Are you looking to make an impact on our environmental well-being? Whether you are concerned about the ethical collection of energy, the prudent stewardship of Earth’s resources, ways to improve processes to be more efficient, or anything in between, you will want to consider one of many careers in environmental engineering or environment-related careers.
Environmental engineers apply science and math to design, implement, and evaluate solutions to everyday problems. Environmental engineers use their specialized training, skills, and knowledge to carry out this process and do so in a way that maintains or improves our natural world. People in these environmental careers are involved in diverse, complex, and delicate projects such as water management, green building design, and more.
An environmental engineer is a great position that allows for growth but also impacts. Early career environmental engineers follow the leadership of senior engineers in carrying out projects and tasks that will solve real-world problems. Senior environmental engineers work closely with management and other stakeholders while supervising engineers and other staff to solve problems and complete projects on time and within budget. The annual median salary for a senior environmental engineer is roughly $108,000, while the entry-level environmental engineer median salary is approximately $67,000.
An environmental technician works with environmental engineers and scientists to identify, evaluate, prevent, and control contamination of the environment. Environmental technicians inspect and maintain equipment, work with the containment or disposal of hazardous waste, manage waste operations, collect samples needed for various purposes, and assist stakeholders with compliance with regulatory standards. They also sometimes engage in environmental impact studies of new projects or evaluate sites’ environmental health that could contaminate the environment, such as abandoned manufacturing sites or industrial plants. Environmental technicians also sometimes work in testing laboratories. They collect and track samples and perform tests. Their work is invaluable, and it is done under the direction of other professionals. The median salary for environmental technicians is roughly $40,000 per year.
Another exciting career to consider is a green building engineer. These professionals help create sustainable construction projects or leave less of an environmental footprint than traditional construction projects. As consumers, officials, and advisory boards become more aware of construction practices, green building engineers are increasingly utilized to create structures that minimize environmental harm. One common focus for green building engineers is to find ways to lower energy consumption by designing buildings with maximum natural lighting during periods of use, such as an office complex that allows most of its light to come from sunlight during office hours. The goal of a green building engineer is to create more energy- and resource-efficient models that protect occupants from nature’s extremes while also not harming the environment through standard construction practices. The annual average salary for these cutting-edge positions is $75,000–$80,000. Typical areas of focus are:
● Water efficiency
● Limiting toxic materials
● Renewable energy
● Energy efficiency
● Indoor air quality
● Sustainable development.
Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the environment and research a variety of purposes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, geoscientists typically do any of the following tasks, depending on their specific focus or role:
● Plan and carry out field studies, in which they visit locations to collect samples and conduct surveys
● Analyze aerial photographs, well logs (detailed records of geologic formations found during drilling), rock samples, and other data sources to locate deposits of natural resources and estimate their size
● Conduct laboratory tests on samples collected in the field
● Make geologic maps and charts
● Prepare written scientific reports
● Present their findings to clients, colleagues, and other interested parties
Geoscientists use various tools, such as a hammer and chisel, to collect rock samples and then use ground-penetrating radar equipment to search for oil or minerals. In laboratories, they may use X-rays and electron microscopes to determine rock samples’ chemical and physical composition. They may also use remote sensing equipment to collect data and modeling software to analyze the data collected. The average annual salary for a geoscientist is $93,580.
College majors, hard and soft skills that employers are looking for
Environmental engineers and other professionals in the environmental and climate industry obtain degrees in environmental engineering, environmental science, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, materials engineering, and many other areas. In addition, you will use the foundational principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to create solutions to many environmental problems.
You will want a degree that comes from an ABET-accredited college or program. ABET is a nonprofit, ISO 9001-certified organization that accredits college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. A degree from an ABET-accredited program is typically necessary to become a licensed professional engineer. Be sure to check your state’s and potential employer’s rules and preferences before selecting your college and program.
If possible, consider enrolling in a five-year program that awards both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as a senior engineer, management, or instructor at some colleges or universities. As a master’s level professional, you might choose to do research and development, and many employers prefer candidates who have a master’s degree.
Employers highly desire hard skills are proficient use of global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS). GPS has many benefits within the environmental industry. According to the U.S. Space Force, “Aerial studies of some of the world’s most impenetrable wilderness are conducted with the aid of GPS technology to evaluate an area’s wildlife, terrain, and human infrastructure. By tagging imagery with GPS coordinates, it is possible to evaluate conservation efforts and assist in strategic planning. Some nations collect and use mapping information to manage their regulatory programs such as the control of royalties from mining operations, delineation of borders, and the management of logging in their forests.” GIS is a powerful tool for data analysis and planning.
According to environmentalscience.org, “GIS is fast becoming the tool to use for sustainability and planning as we seek to maximize the efficiency of the environment around us and protect what needs to be protected while maintaining health and jobs in the modern economy. People who work in sustainability know that many disparate elements must come together to keep the mechanics of the world around us functioning in the way we want it to function; today, this includes the ecology.”
Soft skills that are highly sought after for environmental engineers and other environmental professionals include:
● Interpersonal skills
● Problem-solving skills
● Reading skills
● Writing skills
What else can you do to prepare for a career in the environmental industry? Practical experience is always valuable, so seek out cooperative engineering programs, where college credit is given for structured job experience. Likewise, summer engineering programs and camps, as well as internships, are great ways to build a resume, gain practical experience, and prepare for the work ahead of you.
Professional licensed engineers, senior engineers, technicians, and other professionals collect data, analyze statistical patterns, and implement solutions that improve clean water availability, conserve natural resources, and enhance green energy. With competitive salaries, rewarding work, and challenging problems, these careers are worth the preparation and perseverance.