Environmental Engineer

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Summary

Duties: Assess the impacts of proposed energy projects on environmental conditions and present recommendations for corrective measurements

Alternate Title(s): Environmental and Safety Engineer; Risk Assessment Engineer

Salary Range: $35,000 to $105,000 (In USD as of Apr 21, 2015)

Employment Prospects: Good

Advancement Prospects: Fair

Prerequisites:

Education or Training - Undergraduate degree in chemical, civil, environmental, or mechanical engineering required; master’s degree in environmental engineering is recommended

Experience - Three to five years or more of practical engineering experience

Special Skills and Personality Traits - Basic knowledge of engineering procedures and techniques; capable of being a team player but also accepting personal responsibility; excellent communication and interpersonal skills, including outstanding presentation skills; good analytical skills and high attention to detail; great love of the outdoors; inquisitiveness and creativity; strong grasp of mathematics; thorough understanding of environmental laws and governmental safety regulations

Special Requirements - Certification as a professional engineer highly recommended

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014

National estimates for this occupation

Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for this occupation:

Employment Employment
RSE
Mean hourly
wage
Mean annual
wage
Wage RSE
53,240 2.0 % $41.51 $86,340 0.7 %

Percentile wage estimates for this occupation:

Percentile 10% 25% 50%
(Median)
75% 90%
Hourly Wage $24.09 $30.67 $40.08 $50.32 $60.28
Annual Wage $50,120 $63,800 $83,360 $104,670 $125,380

 


Industry profile for this occupation

Industries with the highest published employment and wages for this occupation are provided.

Industries with the highest levels of employment in this occupation:

Industry Employment Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services 15,960 1.17 $42.35 $88,080
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services 10,940 0.90 $41.00 $85,280
State Government (OES Designation) 7,990 0.37 $35.96 $74,800
Local Government (OES Designation) 3,580 0.07 $37.99 $79,010
Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation) 3,210 0.16 $47.54 $98,880

Industries with the highest concentration of employment in this occupation:

Industry Employment Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services 15,960 1.17 $42.35 $88,080
Remediation and Other Waste Management Services 1,510 1.13 $39.97 $83,130
Waste Treatment and Disposal 930 1.00 $44.56 $92,680
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services 10,940 0.90 $41.00 $85,280
Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing 530 0.48 $47.78 $99,390

Top paying industries for this occupation:

Industry Employment Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Oil and Gas Extraction 500 0.26 $56.95 $118,460
Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers 50 0.01 $55.22 $114,850
Support Activities for Mining 120 0.03 $51.01 $106,100
Resin, Synthetic Rubber, and Artificial Synthetic Fibers and Filaments Manufacturing 110 0.12 $50.74 $105,550
Motor Vehicle Manufacturing 110 0.06 $49.33 $102,620

 

Quick Facts: Environmental Engineers
2015 Median Pay $63,000 per year
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 53,200
Job Outlook, 2012-22 15% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 8,100

 

What Environmental Engineers Do

Environmental engineers design systems for managing and cleaning municipal water supplies.

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control. They also address global issues, such as unsafe drinking water, climate change, and environmental sustainability.

Duties

Environmental engineers typically do the following:

  • Prepare, review, and update environmental investigation reports
  • Design projects leading to environmental protection, such as water reclamation facilities, air pollution control systems, and operations that convert waste to energy
  • Obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures
  • Provide technical support for environmental remediation projects and for legal actions
  • Analyze scientific data and do quality-control checks
  • Monitor the progress of environmental improvement programs
  • Inspect industrial and municipal facilities and programs to ensure compliance with environmental regulations
  • Advise corporations and government agencies about procedures for cleaning up contaminated sites

Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of the hazard and advise on treating and containing it. They also design systems for municipal and industrial water supplies and industrial wastewater treatment, and research the environmental impact of proposed construction projects. Environmental engineers in government develop regulations to prevent mishaps.

Some environmental engineers study ways to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. They also collaborate with environmental scientists, planners, hazardous waste technicians, engineers, and other specialists, such as experts in law and business, to address environmental problems and environmental sustainability. For more information, see the entries on environmental scientist and specialist, hazardous materials removal worker, lawyer, and urban and regional planner.

