Environmental Engineering

What is an Environmental Engineer?

Mining, manufacturing and industry run our society – our lives wouldn’t be the same without them. But they unfortunately create a lot of pollution and waste. Environmental engineers are experts who help minimize and manage waste and pollution, protecting the air, water, soil, and ourselves from harmful chemicals. They often coordinate these activities, making sure the companies they work for are in compliance with all environmental regulations.

What Is an Environmental Engineer?

Environmental engineering is the branch of engineering that focuses on protecting the environment by reducing waste and pollution. The field is also dedicated to improving environmental conditions through remediation. It deals with the design of technologies and processes that control pollution releases and clean up existing contamination.

Environmental engineers design, plan, and implement measures to prevent, control, or remediate environmental hazards. They may work on waste treatment, wastewater treatment, site remediation, or pollution control technology.

 Our environmental laws would mean little without professionals like these who know how to implement them at the facility level. These valuable professionals help control pollution, and design new technologies to engineer a better world.

What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?

Environmental engineers use their scientific knowledge to design systems that control pollution and protect public health. For example, they design systems, processes, and equipment to control waste and pollution, such as stack scrubbers and wastewater management systems. This includes industrial wastewater. Environmental engineers coordinate waste management and recycling activities at manufacturing sites and mines. They make sure it’s treated and disposed of in accordance with all environmental and health regulations. In fact, they’re often appointed to ensure that all of their companies’ projects, including building and development projects, are compliant with regulations. They advise on the environmental effects of construction projects, fill out permit paperwork, incorporate regulations into project planning, and conduct inspections to ensure compliance. They write environmental investigation reports detailing their findings. Environmental engineers also frequently serve as a company’s liaison with federal, state, or local agencies on issues related to waste program requirements.

In addition to controlling pollution, environmental engineers also design systems, processes, and equipment to help clean it up. The systems they create restore air, soil, and water quality at sites that have already been contaminated. Some environmental engineers work at the front lines of the clean energy economy, developing systems that convert waste into electric power.

Environmental engineers are often tasked with coordinating their companies’ environmental management system (EMS). An EMS is a voluntary management technique that ensures systematic implementation and review of customized environmental and safety best practices. EMS following the international standard ISO 14001 are particularly beneficial to the credibility of companies involved in international activities.

Where Does an Environmental Engineer Work?

As of 2012, the greatest number of environmental engineers (28%) worked in architectural, engineering, and related services. Another 21% were employed in management, scientific, and technical consulting services. 13% worked in state government, 7% in federal government, and 6% in local government.

Environmental engineers work in various settings. They usually work from in offices while planning designs or working on environmental permitting and regulatory issues. However, they may work at industrial sites or outdoors while conducting inspections or coordinating a facility’s waste management activities. Most environmental engineers work full time. Those who manage projects often work overtime to monitor progress and meet deadlines.

What Is the Job Demand for Environmental Engineering?

The employment outlook for environmental engineers is excellent. The field is projected to grow 15% from 2017 to 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Some growth will be fueled by the need for water reclamation projects that increase water supplies, especially in Western states. Concerns about industrial wastewater, particularly from fracking for natural gas, will also drive growth in this area. Retirements will also open up future positions. Those with master’s degrees will have the best opportunities to fill vacancies.

How Do I Get an Environmental Engineering Degree?

Positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (B.S.), usually in environmental engineering, civil, or chemical engineering. Some undergraduate and graduate civil engineering programs offer concentrations in environmental engineering.

Students generally study basic engineering principles, ecosystem processes, fate and transport of organic contaminants, alternative energy technologies, air quality control technologies, principles of sustainability, water and wastewater treatment, mathematics, and computer-aided design (CAD). Lab and field work are often part of the curriculum.

It’s important to gain practical experience. Participate in an internship or cooperative engineering programs if you can. These programs award college credit for structured job experience.