Undergraduate Title

 

 

The American Academy of Environmental Engineers defines environmental engineering “as that branch of engineering concerned with the application of scientific and engineering principles for:

  • protection of human populations from the effects of adverse environmental factors;

  • protection of environments, both local and global, from the potentially deleterious effects of natural and human activities; and,

  • improvement of environmental quality.”

 


What does an Environmental Engineer do?

Water On Tap

Environmental engineers work on issues of sustainability, provide safe drinking water, treat and properly dispose of wastewater and other wastes, maintain or improve air quality, perform ecological restoration of lakes and rivers, clean up contaminated land and groundwater, and help communities and industry minimize pollution, among many other activities.  It is a distinct engineering discipline recognized by its own professional network and professional accreditation.


Environmental engineers practice in both the public and private sectors. They work in small communities, large cities, and are in demand globally. According to the American Academy of Environmental Engineers Body of Knowledge (2009), typical duties of environmental engineers may include:

  • Evaluation of environmental quality, especially when it involves a risk to public health and the environment, and/or when degradation has or may occur as a result of human activities – e.g., quality of water, air, soils;

  • Development of strategies and methods to prevent environmental degradation or public health risk;

  • Development of regulations and requirements for performance of pollution preven­tion or environmental quality improvement, protection, or remediation projects;

  • Design of facilities or programs for pollution prevention or environmental quality improvement, protection, or remediation;

  • Evaluation of the results of pollution prevention or environmental quality improve­ment, protection, or remediation;

  • Assessment of the economics and efficiency of processes and procedures used in pollution prevention or environmental quality improvement, protection, or remediation and

  • Management, operation, and maintenance of systems for pollution prevention or environmental quality improvement, protection, or remediation.

  • Environmental engineers can also be found working on local, state, federal, and global policy issues.   Here they help to develop (and enforce) regulations that protect human health and the environment.  In this capacity, they may work for industry, government, or nongovernmental organizations.

What is the Demand for Environmental Engineers?

Empower Me Magazine (May 10, 2010) listed environmental engineering as one of five of “the hottest green, environmental and infrastructure jobs for the next ten years” They state that environmental engineers jobs are slated to grow over 30% and are included in the 30 fastest growing occupations for the decade of 2008-2018. CNNMoney.com reported in 2010 that environmental engineering was the 5th best job available (out of 100 ranked).


In 2006, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted over 54,000 environmental engineers employed in the U.S. and the upper range may be as high as 100,000. As a profession, environmental engineering is significantly larger than biomedical, materials, and chemical engineering (Mihelcic, President’s Column, AEESP Newsletter).


In 2006, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that environmental engineering was only one of two engineering disciplines which was predicted to have “much faster than average growth” over the next decade.  The projected 25% growth in the number of environmental engineers to 68,000 by 2016 was the largest of any engineering discipline.


Also, the reality of population pressures, urbanization, and increased affluence along with neglect of our Nation’s infrastructure the past few decades have created many employment opportunities. As an example, the market just for the design, construction, and operation of drinking water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants plus management of watersheds is estimated to be $120 billion over the next 15 years. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the General Accounting Office estimate that the cleanup market for over 200,000 polluted soil and groundwater (contaminated mainly by gasoline, jet fuel, and solvents) is $187 billion. In addition, laws such as the U.S. Clean Air Act and its Amendments and increasing concern over carbon dioxide emissions and associated climate change have resulted in a great need to improve the quality of our Nation’s air.