Position Description

Environmental engineers work in various settings to oversee progress of environmental remediation projects.

Environmental Engineers are concerned with assessing and managing the effects of human and other activity on both the natural and the built environment. They are charged primarily with designing and planning prevention, control, and remediation of environmental health hazards. Environmental Engineers apply their knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering problem-solving skills for the protection of human health and the environment. They design and maintain systems that provide safe drinking water, treat and properly dispose of wastes, maintain or improve air quality, control water pollution in rivers, lakes, and oceans, clean up contaminated land and water resources, and help industry minimize pollution.

Environmental Engineers research and develop new technologies and techniques to improve the environmental acceptability of engineering projects and evaluate the environmental and social impacts of engineering projects. They develop, administer, and implement environmental programs in accordance with governmental standards and monitor pollution prevention activities, compliance, and auditing efforts. Their duties may include collecting soil or groundwater samples and testing them for contamination, conducting hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of the hazard, advising on treatment and containment, and developing possible regulations to prevent mishaps. In addition, their fieldwork may include logging soil borings, groundwater sampling, monitoring of well installations, overseeing remediation system operations/maintenance, administering data collection, and examining the work of contractors.

Environmental Engineers design (and operate) processes to treat commercial and industrial wastes to a standard acceptable for discharge and/or recycling (a process known as wastewater treatment or waste solidification). They conduct research on the environmental impact of proposed construction projects, plant processes, and permit changes, analyzing scientific data and performing quality-control inspections. They may be required to run, maintain, develop, and validate research on atmospheric dispersion models of the physical phenomena associated with the atmospheric transport of pollutants or hazardous chemicals. Environmental Engineers often work with occupational health experts to ensure hazard-free working environments in industrial, manufacturing, and energy producing/distributing settings. They prepare reports/studies on the best approach to environmental management in new and existing engineering projects, taking into account government regulations and legal, environmental, and industrial factors. They may become involved in legal or financial consulting regarding environmental processes or issues, communicating information to other technical staff of businesses, managers, regulatory authorities, and public interest groups.

Many Environmental Engineers work as consultants, helping their clients comply with regulations and cleanup of hazardous waste sites. One emphasis in environmental engineering consulting is on brownfields, land areas that are abandoned because of contamination by hazardous substances. Environmental Engineers help clients clean up the brownfields for reuse, minimizing the liabilities and the costs of building projects. When working as consultants, they may interact with federal, state, and local regulators to resolve compliance issues, establish permit requirements, and assist Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state, and local regulatory audits. They may represent their client companies in any government and industry rule-making activities.

Most Environmental Engineers involved in the energy industry specialize in particular sectors, such as the minerals industry, the chemical industry, the nuclear power industry, the electric power industry, or civil engineering projects. They may work for chemical companies (helping to reduce wastes in streams, among other tasks), pharmaceutical companies (making container drums that are environmentally safe and not dangerous to plants and animals), pulp and paper mills (reducing wastes and restoring forests), nuclear plants (finding safe means to dispose of nuclear materials), oil companies (discovering ways to enhance energy usage), or government agencies involved with energy conservation and energy usage, such as the EPA or the Department of Energy (DOE). Environmental engineering jobs with consulting companies often require significant travel of their engineers, sometimes including international journeys.

Work Environment

Environmental engineers held about 53,200 jobs in 2012. They work in a variety of settings because of the nature of the tasks they do:

  • When they are working with other engineers and urban and regional planners, environmental engineers are likely to be in offices.
  • When they are working with business people and lawyers, environmental engineers are likely to be at seminars, where they present information and answer questions.
  • When they are working with hazardous waste technicians and environmental scientists, environmental engineers work at specific sites outdoors.

The industries that employed the most environmental engineers in 2012 were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 28%
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 21
State government, excluding education and hospitals 13
Federal government, excluding postal service 7
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 6

Work Schedules

Most environmental engineers work full time. Those who manage projects often work overtime to monitor the project’s progress and recommend corrective action when needed. Overtime work frequently is necessary to make sure that deadlines are met and that the project is built according to specifications.

How to Become an Environmental Engineer

A bachelor’s degree is needed to become an environmental engineer.

