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What does an Environmental Engineer do?

Environmental engineers work every day to protect the planet, in a real and practical way. Whether it's designing environmentally friendly, energy-efficient structures that work in harmony with their environment, or helping communities to rebound from flooding by developing storm water mitigation measures, environmental engineers use their knowledge of science and math to create infrastructure projects or design systems that help protect our world for future generations. And as we continue to strive for less reliance on fossil fuels, their work will increasingly be in demand.

Environmental engineers at work

According to the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE), "Environmental engineering provides limitless opportunities as to type of work, for whom you work, and where you work."

The wide variety of work settings includes both the indoors and the outdoors; however, the AAEE indicates that, since the majority of pollution problems occurs in urban settings, much of the work environmental engineers do will take place there.

Possible job titles include researcher at a university, city or regional planner, manager of a pollution control or water treatment facility, official with a government regulatory body (such as the Environmental Protection Agency) or an engineer for a private engineering firm.

Although you could work for many types of employers, most of them will require a high level of formal training.

Preparing to become an environmental engineer

Most engineering jobs can be attained with a bachelor's degree in engineering (usually civil, mechanical, chemical or environmental), four years of relevant work experience and a state exam, all leading to a Professional Engineer (PE) license. Following that, a certain amount of continuing education (determined by state) is required to maintain licensure.

The AAEE also indicates that a master's degree in environmental engineering is increasingly preferred by employers in this specialty, and you may even be encouraged to earn a Ph.D., which could help you in pursuing this highly research-intensive career.

Environmental engineering is a hot career

CNN Money ranked environmental engineer as #5 on its list of the 100 Best Jobs in America. And the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics says that while engineering jobs are growing at an average rate of 11 percent, environmental engineering jobs are growing at an extremely rapid 31 percent.

With the ever-present push to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, and an increasing focus on green building and energy efficiency, the need for environmental engineers should continue to grow for many years to come. One factor that may slow growth is government regulation, since environmental protection policies often take many years to be adopted.

Salaries in environmental engineering are relatively high. Perhaps the AAEE puts it best when it says, "A career in environmental engineering provides a comfortable salary, job security, and considerable personal satisfaction."

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