Environmental Engineer

Job Description

Environmental Engineers
An environmental engineer tests the water quality of a river while another records the results. goodluz / 123RF

An environmental engineer uses his or her knowledge of engineering, soil science, chemistry, and biology to solve problems in the environment. His or her concerns include pollution control, recycling, and public health issues.

Quick Facts

  • Environmental engineers earned a median annual salary of $84,890.
  • Just under 54,000 people are employed in this field.
  • Most work for engineering firms; management, scientific and technical consulting firms; local and state governments; and the Federal government.
  • Jobs in this field are usually full-time positions. 20% of environmental engineers regularly work more than 40 hours per week.
  • They work in offices or outdoors depending on the project with which they are involved.
  • The job outlook is expected to be good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow as fast as the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

A Day in an Environmental Engineer's Life

These are typical job duties taken from online ads for environmental engineer positions found on Indeed.com:

  • "Provide recommendations for maintaining and improving environmental performance"
  • "Review environmental regulations and determine or seek assistance with applicability determinations"
  • "Identify, assess and apply storm water best management practices for industrial, municipal, and construction storm water programs"
  • "Create and maintain environmental management systems to comply with air permits and air regulations"
  • "Report all environmental incidents, including internal spills, external releases, potential permit non-compliances, regulatory inspections, or similar incidents to plant management"
  • "Lead and/or support preparation and negotiation of permit applications"
  • "Interface with regulatory agencies, prepare required documentation, schedule any required testing, and provide additional follow-up documentation as required"

    Educational and Licensing Requirements

    To become an environmental engineer you will need to earn a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering. Other acceptable degrees include general, civil, or chemical engineering. Getting a degree from a program accredited by ABET (formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) may increase your chance of getting hired.

    Those who offer their services to the public must be licensed as professional engineers (PEs). Individual states issue licenses. You can find specific requirements on the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop. Generally, to become licensed, you will have to graduate from an ABET accredited program, pass general engineering and discipline-specific examinations, and get four years of experience.

    What Soft Skills Will You Need?

    In addition to formal training and a license, certain soft skills, or personal qualities, will allow you to succeed in this occupation.

    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: You must be able to identify problems and then select the methods that will provide the best chance of solving them.
    • Interpersonal Skills: As an environmental engineer, you will have to work alongside colleagues to achieve goals. 
    • Reading Comprehension: You need the ability to read and understand documentation that is often outside your area of expertise.
    • Writing: You will have to be able to compose documentation that others without expertise in engineering will be able to understand.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    These are some of the requirements specified by employers in job announcements on Indeed.com:

    • "Commitment to workplace safety, sustainability, and environmental compliance"
    • "Serious multi-tasker who lends your technical expertise and business savvy to the success of every project"
    • "A demonstrated ability to follow direction and work independently, as well as, in a team environment and a positive professional attitude"
    • "Knowledge and proficient use of Microsoft Office products"
    • "Must have good project management skills and be self-motivated"
    • "Participation in professional organizations is strongly encouraged"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    It is essential to consider your interestspersonality type, and work-related values when choosing a career. The following traits are compatible with this occupation:

    Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
    Environmental Engineering TechnicianAssists environmental engineers in carrying out the plans they develop to solve environmental problems

    $49,170

    Associate Degree in Engineering Technology
    Environmental ScientistIdentifies hazards to the environment$68,910Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science
    Biochemical EngineersDevelop products and solve problems related to materials, systems, and processes that interact with living things$97,300

    Bachelor's Degree in Biochemical Engineering

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited December 22, 2017).