Outlook & Growth
This career is expected to grow 22 percent—faster than average—through 2020.
More environmental engineers will be needed to comply with environmental regulations and to develop methods of cleaning up existing hazards. A shift in emphasis toward preventing problems rather than controlling those that already exist, as well as increasing public health concerns resulting from population growth, also are expected to spur demand for environmental engineers.
Salary & Wages
In 2010, environmental engineers earned an average salary of $78,740. The lowest 10 percent earned $48,980. The highest 10 percent earned $119,060.
What is an Environmental Engineer?
Environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental problems using the principles of biology and chemistry. They are involved in water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal and public health issues.
Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of the hazard, advise on treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. They design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems. They conduct research on the environmental impact of proposed construction projects, analyze scientific data and perform quality-control checks.
Environmental engineers are concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues. They study and attempt to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions and ozone depletion. They may also be involved in the protection of wildlife.
Many environmental engineers work as consultants, helping their clients to comply with regulations, to prevent environmental damage and to clean up hazardous sites.
Education & Degree Path
To become an environmental engineer, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering
—preferably civil, chemical, mechanical or environmental. About 1,830 programs at colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees in engineering accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Most programs are four years; sometimes students need five years to complete a four-year curriculum.
Ultimately, a master's in engineering
can help you advance in your field and/or to get a job in an academic setting like a university.
Job opportunities also exist for environmental engineering technicians
. Technicians may have certificates or associate or bachelor's degrees in environmental science
or general science. Many technicians work in areas such as pollution testing and control for government agencies or private industry.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Engineers who are licensed are called professional engineers (PE). This licensure generally requires a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, four years of relevant work experience and successful completion of a state examination.
Entering the Field:
Entry to this field usually requires a bachelor of science degree in engineering, but a college graduate with a degree in environmental sciences, natural sciences or mathematics
may qualify to work as a member of an environmental engineering team.
Pay grades are lower for technicians than for those who hold ABET-accredited bachelor’s of science degrees in engineering.
Anyone with an interest in or background in the sciences and math can qualify for entry-level work as an environmental engineering technician. The quickest educational path would be to earn a certificate in environmental sciences
and to seek employment in a specific area such as water pollution testing or soil sampling.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental science takes less time than earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering with a specialty in environmental engineering, but those with formal engineering degrees will experience higher salaries and greater advancement opportunities, especially in urban areas.
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Source for salary and growth data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information on careers in environmental engineering, salaries, and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Environmental Engineers.