As the collective force behind every environmental regulation and industry pollution control standard, environmental engineers help alter governmental and organizational policy in ways that have the potential to change the world. These highly specialized engineering personnel may work in a wide variety of fields, from waste management to electrical systems, studying how individuals and processes interact with the environment at large.
Unlike some other engineering jobs that require an inordinate amount of desk-bound office work, environmental engineers often spend a lot of time in the field. You might find them at hazardous waste cleanup sites, streamlining the recovery effort, or testing oxygen availability in a coal mine to ensure worker safety. No matter where they're found, environmental engineers perform a crucial job that offers the chance to craft a better future for upcoming generations.
Their specific job duties may include any of the following:
- Preparing investigative reports on environmental issues.
- Designing projects intended to encourage or improve environmental protection.
- Consulting on public infrastructure projects to determine environmental impact.
- Analyzing data from the government or corporations to monitor progress toward environmental protection goals.
How Much do Environmental Engineers Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that environmental engineers earned a mean annual salary of $86,340 in 2014. The top 10 percent of earners brought in $125,380 or more that year, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $50,120.
Numerous factors can influence an environmental engineer's salary expectations, and as most tend to start out the career with the same engineering degrees, the industry where they find employment is among the factors that carry the most weight. Here are the five highest-paying industries for environmental engineers in 2014, according to BLS data:
- Oil and gas extraction: $118,460 average annual salary
- Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers: $114,850 average annual salary
- Support activities for mining: $106,100 average annual salary
- Resin, synthetic rubber and artificial synthetic fibers manufacturing: $105,550 average annual salary
- Motor vehicle manufacturing: $102,620 average annual salary
The geographical location of your job can also make quite a bit of difference in your earnings, not only thanks to regional salary trends but also in the local cost of everyday living. Here are a few metropolitan areas in the U.S. where BLS data indicates a relatively high 2014 environmental engineer salary and the Center for Community and Economic Research reports a 2015 cost of living that won't make your paycheck feel smaller than it is:
- Idaho Falls, Idaho: $100,000 mean annual salary; state ranked 2nd in affordability
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: $98,130 mean annual salary; state ranked 3rd in affordability
- Knoxville, Tennessee: $101,380 mean annual salary; state ranked 6th in affordability
- Huntsville, Alabama: $89,550 mean annual salary; state ranked 7th in affordability
- Waco, Texas: $98,950 mean annual salary; state ranked 13th in affordability
Occupational Requirements and Job Types for Environmental Engineers
A bachelor's degree is considered the standard for entry-level careers in environmental engineering, according to data reported by the Occupational Information Network. In 2013, 89 percent of working environmental engineers held at least a bachelor's degree, with nearly half of the total workforce having also earned a master's degree.
Training in the discipline includes instruction in tools of the trade such as computer-aided design software, air velocity monitors and photo imaging software, as well as foundational science courses in biology, chemistry, geophysics and environmental science.
Once they have completed their education and training, environmental engineers may choose to specialize in specific job types, such as working on solid waste projects or monitoring air pollution. Gaining professional credentials is one way to demonstrate mastery of the skills needed for these specific jobs. The American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists offers a Board Certified Environmental Engineer designation in the following specialties:
- Air pollution control
- Environmental sustainability
- General environmental engineering
- Hazardous waste management
- Solid waste management
- Industrial hygiene engineering
- Radiation protection engineering
- Water supply/wastewater engineering