From the disposal of wastewater to the use of natural resources, the impact of humans on the environment is increasingly apparent. As legislators and other civic leaders continue to create rules and regulations to limit the impact of human life on the earth, environmental engineers are becoming key players in addressing these challenges.
In the field of engineering professionals, environmental engineers use their specialized background in math and science to design and implement solutions to everyday problems that maintain — or increase — productivity while simultaneously protecting the natural world. Environmental engineers are involved in projects as diverse as water management and building design, leading to numerous career options for those interested in this dynamic field.
As awareness of 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. An advanced education, such as a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering, can help open the door to a number of promising environmental engineering careers.
What Is Environmental Engineering?
The field of environmental engineering draws on an integrated knowledge of engineering principles, soil science, biology, and ecology to develop pragmatic solutions to environmental problems. While an environmental engineer’s work can vary depending on their individual role, it’s not uncommon for professionals in this field to work on issues such as recycling, water treatment, public health, and waste disposal. Environmental engineering also addresses global concerns including climate change and sustainability.
In pursuit of environmentally friendly solutions, environmental engineers may work on developing new structures, technologies, and procedures for controlling, containing, or reducing pollution.
Environmental Engineer Salary and Career Outlook
The work of environmental engineers is vital and requires a great deal of technical expertise. Therefore, professionals in this field are generally well compensated. The median annual environmental engineer salary was $96,820 in 2021, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Salaries vary depending on various factors, including the sector in which they work. For example, engineers employed by the federal government earned $110,240, the BLS reports, while those in state and local government made $80,450 and $82,520, respectively.
Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow by 4% over the next decade, according to the BLS. Demand will be partly driven by heightened public awareness of environmental concerns and the need to find solutions to these issues, including access to clean drinking water.
5 Environmental Engineering Careers
Those seeking a career in environmental engineering have a number of options. Some common career paths include the following.
1. Water Project Manager
Water may be a natural resource, but it takes a lot of work to ensure that it’s properly cleaned and delivered to residents living in communities around the world. While it’s not unusual for engineers with a bachelor’s degree to work on water projects, a master’s degree can make all the difference when trying to move into management roles. Not only does a graduate degree increase an applicant’s knowledge of the field, but it also sets them apart on job applications.
Within water management, there are several areas of specialization. Potential job titles include stormwater 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 a career in water management, consider enrolling in UC Riverside’s online Master of Science in Environmental Engineering Systems (Water) degree program. UCR’s master’s in environmental engineering program includes several courses that can prepare students to work in water management, such as Biological Treatment Processes, Advanced Treatment Systems, and Physical and Chemical Separation Processes, in addition to more general courses. And through the online format, the program can be completed at any time and place, allowing students to work in the field while taking courses.
According to Payscale, a water resources engineer with project management skills earned a median annual salary of approximately $81,900 as of January 2023.
2. Senior Environmental Engineer
While a bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum requirement to become an environmental engineer, it may not be enough to advance in the role. Pursuing a master’s in environmental engineering can be valuable to those who are interested in leadership positions.
Having a master’s degree shows employers and managers that an applicant is equipped to handle the increased responsibility that comes with jobs higher up the chain of command such as senior environmental engineer. Senior environmental engineers are responsible for leading projects, overseeing engineering teams and acting as mentors, working closely with management, and ensuring that budgets and deadlines are met.
According to Payscale data from November 2022, the median annual salary for a senior environmental engineer was roughly $99,000. For those seeking environmental engineering careers with the potential for six-figure salaries, this position is worth considering.
3. Environmental Health and Safety Director
Called the “environmental stewards of the corporate world” by the National Association for Environmental Management (NAEM), environmental health and safety directors can also benefit from a master’s in engineering degree. These professionals work behind the scenes to ensure that companies comply with regulations that protect the environment and promote new solutions that will encourage sustainable practices and design.
According to NAEM, an environmental health and safety director’s job description may include responsibilities such as:
- Explaining the business risks of failing to ensure health, safety, and environmental standards
- Reporting sustainability initiatives to the public
- Creating and leading company sustainability programs
- Developing partnerships to promote sustainable practices across a business
The median annual salary for environmental health and safety directors was approximately $117,300, according to Payscale data from January 2023.
4. Environmental Engineering Consultant
Consulting services are on the rise across a variety of industries in the U.S. and growing all the time. This growth provides opportunities for environmental engineers who want to use their expertise to improve the practices of companies seeking to decrease their environmental impact.
To pursue a career as an environmental engineering consultant, a bachelor’s degree is typically standard, but some clients prefer a more advanced degree. Completing a master’s degree can allow individuals to specialize in a particular facet of the field that they’re interested in. Additionally, earning certification can boost a consultant’s credentials and job prospects.
According to Payscale data from May 2022, the median annual salary for this role is around $67,400.
5. Green Building Engineer
While engineers contribute to a number of diverse construction projects, there is an increased demand for buildings that are sustainable and have a smaller environmental footprint. As the impact of standard construction practices becomes more apparent, some companies are responding by creating green buildings, which allow them to minimize the environmental impact of new construction.
For example, a common practice of engineers and architects who work in this field is to cut down on energy consumption by designing buildings that maximize the amount of natural light that enters during the workday.
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
A sustainability engineer with green building skills earned a median annual salary of $78,800 as of April 2022, according to the latest data from Payscale.
Prepare for a Career in Environmental Engineering
Environmental engineering provides skilled professionals with an opportunity to apply advanced engineering principles to sustainability efforts, resulting in better use of natural resources and more effective disposal of waste. These efforts ultimately minimize human impact on the environment.
Those seeking to enter this field can choose from many different environmental engineering career paths. Earning an online Master of Science in Engineering from the University of California, Riverside, with an emphasis on environmental engineering, can be a critical step forward toward these diverse and meaningful career options. Take the first step into your future today.