Environmental engineers are responsible for studying, evaluating and managing the detrimental effects of human activity on the environment.
Environmental engineering basically revolves around three core areas:
1) The disposal and management of waste products
2) The reclamation of land degraded, damaged and altered by urban sprawl, industrial activities and construction projects
3) The control and mitigation of pollutants or effluents that have an adverse impact on the natural environment.
Environmental engineers are employed by environmental consultancies, engineering companies, local authorities, central government departments and executive agencies like the Environment Agency.
These technical gurus have a significant impact on all kinds of industries, including construction, land and property development, manufacturing, industrial processing and energy and utilities.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be carrying out site assessments, conducting technical audits and evaluating the environmental impact of an organisation’s industrial and commercial operations.
Following this assessment process, you’ll be making recommendations on essential clean-up, reclamation and waste management activities that need to be undertaken to solve the current problem and prevent similar issues recurring in the future.
Furthermore, you’ll be assessing how a site complies with environmental regulations, and using mathematical techniques and computer modelling to assess or forecast past, present and future environmental problems.
Environmental engineers don’t just necessarily focus their efforts on environmental consultancy. Indeed, you will also be responsible for designing, developing, testing and implementing technical solutions which will help organisations actively reduce their negative impact on the environment.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for environmental engineers in the early stages of their careers range between £17,000 and £25,000, while engineers with plenty of experience can expect to earn anywhere up to £55,000.
Once you have gained status as a chartered or incorporated engineer, you could even earn up to £90,000 a year.
Environmental engineers work on site and in office-based environments. Extra hours during weekends and national holidays may occasionally be required to meet project deadlines.
Travel across the UK and overseas is possible for environmental engineers working for multinational corporations and large, national consulting companies.
In order to break into this competitive line of work, you will need a strong degree (2:1 minimum) in a relevant subject such as environmental engineering, civil engineering, marine engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering or process engineering.
Candidates with MEng degrees are usually preferred. If you have a BEng, you may be required to obtain a relevant postgraduate degree before you can become a chartered engineer.
Training & progression
Most employers in this field offer structured graduate development programmes, which culminate in achieving ‘incorporated’ or ‘chartered’ engineer status. Graduate trainees are supported by experienced line managers and senior mentors throughout this training process.
Career progression is determined by professional expertise, advanced qualifications and project experience.
It may be possible for you to become a freelance environmental engineer once you have accumulated a wealth of experience and established a decent reputation. If you take this route, you may wish to specialise in a specific area of environmental engineering, such as urban renewal, land reclamation or pollution control, in order to get an edge over other professionals in the field.