Written By: Anna Lucas
So, we know what environmental engineering is, and how it impacts the world, but what specifically is an environmental engineer’s job, and what makes them different from other engineers? Well, let’s start with the first question of what environmental engineers are. Environmental engineers, as we mentioned before, are engineers that use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. But, what makes them different from other engineers? Although environmental engineering is its own field, it does encompass other types of engineering within the field. Mainly, they utilize mechanical, electrical, and sometimes chemical/nuclear engineering. For example, they use mechanical engineering when making alternate energy sources such as solar panels or wind turbines. They use electrical engineering to create energy canisters, or more sustainable rechargeable batteries. And they use chemical/nuclear engineering in creating alternate energy sources, and to reverse the effects of things like greenhouse gasses.
In day-to-day life, environmental engineers have very similar lives to all other types of engineers. They work mainly in offices or workshops, as they go into the field to study problems or issues and then spend the majority of their time in workshops brainstorming solutions, completing tests, and making improvements to previously created tech. The main difference, however, that differentiates environmental engineering from other disciplines is the biological aspects of this field. Because environmental engineers study the environment, the atmosphere, plant life, and animal life, biology is a big part of the field which makes it unique from other disciplines. This makes environmental engineering more attractive to those who are less inclined to physical sciences like physics and chemistry, and more inclined towards the biological sciences.
But, how do environmental engineers compare in terms of education, salary, hours, etc. to other engineers? In order to be an environmental engineer, you will need at least a bachelor's degree, but preferably a masters. It’s best to get your bachelors in something such as environmental engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, general engineering, or applied mathematics. This will give you a good base to work off when getting experience in your field. If you are choosing to get a masters degree, which is recommended as it will make you much more attractive to employers but not required, then you should get it in a major such as earth and environmental engineering, applied biological sciences, or the field of focus that your bachelors was in.
In terms of job opportunities, salary, and workload for environmental engineers, they are quite similar to most other engineers. Because the main employer of environmental engineers is the federal government, you are going to find most job opportunities in places with a high federal governmental presence. For example, this could be in Washington D.C, where the EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service Are located, or it could be in suburban Maryland where the FDA is located.. When looking at salary, environmental engineers make an average salary of $92,120/year, with the top 25% of engineers making $118,960/year, and the lowest 25% making $70,260/year, according to U.S. News. This means even the lowest ranked environmental engineers are still making at least $50,000/year more than the average median American. In terms of working hours, according to CareerProfiles.com, environmental engineers work an average of 40 hours per week. This is about 6 hours more per week than the average American worker, but as most employers are branches of the federal government, they receive 13 days of PTO (paid time off) per year, as well as an additional 11 federal holidays per year.
Ashjaee, Nusha. “The Balance.” Thebalancecareers.com, 25 June 2019, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/environmental-engineer-526013. Accessed 21 July 2022.