Skip to content

Careers in Environmental Engineering

What is an Environmental Engineer?

Environmental engineers are the technical professionals who identify and design solutions for environmental problems. Environmental engineers provide safe drinking water, treat and properly dispose of wastes, maintain air quality, control water pollution, and remediate sites contaminated due to spills or improper disposal of hazardous substances. They monitor the quality of the air, water, and land, and develop new and improved means to protect the environment.

Although many people are concerned about the state of our environment, environmental engineers are the people who do things to protect it from damage and to correct existing problems. Environmental engineers possess the scientific and technical knowledge to identify, design, build, and operate systems that make modern society possible.

The environmental engineering field and environmental engineering education are multi-disciplinary. They involve traditional engineering components such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering design. But environmental engineering education and practice also includes a range of other disciplines, such as biology, microbiology, ecology, public health, geology, meteorology, economics, political science, and computer science. To address the spectrum of issues facing the environment, environmental engineers are broadly educated and technically trained.

Where do Environmental Engineers Work?

Environmental engineers work in many places such as engineering consulting firms that design and construct and water pollution-control systems, industries that need to treat their air or wastewater discharges, private and municipal agencies that supply drinking water, companies that treat and dispose of hazardous chemicals, companies that operate treatment facilities for municipalities or industries, government agencies that monitor and regulate waste discharges, universities that teach and conduct research on environmental control, private and government laboratories that develop the new generations of pollution-control systems, international agencies that transfer knowledge and technology to the developing world, and public-interest groups that advocate environmental protection.

What do Environmental Engineers Know?

Like most engineers, environmental engineers must have a strong background in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. They learn engineering problem solving and how to work in teams to accomplish goals. They develop the ability to apply scientific principles as part of making engineering decisions. Environmental engineers are skilled at analysis and design and they apply their knowledge to protect the environment and human health.

The breadth and multi-disciplinary nature of environmental issues requires that environmental engineers expand their skills beyond the range normally associated with any single engineering field. Depending upon their specific career goals, environmental engineers gain knowledge and skills in areas such as chemical technology, geology, water and atmospheric chemistry, microbiology, toxicology, hydrology, soil science, computers, economics, and law.

What is Required to be a Licensed Environmental Engineer?

Engineering licensure is a prestigious step in professional growth and development. Licensure is a way for engineers to demonstrate their professional commitment to employers and clients. Licensure is a four-step process requiring graduation from an accredited civil engineering program, passing the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, having four years of work experience, and passing the Professional Engineering Exam.

How do You Become an Environmental Engineer?

You can pursue environmental engineering as part of a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

Graduate education, leading to a master of science or to a PhD, is an important part of environmental engineering. Graduate programs are open to students who do not have a bachelor’s degree in civil or environmental engineering, as well as to those students who study environmental engineering as undergraduates. This openness to students with a wide range of backgrounds is a hallmark of environmental engineering and continually brings fresh ideas to the environmental engineering field.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.

Report an accessibility barrier