How to Become an Environmental Engineer: Career Path Guide
Although there are other paths to take, the most common way to become an environmental engineer is to follow these essential steps:
1. Make sure you have the right personal traits for this work
2. Pursue a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering
3. Get work experience as a student via internship and co-op opportunities
4. Get a job as an engineer-in-training after graduation
5. Earn “Professional Engineer” status
6. Advance into roles of greater responsibility and pay, or into roles in related fields
Below we've expanded on these points, to give you a good idea of what you'll need to begin a career as an environmental engineer in the United States or Canada. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as what you’ll be doing, what you could earn, and actual “Environmental Engineer” job postings in your area!
What Education Will I Need?
To get hired as an environmental engineer-in-training, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, or a related field such as Civil Engineering. Some employers might require a master’s or doctoral degree, particularly for research or teaching positions.
What is an Environmental Engineer?
An environmental engineer is someone who uses engineering principles and practices to protect the environment by reducing waste and pollution. They also work to improve environmental conditions through remediation. They mainly deal with the design of technologies and processes that control pollution releases and clean up existing contamination.
What Does an Environmental Engineer Do?
In general, environmental engineers are generally responsible for the following tasks:
• Providing advice to industry and government representatives concerning environmental policies, regulations and standards
• Conducting environmental audits
• Assessing industrial sites to determine if operations satisfy environmental quality criteria, regulations and guidelines
• Developing pollution prevention and control plans for their employer or clients
• Obtaining, updating, and maintaining plans, permits, and standard operating procedures
• Researching and developing methods for minimizing the creation of gaseous, liquid and solid waste
• Designing and developing wastewater collection, management and treatment systems
• Conducting water quality assessments of rivers, lakes and groundwater
• Conducting air quality assessments at local, regional and global levels
• Assessing the potential impact that proposed land use projects will have on the environment
• Using specialized software, equipment and tools
• Supervising the work of engineers-in-training and engineering technicians
What Courses Should I Take in High School?
Excelling at math, chemistry, biology, physics, environmental studies and design studies, will serve as excellent preparation for this career while you’re a high school student. Be sure to do well in these areas if you have the opportunity to take any of these courses.
Success Tip: Excelling at coursework in these areas will help prepare you for the work involved in this career at an early age, and will help you qualify for environmental engineering degree programs!
What Experience Will I Need?
Engineer-in-training jobs don’t require any work experience above what you gain as part of an internship while completing your engineering degree. Mid and senior-level roles often require 3-5 years of experience working in lower level roles, with progressive amounts of responsibility in those roles, as well as Professional Engineer certification.
What Licensure/Certification Will I Need?
You will need to be licensed as a Professional Engineer (“PE” - United States; “P.Eng.” - Canada) in order to exercise direct control of a public project and to supervise other engineers and engineering technicians.
You will also need to have the PE/P.Eng. designation in order to sell your own engineering services publicly.
You won't need to have the Professional Engineer designation to be hired on as an engineer-in-training, which involves working under the supervision of a licensed engineer.
How to Become Licensed
Licensing requirements typically involve completion of an engineering degree, completion of a set number of supervised working hours, and passing an exam. However, these requirements can vary, so please contact your provincial/state engineering association for full details on becoming licensed.
Should I Become an Environmental Engineer?
If you have the following personal traits you'll not only be well suited for work as an environmental engineer, you’ll be a standout:
• You have a keen interest in protecting the air, water, soil, people and animals from harmful chemicals
• You’d like to respond to environmental problems such as effluent disposal and waste management for a living
• You’re interested in the principles of engineering, biology, soil science and chemistry
• You’re willing to deal with unidentified hazards
• You have patience, organization skills and comfort with detailed work
• You have an interest in working with mechanical devices and instruments
• You have effective written and verbal communication skills to deal with a wide range of stakeholders
• You want your work to have a tangible effect not only on our planet but also on lives
What is the Salary of an Environmental Engineer?
Environmental Engineers earn a median salary of $84,560 per year in the United States. Their salary can vary based on factors such as their level of experience, the amount of responsibility inherent in their job, the size and type of their employer, the region in which they work, and other factors.
More About Salary Levels
As mentioned above, the salary level you could earn as an environmental engineer can vary, typically depending on the following factors:
• Your level of education, experience and certification
• The level of responsibility involved in your job
• The size and type of your employer
• The region in which you work
• The industry in which you work
• Many other factors
Environmental Engineer Salary - Alberta: According to the 2015 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, the overall average salary of Albertans working in the “Civil Engineers” occupational group (to which ‘Environmental Engineers’ belong) is $98,342 per year.
Environmental Engineer Salary - Canada: According to ECO Canada, an entry to junior level environmental engineer-in-training makes $40,000 to $43,000 a year in Canada. A senior-level environmental engineer with several years of experience will make between $67,000 and $85,000 a year.
Environmental Engineer Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall median salary level of Americans working in the “Environmental Engineers” occupational group is $84,560 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries are below $50,230 and the highest 10% of salaries are above $128,440.
Who Creates Jobs for Environmental Engineers?
There are many types of employers with which environmental engineers can find jobs, including:
• Environmental engineering consulting firms
• Federal, provincial/state, and municipal government departments
• Colleges, universities, and research institutes
• Property management companies
• Manufacturing companies
• Resource industries (for example, mining, oil and gas)
• Chemical and petrochemical companies
• Waste management companies
• 3rd party and government-based regulatory agencies
Environmental Engineering Jobs
Our job board below has "Environmental Engineer" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
What Career Advancement Opportunities Are There?
If you’re willing to constantly learn and improve your craft and expand your knowledge, then you'll see plenty of career advancement opportunities.
With a proven track record of success you could move into roles of greater responsibility and pay, including project engineer or project manager, or become self-employed as an engineering consultant.
You might also decide to move to a related field, such as recycling management or environmental auditing. With an M.Eng. or Ph.D. degree, you could also work in consulting, research or teaching positions at the university or college level.
What are Careers Similar to “Environmental Engineer”?
Listed below are careers that may be in the same field, or they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and/or responsibilities as “Environmental Engineer”:
What Scholarships Are There for Aspiring Environmental Engineers?
The “Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career” section below lists fields of study that are relevant to becoming an Environmental Engineer. You can search for relevant scholarships by finding those majors on our “Environmental Engineering Scholarships” and "Civil Engineering Scholarships" pages.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become an environmental engineer:
• Occupational Profile: “Environmental Engineer.” (n.d.). Alberta Government - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
• Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Environmental Engineers.” (n.d.). United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
• Career Profiles: “Environmental Engineer.” (n.d.). ECO Canada. Retrieved February 23, 2017.
Majors in Our Database Relevant for this Career
We have career guides for over 60 university majors in our database. Below we've outlined those that are most relevant to becoming an environmental engineer. Click on the links to see what else you can do with these majors!