What is environmental engineering?
Environmental engineering is defined as, “a profession that applies mathematics and science to utilize the properties of matter and sources of energy in the solution of problems of environmental sanitation.” In that thinking, environmental engineers work on many, many types of problems that directly benefit people such as:
- Providing safe, reliable, and palatable drinking water.
- Safely disposing of or treating wastewater (municipal, industrial, agricultural, etc.).
- Safely disposing of or treating solid and hazardous waste.
- Ensuring adequate drainage of urban, suburban, rural areas for purposes of sanitation.
- Controlling pollution levels of water, soil, air, and biological media and designing remedial solutions for media already contaminated.
- Addressing problems of public health such as disease and industrial health.
In short, environmental engineers address many of societies environmental problems through the use of an engineering approach—analysis, design, multidisciplinary thinking.
What kinds of people pursue an environmental engineering career?
Many types of people become environmental engineers. Some come from other fields that are closely connected with aspects of environmental engineering such as civil engineering, chemical engineering, or geology. These individuals share many common interests and questions such as:
- Can I quantify the environmental impact(s) from a particular human activity or industry?
- Can I design or implement a solution that will provide more or better drinking water or air quality for people?
- How do I use knowledge of physical, chemical, and biological processes in concert to solve complex engineering challenges?
- How can I help a company continue in the work of their business while meeting standards for environmental risk and environmental quality?
- How do I evaluate human activities at many scales (a home, a company, a city, a region) to determine the long-term sustainability of those activities in such important terms as environmental quality, economic viability, public health, ecosystem function, and the social good?
Nathan Howell, Ph.D., P.E.