In recent decades, society has come to realise that exploiting Earth’s precious resources to support a consumerist lifestyle is unsustainable. Refusing to change could place future generations at risk of an exceptionally poor quality of life (and even extinction) due to exorbitant levels of air, water, and soil pollution, and extreme climate changes due to global warming. The increasingly polluted state of our planet means that creative, environmentally friendly engineering solutions are more necessary, and in greater demand, than ever.
Fortunately humankind is innovative, creative, and capable of applying existing knowledge in new ways. This is exactly what environmental engineers do – they use their existing knowledge and specialised engineering training to research, develop, and implement solutions to environmental problems. These solutions are ultimately designed to protect people and ecosystems from harm, and to enhance quality of life. Their unique training in fields such as chemistry, biology, soil science and environmental studies, allows them to conceptualise eco-friendly engineering solutions for the 21st Century world. Many universities have even started offering specialised engineering programmes with an environmental or sustainability-oriented focus. Some engineering fields closely related to environmental engineering include:
- Geophysical engineering
- Water resources engineering
- Coastal engineering
- Marine engineering
- Ecological engineering
The main focus in environmental engineering is to implement engineering solutions that reduce pollution, minimise environmental impact, reduce energy and fresh water dependence, and promote public health and safety. For example, an engineering project to design and construct a wind-powered office building from local recycled and renewable materials with geothermal heating and grey-water plumbing could fall into an environmental engineer’s scope of work.
Environmental engineers can work in a variety of private or government settings, depending on their specialisation and interests. Some work in laboratories or offices to conduct research and draft proposals, while others work on-site to implement solutions. Due to the multifaceted nature of environmentally friendly engineering solutions, they often work in project teams comprised of experts from various industries and specialisations. They might collaborate with legal and business experts, urban and regional planners, scientists, conservationists, and hazardous waste technicians to name a few.
A few examples of projects that environmental engineers could work on include:
- Developing solutions for safe drinking water in communities
- Improving waste disposal practices in manufacturing industries
- Designing towns and cities to optimise clean energy and recycled water use
- Engineering transport that runs of clean energy sources
- Designing and constructing eco-friendly buildings (homes, offices, hotels and public buildings)
- Developing environmentally-friendly agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and equipment
- Working with companies to develop environmentally friendly products, packaging and services.
- Conducting research on soil, air, and water pollution in specific regions.
- Conducting environmental impact assessments for proposed construction and agricultural projects.
- Advising businesses and governments on environmental and sustainability-related matters.
Environmental engineering is a diverse, rapidly-growing field that can serve to create a healthier, safer future for all. If you’re looking for some inspiration, or want to obtain a better understanding of what these engineers can achieve, read this article that features 10 amazing eco-friendly constructions across the globe.