Bureau of Labor Statistics

Environmental Engineers

environmental engineers image
Environmental engineers obtain, update, and maintain plans, permits, and standard operating procedures for environmental projects.
Quick Facts: Environmental Engineers
2020 Median Pay $92,120 per year
$44.29 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2020 52,300
Job Outlook, 2020-30 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2020-30 1,900

Summary

What Environmental Engineers Do

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems.

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 $92,120 in May 2020.

Job Outlook

Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 4,000 openings for environmental engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

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 work 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 or air pollution control systems
  • 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, urban and regional 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 with other engineers and with urban and regional planners.

Environmental engineers held about 52,300 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of environmental engineers were as follows:

Engineering services 27%
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 19
State government, excluding education and hospitals 13
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 7
Federal government, excluding postal service 6

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

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 that deadlines are met, and recommend corrective action when needed.

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 employers may 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.

Engineering programs are accredited by ABET, and employers may 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 foresee how the proposed designs will interact with components of the larger system, including the workers, machinery, and equipment, as well as with the environment.

Interpersonal skills. Environmental engineers must 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 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 that deal with topics outside their scope of training.

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

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 (PE).

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require engineers to take continuing education to keep their licenses.

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 2020

Engineers

$96,310

Environmental engineers

$92,120

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for environmental engineers was $92,120 in May 2020. 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 $55,450, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $144,670.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for environmental engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $110,250
Engineering services 93,000
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 88,180
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 87,920
State government, excluding education and hospitals 82,990

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 that deadlines are met, and recommend corrective action when needed.

Job Outlook

Environmental Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Total, all occupations

8%

Engineers

7%

Environmental engineers

4%

 

Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 4,000 openings for environmental engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

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 of the projected employment growth for environmental engineers is in professional, scientific, and technical services, as governments at the state and local levels draw on the industry to help address water efficiency concerns.

The federal government’s requirements to clean up contaminated sites are expected to help sustain demand for these engineers’ services. In addition, wastewater treatment is becoming a larger concern in areas of the country where drilling for shale gas requires the use and disposal of massive volumes of water.

Environmental engineers should continue to be needed to help utility companies and water treatment plants comply with federal or state environmental regulations, such as regulations regarding emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Employment projections data for environmental engineers, 2020-30

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

Occupational Title

Environmental engineers

SOC Code17-2081
Employment, 202052,300
Projected Employment, 203054,300
Percent Change, 2020-304
Numeric Change, 2020-301,900
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 2020 MEDIAN PAY
Chemical engineers Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to solve problems that involve the use of fuel, drugs, food, and many other products.

Bachelor's degree $108,540
Civil engineers Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, and supervise infrastructure projects and systems. 

Bachelor's degree $88,570
Environmental engineering technicians Environmental Engineering Technologists and Technicians

Environmental engineering technologists and technicians implement the plans that environmental engineers develop.

Associate's degree $51,630
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.

Bachelor's degree $73,230
Hydrologists Hydrologists

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust.

Bachelor's degree $84,040
Natural sciences managers Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including chemists, physicists, and biologists.

Bachelor's degree $137,940

Contacts for More Info

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

For more information about engineering summer camps, visit

Engineering Education Service Center

CareerOneStop

For a career video on environmental engineers, visit

Environmental Engineers

O*NET

Environmental Engineers

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Environmental Engineers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineers.htm (visited November 25, 2021).

Telephone: 1-202-691-5700 www.bls.gov/ooh Contact OOH

View this page on regular www.bls.gov

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