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Career paths in environmental engineering: exploring specializations

Imagine a career where you can directly impact the health of our planet and its inhabitants. Environmental engineering career paths offer this opportunity, addressing the urgent need to manage and mitigate the effects of industrial activities on our ecosystems.

Anthropogenic activities and industrial revolution have forced human race to interact with their ecosystem in such a way that we have never before. The activities i.e., discharging industrial wastewaters into water bodies and emitting polluted air into the atmosphere, etc. caused serious damage to our environmental ecosystem and caused serious health concerns for human beings. Environmental engineering emerged as a branch of engineering that aims at the conservation and protection of natural resources & ecosystems.

Environmental engineering offers various career paths where expertise of different disciplines combine to resolve real-life environmental challenges. There are a number of different career paths in environmental engineering that an environmental engineer can choose for specialization.

Exploring environmental engineering career paths

Some of the career paths in environmental engineering are:

  1. Wastewater Engineer
  2. Energy Auditor
  3. Environmental Compliance Specialist
  4. Hydrologist
  5. Natural Resource Specialist
  6. Sustainability Consultant

Wastewater Engineer:

Wastewater engineering is among the most popular careers in environmental engineering field. Wastewater engineers are specialized at designing, planning, and supervising construction of wastewater treatment facilities. They are also responsible for retrofitting existing wastewater treatment facilities in order to comply with changing laws and regulations or social dynamics. They look into the physical, chemical and biological treatment of wastewaters and help clients i.e., city governments, optimize the system for consistent results.

Wastewater engineers ensure that the wastewater treatment plant is working properly and treating the wastewater before it is discharged into the natural water bodies. This way they contribute towards saving natural water bodies and waters’ ecosystem.

Undergraduates of Environmental Engineering, Civil Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering are very well suited for becoming wastewater engineers. The average annual salary of a wastewater engineer is $82.5K.

Sustainability Consultant:

Becoming a sustainability consultant is also among popular choices for environmental engineering career paths. Sustainability consultant is an expert who works with organizations, mostly on project basis, and provides them with guidance to become environmentally responsible in their operations while meeting the needs of the business.

The consultant does so by first analyzing the business-as-usual activities of an organization and all the environmental impacts associated with company operations. These impacts include, but are not limited to, air emissions, liquid discharge into water bodies, energy consumption, etc. He then works to reduce resource consumption or environmental impact related with daily operations of the client. After that the consultant develops a detailed sustainability plan/policy that is finetuned with the client’s operations. In doing so the consultant ensures that all relevant laws and regulations are being complied with.

The average salary of a Sustainability consultant in the United States is $179.5K.

Energy Auditor:

Energy auditor is responsible for evaluating the energy efficiency of businesses and providing solutions towards reducing the energy consumption without compromising the day-today operations.

An Energy auditor collects energy consumption data by conducting energy audits and personally visiting the business facilities. On the basis of the collected data, energy efficiency of the buildings is evaluated and areas, having potential of energy-savings, are highlighted. Various solutions, ranging from simple installations i.e., energy efficient lightings, etc. to intricate ones i.e., improving HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems, are considered. Energy auditors also provide customers with Return on Investment (ROI) of the recommended solution. This way they not only make buildings energy efficient and bring down their energy costs but also reduce the environmental impact related to energy generation.

Energy auditor is also among the careers that you can choose with an environmental engineering degree, physics, or energy efficiency etc. Graduates of these degrees are well suited for becoming Energy Auditors. The average annual salary of an Energy Auditor is $62.7K.

Environmental Compliance Specialist:

One of the popular environmental engineering career options for fresh graduates is environmental compliance specialist. The prime duty of an Environmental Compliance Specialist is to ensure the implementation of federal/state laws and regulations concerned with the protection of environmental resources like land, air, water, etc. They work in various organizations and industries to develop and monitor environmental compliance programs and resolve non-compliance issues.

As a compliance specialist your duty also comprises of conducting audits and on-site inspection visits and look for any deviation or violation of environmental laws and regulations that put environmental elements under stress. Compliance specialists then make reports based on the data collected.

Along-with undergraduate degree in environmental sciences you need to have strong research, report writing, communication, and presentation skills to be a successful compliance specialist. The average annual salary of an Environmental Compliance Specialist is $59.3K.


Being a Hydrologist is among careers in environmental engineering that has its base strongly engraved in the field. A hydrologist studies water including its quality, distribution, movement, etc. in our ecosystem/environment. On the one hand, they study the impact of hydrological cycle on the environment and on the other, they research how the environment and other anthropogenic activities influence the water.

A hydrologist’s job is typically divided into two segments, on-site and office duties. On the field, they are busy with collecting water samples and relevant environmental data. While in office, hydrologists make use of various techniques i.e., remote sensing, hydrological modelling, etc. to analyze water dynamics, precipitation predictions, flow of contaminants with subsurface water etc.

Hydrologists, mainly, work with governments and help them in managing water resources, anticipating floods and droughts, monitoring groundwaters, etc.

Undergraduate degree in Geology, Geography, or Environmental Sciences are most common educational requirements for you to become a Hydrologist. The average annual salary of a Hydrologist is $92.9K.

Natural Resource Specialist:

The prime duty of a natural resource specialist is the conservation and protection of natural resources i.e., land, wildlife, plants, waters, etc. They do this by designing, planning, developing and implementing sustainable natural resource management programs. The nature of the job requires specialists to be on-site most of the time.

In the context of natural resource conservation, natural resource specialists engage themselves with observing and restoring forests and other vulnerable ecosystems. Regulation of land use by businesses and individuals is another area of focus for specialists. Here they are responsible for ensuring land use in such a way that does not disturb local environment in any way.

Natural resource specialist should have good communication and project management skills along-with a background in environmental sciences, laws and regulations.

The average yearly salary of a Natural resource specialist is $68.4K.


It is to be acknowledged that environmental engineering offer a vast spectrum of specialization options where environmental engineers are trained to solve the environmental issues of the present and the future. These career paths in environmental engineering provide you with unique skills critical for the responsible use of natural resources of the planet. The different career options in environmental engineering i.e., Wastewater Engineer, Energy Auditor, Natural Resource Specialist, etc. make you participate in the green and sustainable development of our ecosystem.

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