Environmental engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a related field, such as civil, chemical, or general engineering. Employers also value practical experience. Therefore, cooperative engineering programs, in which college credit is awarded for structured job experience, are valuable as well. Getting a license improves the chances for employment.

Education and Training

A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs. Such a degree may be in environmental engineering, environmental engineering technology, civil engineering, civil engineering technology, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, materials engineering, materials engineering technology, or geotechnical, geological, or sanitary engineering. Environmental engineering requires knowledge in many fields of science, including biology, chemistry, geology, hydrology (the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water), and physics. In addition, engineers need to be very comfortable with mathematical techniques. Those interested in a career in environmental engineering should look for engineering programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET).

Many Environmental Engineers obtained degrees in some other field of engineering and then pursued a master’s degree in environmental engineering, as more and more employers of Environmental Engineers are giving a preference to those who have such accreditation. Some aspiring Environmental Engineers seek internship programs from such places as the Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) while they work at their first engineering jobs.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Most employers of Environmental Engineers require their candidates to have two to four years of experience in their field of engineering in a staff-level position with a consulting and/or engineering firm, preferably in their engineering specialty. Many of them prefer their Environmental Engineers to have had four or more years in a project management role and to have a knowledge of the most current environmental engineering principles and practices.

Beyond their basic knowledge of engineering procedures and technologies, Environmental Engineers must exhibit a thorough understanding and technical authority in their chosen engineering discipline. They should be computer literate (proficient in MS Access, Excel, and Word programs), as well as be familiar with computer-aided drafting (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs. They should have some field experience as an engineering staff member and some experience with Geographic Information System (GIS) techniques and applications. (GIS is a “smart map” tool that allows users to create interactive queries, analyze the spatial information, and edit data.)

Environmental Engineers need a thorough understanding of all environmental laws, both local and national, and all governmental safety regulations. They should be highly detail-oriented, with strong analytical and problem-solving skills. While curious and creative, they also need to be highly practical, as well as team players with a strong work ethic. Finally, since environmental engineering is so intertwined with people, Environmental Engineers must have excellent writing, speaking, and interpersonal skills. Their communication abilities are particularly important, as they often will be interacting with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Special Requirements

In many cases, it is recommended that Environmental Engineers possess certification as professional engineers as an additional enhancement for employment. They usually seek licensure by a state government. To become a licensed Professional Engineer, an Environmental Engineer must pass the comprehensive FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) exam, then work a given number of years (usually three to five) as an Engineer in Training (EIT), and then pass the PE (Practicing Engineer) exam. 

Education

Students interested in becoming an environmental engineer should take high school courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and math, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.

Entry-level environmental engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree. Programs typically last 4 years and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies. Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education.

At some colleges and universities, a student can enroll in a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor’s and a master's degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at some colleges and universities or to do research and development.

Many engineering programs are accredited by ABET. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have graduated from an accredited program. A degree from an ABET-accredited program is usually necessary to become a licensed professional engineer.

Important Qualities

Imagination. Environmental engineers sometimes have to design systems that will be part of larger ones. They must be able to foresee how the proposed designs will interact with other components of the larger system, including the workers, machinery, and equipment, as well as the environment.

Interpersonal skills. Environmental engineers must be able to work with others toward a common goal. They usually work with engineers and scientists who design other systems and with the technicians and mechanics who put the designs into practice.

Problem-solving skills. When designing facilities and processes, environmental engineers strive to solve several issues at once, from workers’ safety to environmental protection. They must be able to identify and anticipate problems in order to prevent losses for their employers, safeguard workers’ health, and mitigate environmental damage.

Reading skills. Environmental engineers often work with business people, lawyers, and other professionals outside their field. They frequently are required to read and understand documents with topics outside their scope of training.

Writing skills. Environmental engineers must be able to write clearly so that others without their specific training can understand their plans, proposals, specifications, findings, and other documents.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Environmental engineers are encouraged to become licensed as a professional engineer (PE). Licensure generally requires the following:

  • A degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after graduation. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After getting suitable work experience, EITs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states if the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own requirements.

After licensing, environmental engineers can earn board certification from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists. This certification shows that an environmental engineer has expertise in one or more areas of specialization.

Advancement

As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects and they have greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions. Eventually, environmental engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians.

