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Environmental Engineer

Significant Points

  • Competitive salaries --- As the 1990's drew to a close, B.S. degree engineers were receiving starting salaries ranging from $36-$42,000 with some as much as $48,000; with a Masters degree, $40-$45,000; and with a Ph.D., $42-$50,000. A licensed engineer (it takes a minimum of four years of post B.S. degree experience to qualify) with five years experience can expect to earn $50-$60,000. Like most engineering disciplines, the salary versus time curve for environmental engineers is marked with rapid, significant increases early in the career and then flattening with time so that increases are not as rapid later in your career, the exception to this curve is for those that expand their work into management activities in addition to or in lieu of the technical aspects of engineering. Along with salary comes the standard fringe benefits of vacation, insurance, etc.

  • Job security --- Since before the turn of this century, there have always been many more jobs than environmental engineers to fill them. So, you will never be out of work. However, the work of an environmental engineer changes with changing government policies and the public's priorities --- for a time you might work with wastewater, then for another time with solid waste and still other specialties before retirement. Accordingly, a commitment to life-long learning is essential --- a college degree is just the beginning of ones education.

  • Job Availability --- While the job security of environmental engineers is good, the ease of breaking into the profession varies over time based on market conditions which are affected by government policies, priorities, and funding. An outstanding academic record of accomplishment is always a plus.

  • Dream realization --- You will experience the fulfillment of seeing something you conceived in your mind realized in concrete, steel and other tangible materials; and from being a part of the successful solution to a problem.

  • Helping your fellow humans --- Knowing that your efforts make the world a better place for you and your fellow human beings to live will provide additional satisfaction.

Nature of the Work

Using the principles of biology and chemistry, environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in water and air pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, and public health issues. Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies in which they evaluate the significance of the hazard, offer analysis on treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. They design municipal water supply and industrial wastewater treatment systems. They conduct research on proposed environmental projects, analyze scientific data, and perform quality control checks.

Environmental engineers are concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues. They study and attempt to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions, and ozone depletion. They also are involved in the protection of wildlife.

Many environmental engineers work as consultants, helping their clients to comply with regulations and to clean up hazardous sites.

The kind of work you can do as an environmental engineer is very diverse. The following examples are illustrative, not comprehensive. You can be a researcher, a designer, a planner, an operator of pollution control facilities, a professor, a government regulatory agency official, a manager of programs, or be involved in professional society work.Your employer can be private consulting engineering firms, universities, private research firms, testing laboratories, government agencies of all types (federal, state and local), or all types of major corporations and private businesses.

Working Conditions

Your work can take you around the world. It can be done inside and out; typically, most jobs will find you inside about 75 percent of the time and 25 percent outdoors. However, there are many instances of 100 percent either way. Since most pollution problems are located where there are concentrations of people, the largest number of job opportunities (your employer's location) will coincide with where the greatest number of people live. However, modern information technologies are operating to alter the above described historic pattern.


Environmental engineers held about 47,000 jobs in 2002. Almost half worked in professional, scientific, and technical services and about 15,000 were employed in Federal, State, and local government agencies. Most of the rest worked in various manufacturing industries.


Entry requires a B.S. degree in engineering --- probably civil, chemical, mechanical or environmental. And, while you are still comfortable with the school life, you should take another year or so to get a Masters degree in environmental engineering (more and more employers are giving preference to those who have a Masters degree). If you can afford it, you are also encouraged to get your Ph.D.; while not required, it will provide additional advantages in your subsequent career.

You must do your best in the math, science and engineering courses that comprise any engineering degree. Equally important, you need to focus on the humanities. Since environmental engineering is so intertwined with people, it is necessary that you understand how people and societies function. Through both your formal training and your activities during your college career, you need to work on developing your writing and speaking skills. Environmental engineers must be able to communicate effectively with people of all types if they are to succeed in solving problems. These skills can only be learned by doing --- the more you do, the better you will become.

Other Qualifications

The American Academy of Environmental Engineers® certifies qualified Environmental Engineers recommended by peers in their field of specialty through certification procedures prescribed by the Academy’s Bylaws.

Minimum Requirements Each candidate for certification is required to possess certain minimum qualifications. These requirements are the same for Board Certified Member (BCM) with the exception that a P.E. license is not required.

All candidates shall:

  • Be persons of good moral character and of high ethical integrity and professional standing, as determined by the Academy's Board of Trustees.
  • Possess a baccalaureate degree in engineering or related field acceptable to the Board of Trustees, from an academic institution of recognized standing.
  • For BCEE, hold a valid license or certificate of registration to practice professional engineering, issued by the lawfully constituted registration board of any State, territory, possession or district of the United States. A valid certificate of registration from a foreign country may be accepted provided it meets standards established by the Board of Trustees.
  • Be professionally engaged in environmental engineering activities on a full time basis.

Experience Requirements

Candidates applying for certification by written and oral examinations shall have had at least eight (8) years of progressively responsible engineering experience following receipt of a baccalaureate degree or license, whichever occurs first, of which four (4) years shall have been in responsible charge of work at a level acceptable to the Board of Trustees in one or more of the designated environmental engineering specialties.

Candidates applying for certification without written examination must have had at least sixteen (16) years of progressively responsible environmental engineering experience following receipt of baccalaureate degree or license, whichever event occurs first, of which twelve (12) years shall have been in responsible charge of work at a level acceptable to the Board in one or more of the designated environmental engineering specialties.

Qualifying experience includes active and responsible participation and involvement in design, management, research, administration or teaching primarily in one or more fields of environmental engineering.

