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How to Become an Environmental Engineer

Do you have strong engineering, math, and science skills, and want to pursue a path in which your work makes a positive difference every day? A career as an environmental engineer might be ideal for you. 

Environmental engineers focus on ecological issues. They tackle the challenges of pollution, waste management, and improving air and water quality, to name a few. Through research and study, environmental engineers work to make decisions and recommendations on how to decrease and minimize environmental problems. 

Environmental engineers can affect real improvements in the public and ecological health of their cities, region, and beyond.

Sample job description

Environmental engineers collect environmental data and develop solutions to environmental problems, such as pollution, recycling, and public health issues. Environmental engineers must be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and have excellent interpersonal skills. [Your Company Name] is searching for an experienced environmental engineer to join our team. If you have experience utilizing the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems and improve the quality of the environment, then please apply to our position as an environmental engineer, as it might be a perfect role for you.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Provide expert engineering advice and recommendations on environmental issues
  • Develop and implement plans of action to minimize negative environmental impact
  • Organize and direct ecological site assessment
  • Perform field tests and research, gathering all necessary information, data, and samples
  • Determine and obtain necessary compliance permits
  • Perform quality-control checks and ecological impact tests
  • Present findings and recommendations to leadership
  • Work as a liaison to EPA and other regulatory agencies 

Education and experience

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in environmental, civil, or another related engineering field, preferably with coursework in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and water/air/soil sciences. Employers prefer candidates with licensure from the National Society of Professional Engineers. 

Required skills and qualifications

  • Possess up-to-date knowledge of federal, state, and local environmental regulations
  • Expertise in CAD (computer-aided design) software
  • Microsoft Office Suite proficient
  • Strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Excellent time-management skills with the ability to effectively prioritize tasks
  • Comfortable working in the field
  • Strong teamwork skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s in engineering or related field
  • 2+ years working in the field as an environmental engineer
  • Strong mathematical skills

Typical work environment

Environmental engineers typically work for engineering firms, management, scientific, and technical consulting firms, local and state governments, and the Federal government. They generally work either in offices or outdoors depending on the project they are working on. Environmental engineers typically work 40 hours per week during normal business hours. They may be required to work overtime depending on the project. 

Typical hours

The typical work hours for an environmental engineer are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday in an office setting or the field as needed.

Available certifications

Environmental engineers work in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and biotechnology. Many institutions offer certifications to help these engineers expand their skills and knowledge. Here are some of the top certifications for environmental  engineers: 

  • Board Certified Environmental Engineer (BCEE). The American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists certifies professional engineers who have been recommended by peers in their field of specialty. Candidates must possess good moral character, have a degree in environmental engineering or related engineering field, have a Professional Engineering (PE) license, and must have at least 8 years of related experience as an environmental engineer. Candidates must also pass a written exam. 
  • Professional Engineer (PE) License. The National Society of Professional Engineers certifies those candidates who possess the knowledge and skills required to be a professional engineer. The PE is awarded to those professionals who have proven their competence and highest quality standards. To become certified, candidates must have completed a four-year college degree from an accredited engineering program, have at least four years of work experience under a professional engineer, and earn a passing grade on the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Environmental engineers who service the public must be licensed as PEs.

Career path

The path to becoming an environmental engineer typically starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental, civil, or another related engineering field. Beyond that, obtaining licensure can show you’ve met standards in education, exam performance, and experience. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 17-2081

2020 Employment52,300
Projected Employment in 203054,200
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 4% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift1,900 increase

More and more, environmental engineers will be expected to help manage, or at least minimize, a host of environmental concerns and issues. These topics include the environmental impact and emissions rising from cement production and use, growing water scarcity, human waste management, and emissions from the beef industry.