Some may even become engineering managers or move into executive positions, such as program managers. However, before assuming a managerial position, an engineer most often works under the supervision of a more experienced engineer. Advancement into a managerial position usually requires a master’s degree.

Pay

Average Environmental Engineer Salaries: 63,000 (In USD as of Apr 21, 2015)

According to a 2005 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average annual starting salary for Environmental Engineers is $47,384. In their annual analysis of salaries, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006–07 Edition found that, in May 2004, the median annual earnings of Environmental Engineers ranged from a low of $40,620 to a high of $100,050.

The median annual wage for environmental engineers was $80,890 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,510, and the top 10 percent earned more than $122,290.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for environmental engineers in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $98,890
Architectural, engineering, and related services 81,900
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 77,000
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 75,350
State government, excluding education and hospitals 69,570

Most environmental engineers work full time. Those who manage projects often work overtime.

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, environmental engineers had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Engineers have favorable job opportunities, as their employment is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. In addition, Fortune magazine (March 21, 2005) selected environmental engineering as the fastest growing professional job in the next decade, with a more than 54 percent increase in jobs!

More Environmental Engineers will be needed to comply with environmental regulations and to develop new methods of cleaning up existing hazards. The shift in emphasis to preventing problems rather than just controlling those that already exist and the increasing public health concerns will both enhance demand for Environmental Engineers. Nevertheless, trends in environmental protection and regulation constantly change, so Environmental Engineers must keep abreast of a range of environmental issues to ensure steady employment. Political and economic factors may also have an impact on their employment, in that looser environmental regulations would reduce job opportunities whereas stricter rules would enhance them.

Another factor in their favor is the wide range of employment opportunities open to them. They may work as design engineers in a consulting firm or work for industry. They may work for local, city, or state governments, as well as for the U.S. government’s EPA, Department of Transportation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Interior, or the U.S. Department of Energy. They may even become high school teachers of science or math, or pursue the legal aspects of environmental protection by obtaining a law degree in environmental science.

Advancement Prospects

As consultants, Environmental Engineers might look for full employment within the corporate structure of their client company. If they work for a governmental agency, there are clear-cut paths for advancement. They may enhance their expertise in their own specialty by further education in science and technology and emphasize the research and scientific aspects of their work, even to the extent of eventually teaching at a high school or college level.

They may decide to involve themselves with the larger environmental worldwide issues (and large-scale problems) of acid rain, global warming, and ozone depletion, offering their services and expertise to governments or other international institutions.

Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

State and local governments’ concerns about water are leading to efforts to increase the efficiency of water use. This focus differs from that of wastewater treatment, for which this occupation is traditionally known.

The requirement by the federal government to clean up contaminated sites is expected to help sustain demand for these engineers’ services, particularly those who work for the government sector. In addition, wastewater treatment is becoming a larger concern in areas of the country where new methods of drilling for shale gas require the use and disposal of massive volumes of water. Environmental engineers will continue to be needed to help utilities and water treatment plants comply with any new federal or state environmental regulations.

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be favorable because this occupation may experience a wave of retirements. A person can also improve his or her job prospects by obtaining a master’s degree in environmental engineering, an advanced degree that many employers prefer.

Employment projections data for environmental engineers, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Environmental engineers

17-2081 53,200 61,400 15 8,100 [Employment projections data.xls]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of environmental engineers.

Tips for Entry

1. Include with your engineering and science courses some courses in the humanities as well. It will be important for you to understand how people and societies function, as you will be interacting with a wide range of people outside of your engineering specialty as a part of your duties.

2. While in college, volunteer for field work in your courses to gain an understanding of the techniques and special requirements of gathering data outside of the office or laboratory.

3. Along with your general computer courses, consider technical writing and speech courses to build your abilities in both written and oral communication.

Unions and Associations

The primary association for Environmental Engineers is the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE). Other professional organizations of interest to them include the Air and Waste Management Association (A&WMA), the Environmental Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), the Environmental and Water Resources Institute (EWRI) of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Environmental Engineering Division (EED) of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

Contacts for More Information

For more information about environmental engineers, visit

American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists

For more information about education for engineers, visit

American Society for Engineering Education

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For more information about becoming licensed as a professional engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers