What Do Environmental Engineers Do? Are you looking for a challenging and innovative career path where you can have a tremendous impact by ensuring designs and construction are carried out in an environmentally-sustainable way?

Do you dream about contributing to energy preservation, water and air purification projects, and control of waste from human and animal activities?

Would you like to work with other engineers and urban planners at construction sites when carrying out solutions for construction projects?

The field of environmental engineering offers unique opportunities to make a real difference by 1) using the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to critical environmental problems, and 2) being involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and air pollution control.

Environmental engineers

  • Use the principles of biology and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems
  • Are involved in:
    • Water and air pollution control
    • Recycling
    • Waste disposal
    • Public health issues
  • Conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of the hazard, advise on its treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps.
  • Design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems.
  • Conduct research on the environmental impact of proposed construction projects.
  • Analyze scientific data and perform quality control checks.

Specializations

  • Local and worldwide environmental issues
  • Protection of wildlife
  • Minimizing the effects of:
    • Acid rain
    • Global warming
    • Automobile emissions
    • Ozone depletion
  • Consulting in the areas of:
    • Compliance with regulations
    • Prevention of environmental damage
    • Clean-up of hazardous sites

Famous Environmental Engineers

  • Ellen Swallow Richards – the first female environmental engineer best known for pioneering the field of sanitary engineering; worked with many local and national groups dealing with water supplies and health problems
  • Marc Edwards – Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and an expert on water treatment and corrosion; his research and recommendations on elevated lead levels in Washington, D.C.’s municipal water supply gained national attention
  • Joseph Lstiburek – forensic engineer, building investigator, building science consultant, author, and widely known expert on building moisture control and indoor air quality
  • George Pinder – Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Vermont and also served as a professional witness in numerous environmental cases including Love Canal and Woburn that received considerable media attention

Areas of Employment

  • Engineering services
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services
  • State government
  • Local government
  • Federal government

Career Guidance Suggestions for Pre-University Students

Coursework to consider
  • Pre-algebra
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Engineering fundamentals
  • Environmental science
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Geology
  • Calculus
  • Trigonometry
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Robotics
  • Programming
  • Design
  • Structural analysis
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Hydrology
  • Sustainability
  • Solid mechanics
  • Seismic methods
  • Air pollution
  • Water and air quality
  • Land use planning
Suggested extracurricular activities
  • Competitions
  • Summer programs
  • Afterschool programs
  • Clubs
  • Internships
  • Online puzzles and games
  • Online courses
  • Maker Faires
  • Design projects
Local programs offered by
  • Science centers and museums
  • Professional societies like IEEE
  • Universities 
Important Skills
  • Design skills: design systems that will be part of larger ones and foresee how the proposed designs will interact with other components of the larger system, including the workers, machinery, equipment, and environment.
  • Interpersonal skills: work with engineers and scientists who design other systems, as well as with technicians and mechanics who put the designs into practice.
  • Problem-solving skills: strive to solve several issues at once, from workers’ safety to environmental protection, when designing facilities and processes; be able to identify and anticipate problems in order to prevent losses for employers, safeguard workers’ health, and mitigate environmental damage.
  • Writing skills: write clearly so that others without their specific training can understand their plans, proposals, specifications, findings, and other documents.

Links and Resources

  • Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors: made up of professors in academic programs throughout the world who provide education in the sciences and technologies of environmental protection.
  • International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering: a professional body representing the interests and activities of engineers, academics, and contractors all over the world that actively participate in geotechnical engineering.
  • American Geophysical Union: a worldwide scientific community that advances an understanding of Earth and space that is used for the benefit of humanity.
  • International Water Association: comprised of leading water professionals in science, research, technology, and practice.
  • American Water Works Association: the authoritative resource on safe water, with more than 60,000 members worldwide sharing knowledge on water resource development, water and wastewater treatment technology, water storage and distribution, and utility management and operations.
  • Water Environment Federation: a not-for-profit association that provides technical education and training for thousands of water quality professionals who clean water and return it safely to the environment; members have proudly protected public health, served their local communities, and supported clean water worldwide since 1928.
  • The ASME Environmental Engineering Division: promotes the art, science, and practice of engineering in all issues pertaining to the environment; fosters developments and applications in air, ground, and water pollution technologies.