How To Become An Environmental Engineer

An environmental engineer has a deep love for the environment and a desire to promote ecological and human health. Environmental engineering is a swiftly growing field which unites the disciplines of engineering and ecology. Engineers in this field apply their advanced knowledge to solving practical engineering problems and protecting the environment and human health in the process. They create solutions which not only provide convenience, but also preserve the world we live in.

It’s no secret that the environmental problems faced by the world today are immense. If you are one of those who wish to be part of the solution, a career as an environmental engineer would put you in a position to help. In this profession, you will use your engineering knowledge to design projects that will protect the environment. These include air pollution control systems, waste-to-energy conversion facilities and water reclamation plants. You will be evaluating and updating environmental investigation reports and inspecting public and private facilities and programs to ensure that it complies with environmental regulations. When there are industrial accidents, you will be called upon to advise companies and government agencies about proper cleanup procedures.

Although technical engineering knowledge is a must to become an environmental engineer, you need to also possess a vivid imagination so you can visualize how a particular design will affect people, other equipment and more importantly, the environment. You must also have outstanding problem-solving skills since you will be anticipating potential problems so that they don’t happen and giving solutions to difficulties that are already taking place to minimize losses.

Why Become An Environmental Engineer

As people get to realize that the Earth is the only home we have, taking care of the environment has been placed at the forefront of many policies and programs of governments and private companies. Knowing that you are able to put your talents and training as an engineer to enable future generations to continue to enjoy the fruits of Mother Earth is very satisfying. The good thing about devoting your life to the cause of the environment is that it’s a very well-paying job that is projected to open a lot of opportunities in the next few years.

There are a number of great reasons to consider a career in this field. Here are a few of the main ones:

Environmental engineers must be very good at science, math, and technology. But on top of these concrete skills, they must also be very imaginative and have the ability to understand the long-term and far-reaching impacts of a given project. They also need to be great at analysis and problem-solving, as well as communicating with others. Environmental engineering involves a lot of teamwork, often with others who do not understand the engineering processes from the inside. Being able to explain the project and its goals to clients and technicians alike is really important if you want to be successful.

Environmental Engineer Work Environment

Environmental engineers work fulltime in architectural, engineering and related services companies. They are also employed in management, scientific and technical consulting services firms. State, local and federal governments also hire them. During the planning and design process, environmental engineers work in offices but they will be speaking to the public during seminars when they are giving their advocacies. The job also involves working outdoors when conducting inspections of sites and facilities. The work is fulltime and can be stressful, especially when a controversial project or facility needs to be approved.

As an environmental engineer, you may very well finding yourself working in a wide variety of settings, which is excellent if you want to get out and about but also enjoy office work. While you are planning your projects, you will probably spend a lot of time in offices, especially when your work is urban in nature. For more rural projects, you may spend more time out of doors or traveling, and if you are overseeing construction, that too could take you out on the field. Whether you spend more time in the office or outside will depend both on your job role and the geographic area where you are doing your work.

Environmental Engineer Salary

The Occupational Employment and Wages report of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that environmental engineers received a mean annual wage of $85,520 in May 2013. According to the agency in May 2012, those who were employed with the federal government were paid the highest at $98,890. This was followed by those working for architectural and engineering firms who got $81,900 and then by environmental engineers connected with management, scientific and technical consulting services industries who received a mean annual wage of $77,000.

Environmental engineers earn high wages which are competitive with other types of engineering salaries. The median annual salary as recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2010 was $80,890. This is slightly lower than the average for all types of engineers ($86,200), but still clearly within range. It is much higher than the average for all occupations. The lowest 10% of environmental engineers made less than $49,510, while the top 10% made more than $122,290.

The lowest wages in that batch were earned by employees of state governments outside of hospitals and educational settings. The average median wage for workers in that category was $69,570 per year. The highest average wage was earned by environmental engineers who worked for the federal government, $98,890.

Average Environmental Engineer Annual Salary


The average annual salary for environmental engineers is $91,180 a year. Salaries start at $52,160 a year and go up to $134,060 a year.

Average Environmental Engineer Hourly Wage


The average hourly wage for a environmental engineer is $43.83. Hourly wages are between $25.08 and $64.45 an hour.

Stats were based out of 52,640 employed environmental engineers in the United States.

Highest Paying States For Environmental Engineers

Top Paying Cities For Environmental Engineers

Data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Environmental Engineer Career Outlook

The employment rate of environmental engineers is expected to grow 15 percent in the ten-year period covering 2012 to 2022. This is faster than the average for all occupations. The demand will come not only from the need to treat wastewater but from the efforts of governments to make the use of water more efficient. The federal government is also requiring companies to clean up contaminated sites which will contribute to the demand. In addition, there are also many environmental engineers who will retire within this time period, opening new employment opportunities.

This engineering job is growing at a rate of 15%, which will represent over 8,000 new openings between 2010 and 2020. This is faster than the average growth rate for all other occupations. From a general standpoint, it is likely because we have done so much to damage the health of our planet already that environmental engineers are now desperately needed to reverse that damage and prevent future damage.

From a more specific point of view, there are several key areas where environmental engineers are particularly needed. State governments are currently making efforts to boost the efficiency of water use regionally and locally. This entails more than wastewater treatment, and requires the help of environmental engineers. In fact, wastewater treatment facilities need help from environmental engineers to meet with regulatory guidelines. The federal government meanwhile is looking to enlist the help of environmental engineers in cleaning up contaminated work sites. Federal jobs like these pay the most money in the field, so they are well worth looking into.

Environmental Engineer Degree

You will need to get a bachelor’s degree in order to enter into this field. If you are still in high school, you can get a head start by taking classes in mathematics, science, and engineering (if your school offers them). You can then enter into a four-year program in environmental engineering. Some schools also offer a five-year program which awards a master’s degree. Many job opportunities are available to students with a bachelors degree in the field, but more opportunities (including teaching opportunities) open up with a master’s degree in the field.

Make sure when you are looking for a college that you find an environmental engineering program which is accredited by ABET. After you complete an accredited program, you can take the licensing exam. Having a license and a degree from an accredited school can go a long way toward helping you to get the environmental engineering job of your dreams.

Environmental engineers typically hold a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering. Others may also hold civil, chemical or general engineering degrees. Those who have postgraduate degrees and related work experience are valued by potential employers.

Environmental engineers who are licensed as professional engineers have a better chance getting employed. To be licensed, they will need an ABET-accredited engineering program, relevant work experience and a passing score in the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam and the Professional Engineering Exam. Once they are licensed, they can get certified by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists.

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