What Does An Environmental Engineer Do?
"Growing up where I have, I’ve always been upset by the way the environment is treated. I have thought for a long time that I want to do something about it when I grow up, but I don’t want to go into politics or activism or anything like that. I really love engineering, and recently I heard someone mention that his uncle works as an environmental engineering. I wondered if this would be a way for me to combine the two things that I care about most—engineering the environment. What do environmental engineers do? Could this be the career I’ve been searching for?"
asked by Matt from Newark, NJ
You sound like you are the perfect candidate for a career in environmental engineering, which combines the two pursuits most important to you: the health of the environment, and the field of engineering. Environmental engineers (sometimes known as ecological engineers) apply their knowledge of science and engineering to solving a wide range of problems for human living in a way that protects the environment. We can start talking about what environmental engineers do by discussing the courses you will be studying as an environmental engineer. The knowledge you gain from your degree will be used in solving problems in the field.
When you study environmental engineering, you will be taking classes in engineering, soil science, chemistry, and biology. If you are still in high school now, I suggest getting a head start by taking as many classes in those subjects as you can. When you go on to an accredited four- or five-year environmental engineering degree, you will learn advanced knowledge in these fields, and also pick up problem-solving and interpersonal communication skills that are essential to the work of an environmental engineer. Now let’s talk about what that work entails.
Protecting Environmental Stability in a Changing World
We live on a planet where our population is growing swiftly. It is becoming more and more crowded, and human needs are becoming challenging to meet. On top of that, we have already done a great deal of damage to the environment through our industrial processes. Each year, industries throughout the country create billions of tons of waste which is potentially hazardous not only to the ecology, but to human health.
Now federal, state, and local governments are starting to recognize how severe the need is to protect our environment from further damage and also clean up and replenish the environment in areas where we have already caused damage. At the same time, we still need to provide environmental solutions for human problems that are only continuing to grow.
As an environmental engineer, you would be hired to provide those human solutions in such a way that the environment does not suffer. The majority of environmental engineers are employed by federal, state, and local governments to just that end. If you become an environmental engineer, you would come up with engineering solutions which utilize natural resources efficiently, preserving nonrenewable resources, and causing minimal damage. Sometimes businesses also employ ecological engineers to help them to comply with state, local, and federal regulations protecting the environment.
Job Duties of an Environmental Engineer
If you become an environmental engineer, you may find yourself in any one of a number of different job roles, regardless of the area of work you are in. Here are some typical examples of environmental engineering job duties which may be applicable in various project areas:
- Preparing environmental investigation reports as ordered by government authorities and other clients. Updating these reports as necessary with new information, and evaluating the findings to understand what they mean.
- Creating new projects which help to preserve the environment and recover areas which have already been damaged by industrial processes. Water reclamation facilities are one example. Air pollution control systems are another. Some projects can even take existing waste and convert it into usable energy.
- Where legal actions are ordered to remedy existing situations, ecological engineers may sometimes be contracted to assist with the fulfillment of the legal obligations. Environmental engineers may also regularly monitor projects designed to improve environmental processes and collect data to ensure that they are working as planned.
- Inspect programs run by government authorities as well as companies to make sure they are compliant with all federal, state, and local regulations.
- Come up with effective clean-up procedures which are safe and effective, and make recommendations to authorities and companies as needed.
- Ecological engineers may also work on procedures and experimental technologies which could reduce our damage to the ozone layer and protect the planet from global warming, acid rain, and other effects of broad climate change. These long-term planning jobs are particularly important for the health of the planet as a whole and the future of humanity.
If these job duties and areas of work sound exciting to you, you may find a career as an environmental engineer to be a rewarding and profitable one. Invest in your future now by taking classes in science, engineering, mathematics, and communication, and plan to take an accredited four or five year university program in environmental engineering. Once you graduate, you will be able to start your important work of protecting the environment while providing efficient energy and wastewater solutions!