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What is Environmental Engineering?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Environmental engineering is an incredibly broad field which is focused on using scientific principles to improve environmental conditions. Environmental engineers may use their skills to prevent damage to the environment, or to deal with the consequences of such damage. Many colleges and universities around the world offer training in environmental engineering to people who are interested in this field, and employment prospects are generally quite good.

Numerous fields can be pursued within the larger framework of environmental engineering, including biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, environmental law, public health, chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering. As a general rule, environmental engineering requires a bachelor's degree at a minimum, and many employers prefer to see graduate level work from their candidates as well.

The practice of environmental engineering is quite old, although it was originally focused more on issues of public health than environmental health. One of the earliest examples of environmental engineering can be found in the Indus valley, where the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro was outfitted with a sewer system to collect human waste. As the sciences have evolved, so has environmental engineering; today, environmental engineers work in a wide variety of settings to improve the condition of the environment.

Preventative measures include things like waste management, pollution controls, and resource allocations which are designed to ensure that supplies of clean water endure. Environmental engineers may also work on projects like developing ecologically friendly building techniques, green vehicles, and environmentally friendly methods of power generation. Many environmental engineers enjoy working on preventative measures such as these, since they are often at the cutting edge of technology.

Environmental engineering also looks at ways to deal with damage to the environment, like oil spills, acid rain, rampant pollution, and destabilization of fragile ecosystems. Environmental engineers develop techniques to help the Earth recover more quickly from serious environmental problems, ranging from using petrochemical-eating bacteria for cleaning up oil spills to restricting access to threatened wetlands to allow them to stabilize.

Compensation for environmental engineers varies, depending on which fields they work in. Many environmental engineers like to carve out a niche market for themselves, such as consulting for green businesses, essentially allowing them to set their own wages. Others may be more interested in working in the government sector, in which case their wages may not be as impressive, but they may be able to participate in policy making decisions which could have a major impact on the environment.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By BigBloom — On Feb 22, 2011

Making new tools and designing techniques for effectively dealing with wastes and emissions issues in cities is an important part of environmental engineering. Some friends of mine in New York City are working on ways to cleanse the air and eliminate toxins in the ground via constructing water ducts and gardens on their roofs. Designing and implementing these structures and methods is becoming an increasingly important task.

By ShadowGenius — On Feb 20, 2011

Learning how to improve the environment may become an important part of repairing the environmental scars of the past. We have wreaked havoc on this planet and need to own up to the fact that not only do we have a lot to do in cutting back on our damage to the atmosphere, but we have a lot of work to do to repair it. This is not merely in the ozone layer, but in the earth, in the sea, and in the air we breathe.

By TrogJoe19 — On Feb 17, 2011

I think that environmental engineering might also enable us to resurrect extinct species and even create new ones. We might be able to one day construct life on other planets using the building blocks of DNA which we have here on the earth.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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