5 Careers for Environmental Engineering Grads

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Environmental engineer working outside on a laptop.

From the disposal of waste water to the collection of natural resources, the impact of humans on the environment is becoming increasingly apparent. As legislators and other civic leaders began to create rules and regulations to limit the impact of human life on the earth, one of the key players in addressing these challenges is the environmental engineer.

In the field of engineering professionals, environmental engineers use their specialized background in math and science to design and carry out solutions to everyday problems that maintain – or increase – productivity while simultaneously protecting the natural world. Environmental engineers are involved in challenges as diverse as water management and building design, providing a number of valuable career options when it comes to preserving the natural world.

“It’s not only about Earth Day and environmental consciousness,” Dan Wittliff, managing director of environmental services with GDS Associates, told U.S. News & World Report. “Those can be part of what an environmental engineer does, but in terms of what an environmental engineer does day in and day out, you’re really focused on what the regulations say, what you’re required to do to meet those regulations and how you’re going to do it, [while also bearing in mind] the cost and the timeline.”

As awareness of the human impact on the environment grows, there is increased demand for professionals who can help design and execute alternative methods in building, waste processing, water transport and other facets of engineering that will minimize unintended side effects. Consequently, the hiring market is currently friendly for those who wish to embark on a career as an environmental engineer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for these positions is expected to increase by 12 percent between 2014 and 2024, a faster than average rate across industries in the U.S. The department estimated that the growth of the subspecialty will add an additional 6,800 jobs to the workforce, which will need to be filled by qualified professionals with a passion for both engineering and the natural world.

And not only do these opportunities offer the benefit of meaningful work that allows professionals to make a tangible difference, they can also be financially rewarding. The BLS reported that the mean annual salary for an environmental engineer in 2015 was $84,560, as opposed to the annual mean wage of $48,320 across all industries in the U.S.

Whether you are currently working as an environmental engineer, or have trained in a different subset of engineering and are looking to make a change, a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering degree can help you take the next step in your career. An M.S. allows you to not only deepen you knowledge of topics such as engineering in the global environment and engineering management, but also signifies to potential employers that you are committed to pursuing excellence in the workplace.

“A master’s strikes a good balance between having more education than a bachelor’s and not as much as Ph.D., but still having a more rounded-out profile,” Aditya Srinath, a project engineer at 3M who earned a master’s in 2014, told U.S. News & World Report.

While a master’s degree can help you advance in most any position in this field, there are some roles that can particularly benefit from the expertise and skill set developed when you complete a graduate program. The following are five specific careers that you can excel in after earning an M.S. in environmental engineering:

1. Water project manager

Water may be a natural resource, but it takes a lot of work to ensure that it is properly cleaned and delivered to residents living in communities around the world. While it is not unusual for engineers with a bachelor’s degree to work on water projects, a master’s degree can make all the difference when you look to land a management role. Not only does the higher degree increase your knowledge of the field, but it also sets you apart on job applications.

There are a number specific areas that you can pursue in water management that fall under this umbrella depending on your interests. Potential job titles include storm water manager, wastewater project manager and flood risk manager. A background in civil engineering is also helpful for these roles, as many deal closely with the design, construction and maintenance of the systems and buildings that allow cities to function properly.

To begin or advance your career in water management, consider enrolling in UC Riverside’s online Master of Science in Environmental Engineering Systems (Water) degree program. By choosing to pursue a higher degree in environmental engineering through UCR, you will complete a number of courses that speak directly to working in water management, such as biological treatment processes, advanced water treatment technologies and physical and chemical separation processes, in addition to more general courses. And through the online format, the whole program can be completed at the time and place of your convenience, allowing you to work in the field simultaneously if you choose.

According to the job and salary website SimplyHired, the average salary for a water project manager is $74,000.