Initial Certification

The qualifications of all candidates for certification are first reviewed by the Academy’s Admissions Committee to determine if the Academy’s minimum requirements are satisfied and in which specialty the candidate is qualified to be examined. After approval by the Admissions Committee, the candidate is examined using written and/or oral examinations, as appropriate. The results of the examinations are returned to the Admissions Committee for evaluation of the examination results. Those candidates who meet all the prescribed requirements are recommended by the Admissions Committee to the Board of Trustees which votes to grant certification.

The written and oral examinations are specialty specific. They are developed and updated bi-annually by committees composed of Board Certified Environmental Engineers and Board Certified Members certified in the specialty covered by the examination. Security and scoring of the written examinations are the responsibility of the Academy’s Test Administration Department. The oral examinations are conducted by teams of three Board Certified Environmental Engineers and Board Certified Members in accordance with prescribed guidelines. The hour-long oral examination, one part professional practice issues and two parts technical specialty problems, is used to determine a candidate’s ethical concepts, maturity, presence of mind, engineering judgment, and ability to apply engineering principles and concepts which cannot be easily measured by written examinations. Should a candidate fail either one of the two examinations, the failed component(s) may be re-taken pursuant to Academy procedures.

Upon satisfactory completion of the entire Admissions process and paying the prescribed fees, the candidate is granted certification in a specialty recognized by the Academy and awarded the title, "Board Certified Environmental Engineer" or "Board Certified Member". A certificate embossed with the name and specialty of the BCEE or BCM is provided as confirmation.

Why Become Board Certified?

When it comes to Environmental Engineering, nothing matters more than choosing the right professional to handle the job. For more than fifty years, there has been a superior ways of making the distinction. Those distinctions are the selectively awarded title, Board Certified Environmental Engineer or BCEE (for P.E. holders) and Board Certified Member or BCM (non P.E. holders). BCEE is equivalent to the Academy's previous designation of Diplomate Environmental Engineer (DEE).


Choosing the right environmental engineer as an employee or a consultant is a challenge for those who make the hiring decisions.

They have a right to be concerned about the competence of the person entrusted with complex engineering projects and programs affecting the health and safety of the environment.

How do they decide on the right professional? Fortunately, the choice can be easy: the Board Certified Environmental Engineer (BCEE) or the Board Certified Member (BCM).


The BCEE and BCM titles are internationally-recognized certifications granted by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers®. It’s the only certification process for professional environmental engineering specialists with these proven qualifications:

  • A bachelors or advanced college degree in engineering or a related field
  • A minimum of 8 years of full-time professional experience
  • A Professional Engineer’s License in one or more states (for BCEE only)
  • Successful completion of written and oral examinations
  • Required continuing practice and ongoing professional education


By obtaining certification, the Board Certified Environmental Engineer or Board Certified Member demonstrate competence through comprehensive written and oral examinations in one or more of the following specialties:
  • Air Pollution Control
  • General Environmental Engineering
  • Hazardous Waste Management
  • Industrial Hygiene
  • Radiation Protection
  • Solid Waste Management
  • Water Supply/Wastewater Engineering

The BCEE or BCM are recognized by other professionals and government agencies as the hallmark of premier environmental engineers. The certification program is accredited by the Council of Engineering & Scientific Specialty Boards.


* Accredited Certification gives independent testimony to your environmental engineering specialty expertise.

* Academy-certified engineers earn, on average, 10% more than other engineers.

* Active programs encourage hiring of BCEEs and increase income potential.

* Accreditation of environmental engineering education curricula as a part of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) assures consistency in quality of graduates.

* Excellence in Environmental Engineering® annual competition provides public recognition of quality environmental engineering projects and programs.

* Who’s Who in Environmental Engineering® serves as a reference for employers seeking specialty expertise.

* Active participation in the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying and Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards ensures that the interests of environmental engineers are represented in the entire engineering profession.

Job Outlook

Environmental engineering graduates should have favorable job opportunities. Employment of environmental engineers is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2012. Much of the expected growth will be due to the emergence of this occupation as a widely recognized engineering specialty rather than as an area that other engineering specialties, such as civil engineers, specialize in. More environmental engineers will be needed to comply with environmental regulations and to develop methods of cleaning up existing hazards. A shift in emphasis toward preventing problems rather than controlling those that already exist, as well as increasing public health concerns, also will spur demand for environmental engineers. However, political factors determine the job outlook for environmental engineers more than that for other engineers. Looser environmental regulations would reduce job opportunities; stricter regulations would enhance opportunities.

Even though employment of environmental engineers should be less affected by economic conditions than that of most other types of engineers, a significant economic downturn could reduce the emphasis on environmental protection, reducing employment opportunities. Environmental engineers need to keep abreast of a range of environmental issues to ensure their steady employment because their area of focus may change frequently—for example, from hazardous waste cleanup to the prevention of water pollution.


Median annual earnings of environmental engineers were $61,410 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,650 and $77,360. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,510. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of environmental engineers in 2002 were:

Architectural, engineering, and related services$58,620
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services57,800
State government54,160

According to a 2003 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in environmental/environmental health engineering received starting offers averaging $44,702 a year.

Related Occupations

Sources of Additional Information

Further information about environmental engineering careers, training, and certification can be obtained from:

American Academy of Environmental Engineers, 130 Holiday Court, Suite 100, Annapolis, MD 21401. Internet:

See the introduction to the section on engineers for information on working conditions, training requirements, and other sources of additional information.

Additional info taken from the AAEE site:

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