Environmental Engineers

Summary

environmental engineers image
Environmental engineers obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures for environmental projects.
Quick Facts: Environmental Engineers
2015 Median Pay $84,560 per year
$40.65 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 55,100
Job Outlook, 2014-24 12% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 6,800

What Environmental Engineers Do

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.

Work Environment

Environmental engineers 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 carrying out solutions through construction projects, they are likely to be at construction sites.

How 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, which provide college credit for structured job experience, are valuable as well.

Pay

The median annual wage for environmental engineers was $84,560 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. State and local government concerns regarding water availability, and quality, should lead to efforts to increase the efficiency of water use.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for environmental engineers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of environmental engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about environmental engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Environmental Engineers Do

Environmental engineers
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 that lead 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 in order 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 a 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, climate change, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. They also collaborate with environmental scientists, planners, hazardous waste technicians, and other engineers, as well as with specialists such as experts in law and business, to address environmental problems and environmental sustainability. For more information, see the job profiles on environmental scientists and specialists, hazardous materials removal workers, lawyers, and urban and regional planners.

Work Environment

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

Environmental engineers held about 55,100 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most environmental engineers were as follows:

Engineering services 28%
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 20
State government, excluding education and hospitals 15
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 7
Federal government, excluding postal service 6

They work in a variety of settings because of the nature of the tasks they do:

  • When they are working with other engineers and with urban and regional planners, environmental engineers are likely to be in offices.
  • When they are working with businesspeople 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.

Work Schedules

Most environmental engineers work full time. Those who manage projects often work more than 40 hours per week to monitor the project’s progress, ensure deadlines are met, and recommend corrective action when needed. About 1 out of 5 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014. 

How to Become an Environmental Engineer

Environmental engineers
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.

Education

Entry-level environmental engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Programs 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, and some employers prefer candidates to have a master’s degree.

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

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 for a person 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 with 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 businesspeople, 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

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as an environmental engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Several states require continuing education in order 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. For more information, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

Pay

Environmental Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2015

Engineers

$90,060

Environmental engineers

$84,560

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for environmental engineers was $84,560 in May 2015. 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 $50,230, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $128,440.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for environmental engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $101,640
Engineering services 85,190
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 80,100
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 79,970
State government, excluding education and hospitals 75,440

Most environmental engineers work full time. Those who manage projects often work more than 40 hours per week to monitor the project’s progress, ensure deadlines are met, and recommend corrective action when needed. About 1 out of 5 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014.

Job Outlook

Environmental Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Environmental engineers

12%

Total, all occupations

7%

Engineers

4%

 

Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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. Such a focus differs from that of wastewater treatment, for which this occupation is traditionally known. Most employment growth is projected to be in professional, scientific, and technical services, as governments at the state, county, and local levels draw on this industry to help address these water concerns.

The requirement by the federal government to clean up contaminated sites is expected to help sustain demand for these engineers’ services. 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 should continue to be needed to help utilities and water treatment plants comply with any new federal or state environmental regulations, such as regulations regarding emissions from coal-fired power plants. 

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be favorable because this occupation may experience a wave of retirements. Also, a person can 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, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Environmental engineers

17-2081 55,100 62,000 12 6,800 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2015 MEDIAN PAY
Chemical engineers

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the production or use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and many other products. They design processes and equipment for large-scale manufacturing, plan and test production methods and byproducts treatment, and direct facility operations.

Bachelor's degree $97,360
Civil engineers

Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

Bachelor's degree $82,220
Environmental engineering technicians

Environmental Engineering Technicians

Environmental engineering technicians carry out the plans that environmental engineers develop. They test, operate, and, if necessary, modify equipment used to prevent or clean up environmental pollution. They may collect samples for testing, or they may work to mitigate sources of environmental pollution.

Associate's degree $48,650
Environmental scientists and specialists

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or work with industry to reduce waste.

Bachelor's degree $67,460
Hydrologists

Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.

Bachelor's degree $79,550
Natural sciences managers

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists. They direct activities related to research and development, and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production.

Bachelor's degree $120,160

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

O*NET

Environmental Engineers

Water/Wastewater Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Environmental Engineers,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineers.htm (visited April 28, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015