If you're ready to make a difference in the world, you may find environmental engineering has the STEM job for you.

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:

  1. Oil and gas extraction: $118,460 average annual salary
  2. Wholesale electronic markets and agents and brokers: $114,850 average annual salary
  3. Support activities for mining: $106,100 average annual salary
  4. Resin, synthetic rubber and artificial synthetic fibers manufacturing: $105,550 average annual salary
  5. 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
What's the Job Outlook Like for Environmental Engineers?

Increasing awareness of human impacts on the environment and mounting concern among government and industry concerns about water use and resource sustainability are expected to translate into considerable growth among environmental engineer jobs. The BLS projects a 15 percent employment increase nationwide in the field between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average expected growth of other engineering occupations.

Candidates with master's degrees or previous professional experience in an environmental or policymaking capacity are likely to have the strongest job prospects in the coming years. In addition, certain states have especially high growth expected for environmental engineers between 2012 and 2022. These include:

  • Colorado: 36.9% projected growth
  • North Carolina: 29.9% projected growth
  • Montana: 26.2% projected growth
  • California: 24.7% projected growth
  • Texas: 23.7% projected growth

For a STEM career that blends your love of science with your passion for good stewardship, look no farther than the job of environmental engineers. It's a dynamic and engaging field, but you need the right education first. Check out other engineering careers and contact environmental engineer schools in your area for information on available degree programs and discover more about what this career has to offer.

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Article Sources

1. Cost of Living Data Series: First Quarter 2015, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development,
2. Environmental Engineers, Occupational Information Network,
3. Long Term Occupational Projections for Environmental Engineers, Projections Central,
4. Occupational Employment and Wages: Environmental Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014,
5. Environmental Engineers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 1, 2014,
6. How Do I Become Board Certified in Environmental Engineering? American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists,