Environmental Engineering Careers:
Building a Clean, Sustainable World

Environmental Engineering CareersEnvironmental engineering is about putting your desire for a cleaner environment into action by using science and technology. If you can imagine our planet without the problems that harm the natural world and threaten societies, then you may have what it takes to help bring your vision to reality. As an environmental engineer or environmental engineering technologist or technician, you'll have the chance to make a tangible impact on the future.

This Expansive Field is Booming with New Opportunities to Help the Planet

Environmental engineering is a field that's flourishing. In fact, employment opportunities in the sector are expected to increase by 30 percent between 2008 and 2018.* And, the variety of jobs in environmental engineering, already wide-ranging, is growing ever more diverse.

Environmental engineers, technologists, and technicians can be found developing and applying solutions to many different environmental challenges. The issues of water and air quality are just the beginning. Many industries need help treating and containing their hazardous waste. Wildlife needs protection. And, combatting climate change requires people that can devise, install and maintain cleaner ways of producing energy.

More and more communities in America and around the world are starting to place greater emphasis on preventing environmental problems instead of just controlling the ones they already have. Employers need trained workers that are familiar with new and emerging technologies. This means the field of environmental engineering is broadening in scope, creating jobs for people with a variety of overlapping professional aspirations.

Environmental Engineer, Technologist, or Technician? Know the Differences

Before jumping in, it's important to understand how the basic job titles in the field of environmental engineering differ with respect to professional responsibilities and educational requirements.

Environmental engineers are generally required to have a bachelor's degree, at minimum. They often supervise environmental engineering technologists and technicians in the application of technological and scientific solutions. Because they frequently must conduct research on the environmental impacts of such solutions, their college education includes heavy emphasis on theoretical knowledge, and sciences like biology and chemistry. Some environmental engineers also have expertise in civil or electrical engineering. Environmental engineering graduates from accredited programs are eligible to register as professional engineers.

On the other hand, environmental engineering technologists typically must have at least a two-year associate's degree. They are not qualified to register as professional engineers. However, it is common to find technologists with four-year bachelor's degrees in environmental engineering technology because of the increased employment prospects the additional education affords. Environmental engineering technologists generally undergo more hands-on training in their classes, which focus on practical design, production and the application of engineering principles.

Environmental engineering technicians require the least amount of post-secondary training. However, most employers prefer technicians with at least a two-year associate's degree. Training is usually intensively focused on the development of practical, technical skills that apply to one type of environmental technology, or a suite of related technologies. Environmental engineering technicians assist and work under the supervision of environmental engineers, scientists, and environmental engineering technologists.

Renewable Energy, Green Building & Energy Efficiency Retrofits: A Budding Trifecta

Climate change and the challenges of securing affordable energy have helped spur a burgeoning trio of environmental career areas. As a result, environmental engineering professionals are now needed for much more than their traditional roles of improving water quality, wastewater treatment, or hazardous waste disposal.

Clean energy technologies like solar and wind power, while still young, are creating new jobs for people with the right environmental engineering backgrounds. Those schooled in electrical engineering, for instance, can now specialize in renewable energy technology. As more communities aim to become less reliant on fossil fuels, they are investing in eco-friendly power generation.

And, because energy and natural resources are so precious, there is great need for new buildings to have as little impact on the environment as possible. This has led to a rapidly growing green construction sector that requires people in the field of environmental engineering to assist city planners, architects, and builders.

But the vast majority of existing buildings were constructed before "energy efficiency" became a household phrase. Therefore, many communities and individuals are turning to green retrofitting experts, including those in the environmental engineering field, to help them transform energy-draining buildings into good examples of energy efficiency and conservation.

Choose a Path to Match Your Ambition

Few fields provide as many in-demand career possibilities as environmental engineering. The potential for good employment is just as strong for registered environmental engineers as it is for environmental engineering technologists and technicians. And the environmental solutions you could be a part of are equally as expansive. Get started by exploring the environmental schools in your area. You could soon turn your passion for the natural world into a career that helps bring a cleaner planet to fruition!

*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, web site accessed on Nov. 22, 2010.