In recent times, more and more people have become interested in environmental engineering, in light of growing awareness of environmental concerns, a demand for more sustainable practices among businesses and industries, and the urgent need to find solutions to environmental problems.
As a discipline, environmental engineering encompasses several scientific topics such as biology, ecology, physics, chemistry, hydrology, geology, and mathematics, in order to come up with a multifaceted and wholistic approach to curbing or mitigating the effects of human activity on the environment as well as improve the quality of human life.
Owing to their background in multiple disciplines, environmental engineering majors have a diverse range of career choices open to them in various fields, including chemical, petroleum, mining, and geological sectors.
Here are ten exciting options for those considering environmental engineering as a career path.
Sustainable Infrastructure Designer
Working within the subdiscipline of civil engineering, environmental engineers are concerned not only with designing and building roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, but also with how to incorporate ecologically sound principles into such large-scale projects in order to lessen their environmental impact and improve the quality of human life at the same time.
Urban development and nature conservation may seem like polar opposites, but this is exactly the type of challenge that sustainable infrastructure designers have to respond to. Examples of environmentally responsive projects include using water-absorbent concrete on roads located in areas susceptible to flooding, and using vegetation (trees, bushes, and other greenery) in order to improve air quality alongside busy urban thoroughfares, specifically by reducing the concentration of harmful nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particulate matter.
Green Design Professional
Hotels that come equipped with zero-energy sky gardens. Office buildings designed to be more energy- and water-efficient by harvesting rainwater and using solar panels. Designing eco-friendly buildings has gone from being just a fad to actually becoming the more practical option. Which is why environmental engineers have a lot to bring to the table when it comes to designing and creating sustainable structures.
Building construction undeniably generates waste and comes at a cost to the environment. That said, it is a green-building engineer’s responsibility to keep a structure’s wastage and environmental footprint at a minimum by incorporating eco-friendly measures (such as the use of solar power, rainwater collection or harvesting, and geothermal heating and cooling systems) and harnessing sustainable resources in the building’s design (by using reclaimed, recycled, or organic materials, for instance).
Water Quality Technician
As global demand for water continues to rise, environmental engineers can help apply their knowledge of chemistry and hydroanalysis to find sources that allow more people access to safe and clean water.
In Los Angeles, water quality technicians were primarily responsible for coming up with an ingenious and out-of-the-box solution to improve the water quality of Ivanhoe Reservoir, which suffered from concentrations of the carcinogen bromate, produced when UV rays interact with the bromide and chlorine in the water. This solution came in the form of 3 million shade balls—UV-resistant polyethylene balls similar to those used in wetlands near waterways to deter birds—which filled up the entire surface of the reservoir and kept the sun from hitting the water.
Solid Waste Management Expert
With consumerism reaching alarming levels in both the developing and developed nations, the world has to deal with the problem of waste and how to keep it from reaching its final destination: landfills.
In this regard, environmental engineers working with their expertise in solid waste management hold the key to better harnessing solid waste, by employing and designing technologies and systems that will allow us to reuse, repurpose, and recycle various waste, including plastic and paper packaging, electronic waste, and white goods.
An example of a technology that an environmental engineer in this field can develop is an automated vacuum collection system, which makes the process separating and recycling waste faster by transporting waste via a network of underground pneumatic tubes, which ultimately converge at central waste collection point.
Part of being an environmental engineer is working with technology that allows them to gather, manage, analyze, and interpret data on a given area. One of the frameworks environmental engineers use to create detailed long-term visual records out of these data is with a geographic information system (GIS).
As a GIS or geospatial analyst, environmental engineers take a host of data on a landscape—such as geology and soil maps, aerial photographs, and satellite images—and make it easier to understand, specifically by compiling it and presenting it in spatial or geographic form. In climate science, this can be helpful when keeping track of physical changes to a landscape due to climate change, among others.
Geospatial analysts may also be involved in work that includes looking for evidence of drought or flood, receding of ice, and amount of forest cover lost. This is helpful in allowing research centers, planning agencies, and consultancy firms to arrive at decisions with regard to ecological systems and how human activity impacts them.
Flood Risk Officer
One reason the demand for environmental engineers is on an upward trend is the ever-present and increasing threat of natural calamities, such as flooding. Environmental engineers looking for a job that makes a difference can apply their knowledge of water systems to help design and create flood-resilient neighborhoods.
Environmental engineers employed as storm water or flood risk managers basically assess an area’s susceptibility to flooding, and devise ways or designs in order to avoid its risks. One example of how they do this is by reviewing developers’ design drawings and planning applications, checking that building and infrastructure designs won’t increase an area’s flood-risk levels.
Health, Safety, and Environmental Manager
If creating and spearheading environmentally sustainable initiatives is your cup of tea, you might want to sign up to become a company’s environmental health and safety manager or director. This is a job that requires partnership and cooperation with multiple sectors, as well as creating linkages with other corporations or organizations in order to promote sustainable practices in the workplace.
An example of what a health, safety, and environmental manager can do is illustrated in the partnership between food manufacturing giant Nestlé Philippines and Green Antz Builders, a social enterprise that produces upcycled ecobricks from the company’s waste plastic laminates.
Endangered Species’ Habitat Designer
With their diverse exposure to the sciences, including biology, hydrology, geology, as well as, ecology, environmental engineers come equipped with the know-how and skills to design and improve the habitats of protected and endangered species.
An example of this is the Barton Springs Pool, a 3-acre protected area in Austin, Texas, also the sole habitat of the Barton Springs salamander and the Austin blind salamander. With the help of environmental engineers as well as water specialists who came up with a bathymetric study of the pool, the city was able to redesign the pool’s dam in order to improve the water flow in the endangered salamanders’ habitat, thereby facilitating better livability and increased survival rates for the salamanders.
Hydrogeologist for Contaminated Sites
This is a hands-on way to apply theoretical solutions to critical environment-related scenarios such as handling toxic mine tailings, for instance, or containing oil spills.
Working with their knowledge in hydrology and geology, as well as data evaluation and technical report writing, environmental engineers employed as hydrogeologists for contaminated sites have to be adept at damage and impact assessment. They are usually placed as the head of the team, so project management and mentoring is another skill set they have to master. While this job mostly entails office-based tasks such as writing proposals and preparing budgets, fieldwork is also very much a part of it, which consists of site visits and testing.
Environmental Monitoring Supervisor
One of the most exciting professions you can carve out of being an environmental engineer is having a hand in conserving natural resources such as forests, rivers, lakes, and other ecosystems via being an environmental monitor.
Although the work does involve some routine (such as preparing reports for government and other decision-makers and keeping track of data over a long period of time), it also provides plenty of perks: fieldwork (such as when conducting soil, water, air and atmospheric samples, for instance), the chance to travel to other countries (especially if you work for a multinational organization) and meet people of different cultures who have the same goal of protecting the environment.
Overall, this is an inquiry-based job that will constantly keep you on your toes looking for anything amiss in the environment, such as pollution, contamination, toxicity, and signs of radioactivity.
Seeking a career in environmental engineering is in and of itself rewarding. After all, majority of those who pursue a degree in it are not usually motivated by the paycheck or material gain, but are rather after the future of the planet and the prospect of making a difference. With this mind-set, whatever career you get into is sure to be exciting and meaningful.