Environmental Engineer

What is an environmental engineer? Environmental engineers devise effective solutions to issues involving pollution, public health, and sustainability. At the same time, you also research how human decisions can impact different environments, leading to issues like drinking water contamination and acid rain.

As an environmental engineer, your mission is to use a combination of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems and improve the quality of the world around us.

At a Glance

Imagine you’re standing in a field looking towards a mill. You’re being briefed on the project to upgrade the mill, which is nearly 40 years old and in need of another retrofit.

You are an environmental engineer, and you have been brought into this project to look at how the mill disposes of its effluent.

One of the by-products of the mill’s manufacturing process is effluent water that is too contaminated to be put into the municipal sewer system or discharged into local rivers. Your job is to examine this effluent and design a system to treat and disinfect the water before it can be discharged to the receiving body.

Your first task will be to test the mill’s effluent to determine exactly what is in the water. You look for chemical contaminants that are used in processing pulp and manufacturing paper, such as bleach. You will also test for biological oxygen demand (BOD), total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity.

Once you know the types and concentrations of contaminants in the effluent, you can begin to design a treatment system. You will incorporate several methods, for example, filtration and ozone disinfection, to remove these toxic contaminants. Your goal is to design a system that will treat the mill’s effluent water so that it is clean enough to flow straight into the local river without any harmful effects.

To learn more about Environmental Engineers, check out our Day in the Life video below!

Job Duties

While job duties vary significantly from one position to the next, environmental engineers are frequently asked to conduct the following activities:

  • Assess industrial sites to determine if they satisfy environmental quality criteria
  • Design and develop waste management plans for governments and industries (including safe handling, waste transfer, waste minimization, waste treatment and disposal facilities)
  • Monitor sites and procedures to confirm that private and public operations are compliant with environmental regulations
  • Recommend procedures to clean up sites that have been contaminated with harmful materials
  • Evaluate the current system performance and incorporate innovations or develop new technologies to enhance environmental protection
  • Write and evaluate environmental impact statements

Work Environment

For most environmental engineers, an equal amount of time is spent indoors and outdoors. They work in a variety of locations including, but not limited to:

The office:

  • Doing paperwork, analyzing data, and preparing reports.
  • Researching policies and procedures, and consulting with other environmental professionals for an interdisciplinary approach to solutions.
  • Collaborating with colleagues to develop recommendations on reclamation and waste management activities

The field:

  • Touring and inspecting sites
  • Supervising installations and auditing and calibrating equipment used for air, water, or soil sampling
  • Testing designs and recommended changes
  • Taking measurements and recording data and observations
  • Taking part in site assessments, performing audits and evaluating the environmental impact of an organization’s industrial and commercial operations
  • Assessing whether a site is in accordance with environmental regulations
  • Using mathematical techniques and computer modelling to assess indicators of past, present and future environmental problems

Where to Work

There are several places environmental engineer scan find employment. They include:

  • Environmental consulting firms
  • Management, scientific and consulting services firms
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Engineering services firms

Search for environmental engineer jobs on the ECO Canada Job Boad

Education and Skills

If you are considering a career as an environmental engineer, you should have a strong interest in:

  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Biology

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental engineer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental engineer, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering

General certifications that would be considered an asset includes:


Hard/ Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)

  • Microsoft Office
  • Software programming languages
  • System design and analysis
  • Conceptual, logical or physical data modelling
  • Process management

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Clear and effective verbal and written communication
  • Active listening
  • Leadership
  • Organizational skills
  • Teamwork
  • Environmental awareness
  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Continuous learning
  • Decision making
  • Mentoring

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or take our Essential Skills courses.

Role Models

Mansoor Ahmed

A tour of one of Peshawar, Pakistan’s first wastewater treatment plants in 1994 piqued Mansoor Ahmad’s interest in the environment. "It was really amazing,” recalls the environmental engineer.

Until that point, much of the developing nation’s wastewater was often dumped into nearby rivers without proper treatment. "At the time, nobody was concerned about the environment. People were more concerned about attracting more industries…becoming more industrialized.”

Two years later, Mansoor arrived in Canada to study environmental engineering.

Today, Mansoor works as an environmental engineer in the Department of Environment and Conservation for the Newfoundland and Labrador government. He is passionate about his work. "It feels really good when you stop someone from polluting the environment.”

He likes to compare his work to that of a doctor—just as a doctor takes care of a person’s body, environmental professionals "take care of Mother Nature’s body.” Mansoor spends much of his time touring industrial facilities.

He examines their environmental control technologies and ensures they meet the stringent provincial air pollution control and effluent regulations issued in 2004.

Mansoor finds his job empowering. "Under the regulations, I’m the one who can put the brakes on companies from polluting. I’m the one who gets to tell them, ‘no, you can’t do that!’”

Often companies aren’t so receptive to these regulations, believing they are too expensive to implement. "We tell them that we don’t pass these regulations—they come from Cabinet. We have no authority to change them,” says Mansoor.

Some businesses even try to circumvent environmental laws by devising their own, less expensive ways of controlling their pollution. "I sit there thinking to myself, ‘I know their ways aren’t going to work.’”

At this point, Mansoor must step in and guide these businesses in the right direction, to ensure they adhere to the laws and that the environment remains protected.

Your Impact

The main responsibilities of an environmental engineer involve planning, designing, and supervising a variety of industrial components and processes in industries.

You may also choose to specialize in a specific area, for example, air or water quality or solid and hazardous waste management.

Much of your work as an environmental engineer plays an instrumental role in combatting climate change. Whether you’re recycling, developing waste disposal initiatives, working on water and air pollution control or even environmental sustainability on a global scale, climate change mitigation is often at the forefront of your work.

As climate issues increase, so does the need for environmental engineers. Career opportunities in this role can span from local to international issues.

As an example, environmental engineers were needed to help with the water contamination in the city of Flint, Michigan in 2014.

The city made global news when their water sources were found to have high traces of lead both in rivers and in the water being sent to homes. This meant that people couldn’t drink water from taps or use water for daily needs; ecosystems were at risk as well.

Environmental engineers were pivotal in the work carried out to minimize the risks to people and ecosystems. If you were an environmental engineer working on this project, you may have worked to find the root cause of the problem and use research to create an effective solution to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Environmental engineers would also be responsible for designing, developing, testing and implementing technical solutions which would help cities, companies, and organizations, make the right operational decisions to actively reduce their negative impact on the environment and humans.

Occupational Classification

Individuals employed as environmental engineers may be classified in one or more of the following occupational groupings:

NOC Code: 213–Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, and Chemical Engineers

NOC Code: 2263–Inspectors in Public and Environmental Health and Occupational Health and Safety

NOC Code: 2148–Other Professional Engineers

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market.

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