How To Become an Environmental Engineer (With Career FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 1 December 2022 | Published 7 September 2021

Updated 1 December 2022

Published 7 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Environmental engineers are integral to supporting the protection of the environment during industrial projects and applications. These professionals apply science, math and engineering principles to design and implement methods for reducing waste and improving ecological sites. If you're interested in becoming an environmental engineer, there are several factors to consider before starting your career path. In this article, we explore what environmental engineers do, how much they can earn and how to become an environmental engineer so you can decide if it's the right career for you.

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What is an environmental engineer?

Environmental engineers are professionals who work to reduce, minimise and manage pollution and waste due to mining, manufacturing, construction and other industrial projects. Environmental engineers coordinate environmental protection methods with companies to ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations. Additionally, environmental engineers may work in a variety of subfields that include soil management, ecological sustainability and other environmental development sectors. They design technological innovations and systems that their clients implement to protect the environment and manage industrial waste.

Related: 20 Careers of the Future (With Salaries)

How to become an environmental engineer

Here are the basic steps to follow to pursue a career as an environmental engineer:

1. Get a bachelor's degree in an environmental subject

The basic educational requirement for environmental engineers is a Bachelor of Science degree in a topic related to the environment. The main two majors for aspiring environmental engineers are environmental science and environmental engineering. You can also study another engineering field, like civil engineering, and take environmental engineering courses during your studies. Strive to earn high grades in your courses to impress potential employers. Your bachelor's degree in environmental or engineering studies provides you with the fundamental knowledge you need to understand how to design and analyse systems to protect the environment.

  • Related: What Does an Ecologist Do? (Job Scope, Skills and Salary)

Here are some of the classes you can expect while earning your undergraduate degree:

  • Waste management

  • Organic chemistry

  • Climatology

  • Physics for engineering

  • Ecology

  • Water system management

  • Hydraulics

  • Sustainability

  • Fluid mechanics

  • Chemical systems

2. Practise your skills at an internship

During or after your undergraduate studies, seek out an internship in the environmental science field. As an intern, you can learn about what it's like to be an environmental engineer and develop an awareness of the practical skills you need to succeed in the industry, such as:

  • Life-cycle assessments

  • Sustainability reporting

  • Remediation assessments

  • Stormwater management

  • Computer-aided drafting

  • Regulatory compliance

  • Hazard identification

  • Environmental impact assessments

  • Permit processing

Throughout your internship, you can ask questions about different areas of environmental engineering that interest you. Shadow different employees on engineering projects to get experience in a variety of areas in the environment sector to strengthen your resume.

Related: 9 Essential Engineering Skills To Include in Your Resume

3. Gain practical experience in environmental science

Once you complete your education and any internship experience, look for your first official job in environmental engineering. You may be able to find an entry-level position as an environmental engineer where you work under the supervision of a senior engineer. Another option is to look for jobs as a research assistant or an engineering assistant on a large environmental engineering team.

This allows you to gain confidence in your abilities and gather feedback from an expert in the environmental systems engineering field as you contribute to your first projects. You can slowly ask for more responsibilities or seek promotions to lead projects in your area of interest.

4. Get environmental certifications

You can qualify for more positions or make your application more attractive by earning certifications in environmental engineering. Some of the best certifications to consider for environmental engineers are certificates from the International Organization for Standardization in the environmental management category. These certifications confirm your ability to incorporate, supervise and evaluate environmental engineering solutions in an organisation. Here are some of the certification topics available in this category:

  • Implementation guidelines

  • Ecodesign guidelines

  • Environmental costs and benefits

  • Financial evaluation of environmental factors

  • Accounting in environmental management

In addition to technical certifications in environmental engineering, you can also get certifications in project management and other professional competencies.

5. Earn a postgraduate diploma

To advance in your career, you may consider getting a master's degree or another postgraduate diploma in environmental engineering. You can also consider a specialty like environmental policy and development, environmental science or sustainability. Getting another degree can give you deeper insights into your engineering process and enhance your leadership abilities, providing you with more opportunities to grow your career. Because graduate studies involve intensive original research, getting a postgraduate diploma can also expand your knowledge enough to solve large-scale environmental issues.

6. Look for job opportunities

Once you have an extensive history of educational qualifications and professional opportunities, search for jobs in environmental engineering that match your aspirations. Explore different work environments such as environmental engineering firms and construction companies with in-house openings for environmental engineers. Meet with employers and discuss how your vision for environmental solutions aligns with their company mission. As an experienced, qualified environmental engineer, you may eventually have multiple job offers, so it's important to consider which opportunities match your desired speciality.

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Environmental engineer salary

The national average salary for an environmental engineer is $55,083 per year. As an environmental engineer, your earnings can vary depending on your speciality, years of experience and workplace. Senior environmental engineers earn a salary of $92,844 per year, so you can increase your earning opportunities in the environmental engineering field significantly as you gain responsibilities and seniority.

Related: How Much Does an Ecologist Make? (Plus How to Become One)

Frequently asked questions about environmental engineering careers

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about working as an environmental engineer:

How many years does it take to become an environmental engineer?

The amount of time it takes to become an environmental engineer depends on how much time you spend completing your education and gaining experience. You may get your first environmental engineer job directly after completing your bachelor's degree, meaning you can become an environmental engineer in as soon as four years. Some people spend time gaining experience as engineering assistants or going to graduate school, increasing the length of time it takes to become an engineer.

Is it hard to get a job as an environmental engineer?

Getting a job as an environmental engineer involves taking technically complex courses that require advanced knowledge in math and science. It can be challenging for some people to develop the skills and expertise to succeed in this field. If you dedicate yourself to studying and practising, you can become a competent environmental engineer. Once you acquire the background knowledge you need to qualify for a job, the process of earning a position depends on your specific qualifications and professional network.

Is there a demand for environmental engineers?

Environmental engineering is a growing industry because of the significant impact of human behaviour on the environment. As businesses develop and strive to limit their influence on the natural world, environmental engineers work to create innovative solutions to manage industrial activities and promote sustainability. Many organisations have a high demand for environmental engineers.

Related: How to Become a Petroleum Engineer (With Types and Skills)

Where can you study to become an environmental engineer?

You can study for a career in environmental engineering at any college or university with an environmental science major. Some colleges also have engineering majors with a concentration in environmental studies. You can search the Engineering Accreditation Board of Singapore to find accredited bachelor's degree programmes in environmental engineering near you.

What are additional specialisations in environmental engineering?

Environmental engineering can provide career opportunities in several different specialisations within the field. Geotechnical engineering focuses on soil mechanics and foundation engineering, where engineers work to mitigate environmental risks to building and construction sites. Geophysical engineering encompasses the examination and development of methods for the extraction and mining of natural resources like oil, gases and minerals. In addition to these industry-focused specialisations, there are several hydrology and water resource fields of environmental engineering where engineers work to manage and protect ecological water systems in the environment.

Related: What Is an Environmental Scientist? And How To Become One

What skills do environmental engineers need?

Environmental engineers rely on hard skills specific to the field of engineering. Structural design, elements of site management, ecological rehabilitation technologies, mathematics and statistics and the ability to use technological equipment to perform job functions are several examples of the technical skills that environmental engineers need. Communication, research and analysis, writing and leadership skills are also beneficial.

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Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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