2. Senior environmental engineer

It likely comes as no surprise that the position of environmental engineer is a popular choice among those who have completed a degree in this specialty. However, if you wish to advance in this role, you may find that a bachelor’s degree is not enough to differentiate yourself from the competition. That is why pursuing a master’s in environmental engineering can be valuable if you are looking to take your career to the next level in a leadership position.

Having a master’s on your resume shows employers and managers that you are equipped to handle the increased responsibility that comes with jobs higher up the chain of command, such as senior environmental engineer. As opposed to the more entry-level title of environmental engineer, the senior position generally includes tasks such as leading projects, overseeing and mentoring subordinates, working closely with management and ensuring that budgets and deadlines are met. Because of the level of responsibilities, hiring managers tend to expect approximately 10 years of experience in the field.

According to the job and salary website PayScale, the median annual salary for a senior environmental engineer in the U.S. is $92,898. However, the source reported that many in the field make six figures.

3. Environmental health and safety director

Called the “environmental stewards of the corporate world” by the National Association for Environmental Management, environmental health and safety directors can also benefit from a master’s in engineering degree. In this position, you are responsible for working behind the scenes to ensure that companies remain in compliance with regulations that protect the environment and promote new solutions that will encourage sustainable practices and design.

The NAEM reported that some initiatives that may be found in your job description include:

  • Explaining the business risks of failing to ensure health, safety and environmental standards.
  • Reporting sustainability initiatives to the public.
  • Creating and heading a company sustainability program.
  • Developing partnerships to promote sustainable practices across the business.

According to PayScale, the median annual salary for these positions in the U.S. is $103,961, though the highest paid professionals can earn closer to $170,000.

4. Environmental engineering consultant

Consulting services are on the rise across a variety of industries in the U.S. In fact, according to The College Board, “management, scientific and technical consulting services” is the industry that is expected to experience the most growth between 2008 and 2018, adding an additional 835,000 positions. This growth provides opportunities for environmental engineers who want to use their expertise to improve the practices and design of other companies and organizations to decrease their environmental impact.

To pursue a career as an environmental engineering consultant, a bachelor’s is typically standard, but some clients prefer a higher degree. Whatever your undergraduate education, completing a master’s will allow you to specialize in a particular facet of the field that you are especially interested in. You can also pursue certification through one of various groups such as the American Council for Accredited Certification.

5. Green building engineer

While engineers help to create a number of diverse construction projects, there is an increased demand for buildings that are sustainable and leave less of an environmental footprint. As the impact of standard construction practices becomes more apparent, green buildings are a response that allows companies to continue to create structures while minimizing harm. For example, a common practice of engineers and architects who work in this field, as reported by the BLS, is to cut down on energy consumption by designing buildings that maximize the amount of natural light that enters during the work day.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the goal of green building is to ultimately create more resource-efficient models that protect people from nature’s extremes, while also shielding the environment from the impact of those very projects. The organization reported that components of green building include:

  • Water efficiency.
  • Toxics reduction.
  • Renewable energy.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Indoor air quality.
  • Building specifications and materials.
  • Sustainable development.
  • Smart growth.

Though the new nature of the industry means that salary data is limited, the BLS reported that the median annual wage is likely similar to engineers in other construction positions, which tend to range between $76,000 and $84,000, depending on the specialty.

Recommended Reading:

What You Need to Know about The Environmental Engineering Field

Bioengineering vs. Environmental Engineering: How They Differ

University of California, Riverside Environmental Engineering Program


Payscale, Master of Science (MS), Environmental Engineering Degree

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Engineers

SimplyHired, Water Project Manager Salaries

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Careers in Green Construction

U.S. News, Environmental Engineer

U.S. News, Choose Between a Master’s, Ph.D. in Engineering

Study.Com, Become an Environmental Consultant: Education and Career Roadmap

Social Security Administration, National Average Wage Index

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States 

Payscale, Average Senior Environmental Engineer Salary


Payscale, Average Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Director Salary 

Career Finder

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Components of Green Building

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Careers in Green Construction