedule

    Jobs in this field are usually full-time positions. Approximately 20% of environmental engineers regularly work more than 40 hours per week.

    How to Get the Job

    INTERN

    Visit your college career center to look for internship opportunities as an environmental engineer. You can also locate internship opportunities through online job search sites.


    APPLY

    Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit your college career center for job leads. You can also visit the online sites for industry associations such as the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists or the American Society for Engineering Education, and check their resources for job listings and networking events.


    ADDITIONAL EDUCATION

    You can also improve your job prospects by obtaining a master’s degree in environmental engineering, an advanced degree that many employers prefer.

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