Become an Environmental Engineer
By Steve Gillman
What do environmental engineers do? Many different things
depending on the specialty. In general they do designing and
planning and other engineering duties meant to prevent, control,
and remediate environmental health hazards. Since that still
may not explain much, let's look at some specifics.
Civil engineers design water supply and sewage systems, as
well as roads tunnels and much more. An environmental engineer
working in these areas would help create systems that are easier
on the environment. She might also conduct studies to see what
the impact would be of new parking pots on the surrounding environment.
If working for a mining company an environmental engineer
would be responsible for designing systems that keep the company
in compliance with laws and regulations regarding toxic chemicals,
or contamination of water supplies from runoff. This could mean
planning new holding ponds or establishing decontamination procedures.
In all the specialties you'll use the principles of biology
and/or chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.
Water and air pollution control are common areas you'll work
in, as well as recycling, waste disposal, and public health.
issues. In the private sector many environmental engineers work
as consultants. They help clients comply with regulations, prevent
environmental damage, and create plans for cleaning up hazardous
How Much Can You Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average wage of environmental
engineers as $77,040 annually. About 10% make over $115,000 per
year. Wages vary by specific position, and by region as well.
As I write this wages are highest (on average and according to
the BLS) in New Mexico.
The BLS says of these jobs, "Starting salaries are among
the highest of all college graduates."
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
Certainly you can look for areas where the pay is higher,
but the biggest step you can take to make more money is to start
your own environmental engineering firm in one of the more lucrative
This is a good industry to get into at the moment. The BLS
projects job growth to be at least as fast as all occupations
for engineers in general, with faster growth for those in environmental
Qualifications / Requirements
Normally the least you'll need to get into this field is a
bachelor's degree in engineering. Licensing of engineers who
offer their services directly to the public is required in all
states now as well. That typically requires a degree from an
ABET-accredited engineering program, 4 years of relevant work
experience, and completion of a State examination of some sort.
Obviously then, you have to work as an employee for a while before
you can do this as a self-employed operator.
There are also professional certifications you can get from
professional societies. These can help if you are hoping for
promotion to managerial positions or looking to get hired on
by a firm that pays more.
General qualifications include an analytical mind, as well
as decent math skills and communication abilities.
This is a good job, but requires a lot of education, so talk
to some people in the field to see if it is definitely something
you are interested in doing. At that point you can start looking
for environmental engineering graduate programs (see the resources
below). When inquiring about these ask about job-placement help.
- Lists environmental engineering graduate programs that are
available all over the country.
- Postings of all types of green jobs, including positions as
an environmental engineer.