Environmental Engineers Overview

Most environmental engineers need a bachelor’s degree in engineering to begin work, though some research positions require a masters degree in engineering. Starting salaries for environmental engineers are some of the highest among all college graduates. Post college, continuing education is critical to keep up with technological advancement throughout one’s career. Employment for environmental engineers is expected to grow at an average rate offering good job opportunities.

Nature of the Work for Environmental Engineers

Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers use their math and science knowledge to develop economical solutions to technical problems. They create commercial applications for the latest scientific discoveries.

Many environmental engineers work on new products. During development they consider several factors including precise functional requirements, testing and designing components, and evaluating a final product for safety, cost, reliability and effectiveness.

Along with design and development many environmental engineers work in testing, maintenance and production. They may supervise production on the factory floor, test for quality or determine why products aren’t working. They must also estimate cost and time for these projects. Supervisors oversee entire projects or major components.

Environmental engineers use computers extensively on the job. They control efficiency, monitor quality, generate specifications, and simulate and test operations. Nanotechnology also adds new principles to the design process.

Environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental problems using biology and chemistry. They work on public health issues, waste disposal, recycling and water and air pollution control. Often environmental engineers evaluate a hazard’s significance my conducting hazardous-waste management studies. Then they advise on treatment, containment and develop regulations to prevent future mishaps. Others may analyze scientific data, perform quality-control checks, research the environmental impact of proposed construction projects or design industrial wastewater treatment systems and municipal water supplies. They’re concerned with environmental issues both nearby and worldwide. Ozone depletion, acid rain, global warming and automobile emissions are all areas that environmental engineers commonly study and try to minimize. Many are also involved in wildlife protection. Environmental engineers commonly work as consultants helping to clean up hazardous sites, prevent damage to the environment and help clients comply with regulations.

Typically environmental engineers work in offices, labs or factories. Some spend time outdoors on sites or travel to plants or worksites.

A 40-hour workweek is common for environmental engineers, but deadlines and added pressure can extend hours from time to time.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Environmental Engineers

Almost all entry-level jobs for environmental engineers require a bachelor’s degree in engineering or environmental engineering. College grads with a natural science degree or a mathematics degree can sometimes qualify for positions as environmental engineers, especially since environmental engineers are in high demand. Sometimes environmental engineers major in electrical and electronics engineering, mechanical engineering or civil engineering. Though, once trained in one branch, they can have the flexibility to work where the best opportunities are even if they are in a different specialty.

Most programs require math, science, general engineering, computers, laboratory and even social sciences and humanities.

Beyond typical engineering degrees, 2-year and 4-year engineering technology programs are available, which focus on hands-on laboratory classes and current issues in engineering. These programs prepare environmental engineers for more practical design and production work rather than jobs requiring scientific or theoretical knowledge. Often graduates of engineering technology programs are viewed as having skills between an engineer and a technician.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits engineering and engineering technology programs. All 50 states require environmental engineers who offer service directly to the public to be licensed and they must graduate from an ABET accredited program to qualify. In addition environmental engineers must have 4 years of relevant work experience and pass a state licensing exam to become professional engineers (PEs). Recent grads can state the process with one exam upon graduation to become engineers in training (EITs0 or engineer interns (EIs). With work experience they can take part two.

Environmental engineers also should be inquisitive, analytical, creative and detail oriented. Team work skills and communication skills are also important.

Jobs in the Federal Government often require environmental engineers to be US citizens and sometimes, to hold a security clearance.

At the entry level most environmental engineers work under experienced engineers and often they may also receive formal classroom or seminar-type training. With experience and knowledge, environmental engineers go on to work more independently and take on more challenging projects. Later, environmental engineers may advance to supervisory or technical specialist positions. Others become engineering managers or work in sales.

A variety of professional certifications can add to environmental engineers resumes. They can help during layoffs or when looking for promotions or new jobs.

Top 10 Most Popular Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering Schools

1. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland)
2. University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida)
3. Pennsylvania State University, Main Campus (University Park, Pennsylvania)
4. Michigan Technological University (Houghton, Michigan)
5. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo, California)
6. The University of Texas at Austin (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Austin, Texas)
8. University of Central Florida (Orlando, Florida)
9. Georgia Institute of Technology, Main Campus (Atlanta, Georgia)
10. Colorado School of Mines (Golden, Colorado)

See All Environmental/Environmental Health Engineering Schools

Employment and Job Outlook for Environmental Engineers

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow much faster than average (increase 20% or more).

About 1.6 million engineers are employed and 54,300 environmental engineers are working. Jobs are found in manufacturing, professional, scientific, and technical services industries including architectural, engineering and related services. The government employ about 12 percent of engineers and 3 percent are self-employed.

Competitive pressures and new technology will force companies to improve, update and optimize their products and operations. Employers will look to environmental engineers to help. New technologies continue to change the design process for the better and even though better technology can sometimes limit employment, here environmental engineers are needed to provide ideas to lead improved products and more productive processes.

The globalization of engineering along with the increase of outsourcing jobs may limit employment growth to some degree.

Even though engineering as a whole is expected to grow at an average rate, environmental engineers should see employment growth of about 31 percent, which is much faster than average occupations. Environmental engineers will be in demand to help companies comply with new environmental regulations as well as to help develop cleanup methods for environmental hazards. Other factors will spur demand for environmental engineers as well: increasing public health concerns due to population growth and a shift in emphasis toward preventing problems rather than controlling existing ones. Due to these major growth opportunities, job opportunities should be favorable. Jobs will also arise as workers transfer to other areas or occupations or retire.

As the trend of contracting engineering work with engineering services firms continues, environmental engineers can me more vulnerable to economic downturns.

Continuing education is crucial for environmental engineers throughout their careers. Employers depend on environmental engineers to keep up with the latest technology in order to deliver top solutions and provide the greatest value. Those who don’t keep current in the field are typically at a disadvantage when seeking promotions or new jobs.

Earnings and Salary for Environmental Engineers

Environmental engineers earn median annual salaries of $77,040. The highest 10 percent earn more than $115,750, the lowest 10 percent earn less than $47,660 and the middle 50 percent earn from $59,820 to $96,680.

Annual Salary for Environmental Engineers

On average, Environmental Engineers earn $ 77,040 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $ 47,660/yr $ 59,820/yr $ 96,680/yr $ 115,750/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook